It’s been a while since the original 8 Man disappeared. Now, psychotic criminals dubbed Cyber Junkies are grafting cybernetic parts and weapons onto their bodies and running amok. Private dick Hazama (Jurota Kosugi) finds himself embroiled in this conflict between humans and cyborgs while searching for a missing scientist. And just in the nick of time, 8 Man returns, but is he the same man he was before?
8 Man was created in 1963 by Kazumasa Hirai and Jiro Kuwata. It jumped from manga to anime to live action and back again. Originally aimed at kids, the character moved more and more into violent vigilante territory, and that’s where 8 Man After lands. The first thing that pops out to the viewer while watching this movie (actually a collection of four OVA episodes edited together) is that it hews very closely to Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop (other hyperviolent cyborg anime, notwithstanding). The initial 8 Man was a cop like Murphy. Mr. Daigo fills the Dick Jones spot, and his Bio Techno company mirrors OCP, in presence, if not specificity. He even has a scale model of the utopian city he wants to build on top of the scummy city that currently surrounds him. After Hazama is killed in a violent altercation with a criminal (the film’s Clarence Boddicker), he is transformed into the new 8 Man. The violence itself is incredibly bloody, and the villains are all out of their minds (though here there is no sense of humor about any of it). 8 Man has flashbacks to his past life as a normal human and the trauma that he suffered. There are a handful of 8 Man POV shots in Heads-Up-Display style that waver as he fights against his urge to kill. Sachiko (Mika Doi) is the Officer Lewis character but only in the sense that she’s female. She was the wife of the first 8 Man and is the ostensible romantic interest for Hazama, but, oddly enough, both of these roles are hardly explored at all in the story. In fact, most of the elements that make this interesting (those that are different from Robocop) are barely touched on.
Directors Sumiyoshi Furakawa and Yoriyasu Kogawa and company felt it more important to focus on the livelier aspects of the premise (read: the violence), though there are still things here to talk about other than its mimic origins. One of the biggest, for me, is the idea of violence as a way of life. This is a world steeped in violence on both sides of the law. The first time we meet Hazama, he is causing a ruckus at Bio Techno and leading the company’s security guys on a merry chase through the streets (which ends abruptly). There is a shootout between the cops and a Cyber Junkie at a market, and the bodies of innocent bystanders lie around the scene in pools of blood. Tony, 8 Man’s nemesis, rips open Sachiko’s blouse and pokes her throat with his arm blade, causing a trickle of blood to flow down between her breasts and soak into her bra. 8 Man doesn’t just defeat or incapacitate his enemies. He literally tears them apart. With his super speed, he slashes at their arms and legs, disabling them. Then, he squeezes their cybernetic extremities until they explode in geysers of blood and metal. Intriguingly, this concept of ingrained cultural violence is best exemplified in the football sequence (ironically, the part I like the least because the subplot that it follows up on is superfluous and a little irritating, and I just don’t care about sports, anyway). The local team is loaded up with cybernetics and drugs (an anti-rejection number that has the unintended/intended consequence of making its users go batshit). They not only destroy their opposition but also turn on the audience, tearing into them. They are inflicting violence on the people who came to watch violence, turning the spectators into unwilling participants. There is no escape from violence in the world of 8 Man After, directly or indirectly.
There is also the concept of the corruption or failure of good intentions. The cybernetic parts were originally developed to help people. They were meant to be prosthetic replacements for amputees. But instead of new limbs for misfortunates, they became a go-to enhancement for violent criminals so they could rule the streets. Now, they can shoot bullets from their palms, missiles from their backs, and rockets from their knees, and the drugs they have to take to maintain their grafts only enhance their madness. O’Connor, the missing father that young Sam hired Hazama to find, is one of the cyber-football players. He sees this as a last chance to make it big and provide for his boy. Instead, he becomes a demented cyber-thug, even striking his own flesh and blood. Though Hazama doesn’t exactly volunteer to become 8 Man, he wants to do good as the cyborg. However, his emotions are a drawback for him. According to the Professor who created him, Hazama’s feelings “contaminated” the 8 Man cybernetics, and Hazama himself is considered a “system failure” that makes 8 Man go berserk, the same as those he opposes. He is the anti-rejection drug with the horrible side effects. To be more efficient, more obedient, he must lose his identity to the 8 Man, become a synthesis of the two rather than one who changes into the other. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions and robotic body parts.
The animation in 8 Man After looks very good, and the action sequences shine. The central conflict of the story is compelling, and there are more than enough crazy things to maintain interest (like a talking brain in a jar, say). The main problem is that the narrative is overly convoluted. This is compounded, I’m assuming, by its original episodic nature. By that, I mean that it is too willing to develop various subplots that don’t tie into the main story strongly enough, are dismissed before being satisfyingly tied up, or are poorly integrated in terms of pacing, forgetting what the core story is about. In my opinion, this would have worked better as a tightened down, ninety-minute feature rather than a sprawling, four-episode series. Still, it’s entertaining, and I enjoy watching it from time to time. You might, too.
MVT: The 8 Man is nicely designed and animated, and it’s fun seeing him do his thing.
Make or Break: The introduction of hip, young Sam may push some folks over the edge.