Ask John: What Anime Are So Bad They’re Good?
Are there some anime that are considered so “bad it’s good”? While it’s a strange way to phrase the question, what I’m basically asking are there anime out there that are similar to films that are considered by some viewers to be so bad it’s good. Like Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room or a more recent example Claudio Fragasso’s Troll 2 which even had documentary made about its cult following. While I’m not asking if there are anime that are similar to the three examples, but are considered by viewers to be “so bad it’s good.”
The overwhelming majority of existing anime distinctly fall into the category of average, above-average, or below-average. “So bad it’s good” is a widely cited critique, but its legitimate examples are especially rare and few. Countless casual anime critics confuse the distinction between subjective bad and objective bad, calling influential and widely praised anime like Evangelion and Code Geass “bad” because they personally didn’t like the shows. So clarification of the exact qualifications for “so bad it’s good” is vital. The trifecta of Chargeman Ken, Naikaku Kenryoku Hanzai Kyosei Torishimarikan Zaizen Jotaro, and Musashi Gundoh have become famously popular because they’re so bad, but in present analysis, popularity isn’t exactly the quality that’s been sought. Anime so bad that they become good are anime which are highly enjoyable to watch because they’re so unintentionally bad. A genuinely bad anime has to exhibit weakness in practically every significant area of composition, or has to exhibit weakness in one major component that’s so pronounced that it overwhelms other passable elements of the production, or an anime that simply contradicts the conventionally accepted standards of “good” quality. Most anime that satisfy one of those criteria are simply bad. Very very few anime are still highly enjoyable to watch despite falling into one of the aforementioned critiques, or because of their adherence to one of these trends.
Several weeks ago a little bird whispered into my ear word that Discotek had licensed an anime “so bad that it’s good.” I was challenged to guess what it was. If it was a TV series, I predicted that it could be Umineko no Nako Koro ni. Taking into consideration my awareness of Discotek’s licensing history, I guessed that if the title was an OVA, it was Mad Bull 34. My later guess turned out to be right.
The four-episode 1990-1992 Mad Bull 34 OVA series may be the finest example of an anime that’s so bad it’s good. The series revolves around Sleepy, an ultra-masculine New York City police officer who shoots first and asks questions later, takes advantages of prostitutes, accepts bribes, eagerly resorts to physical violence, but also donates his stolen money to a women’s shelter and even falls in love. The first two episodes are simply goofy, gratuitous sex and violence. The third episode goes over-the-top by introducing a gang of female Chinese assassins and bare-handed Sleepy versus a tank while the fourth episode reaches legendary absurdity by including an extended rip-off/homage to Aliens, including even a power-loader versus alien battle on the pitch in Yankee Stadium. The series is so consistently so amoral, gratuitous, and offensive that it quickly becomes hilariously laughable. (If anyone cares, I’ve watched all four episodes in original Japanese language.)
2009′s Umineko no Naku Koro ni has nice music, lovely art design, strong character design, solid direction, and adequate animation quality, all of which should easily make it average, if not good. But I’m personally bothered by the show’s distractingly anachronistic costume design. And more importantly, the show’s tendency to utterly ridiculous story development presented with deadly seriousness is so absurd that it overshadows all of the show’s more commendable aspects. This supernatural murder mystery is filled with totally idiotic plot developments, thematically culminating in a death by literal giant magical pudding. The show’s ridiculously exaggerated absurd horror begins at the level that the disappointing Ghost Hunt TV series ended at. As a result, the show is so unpredictable, so self-contradictory, and so unbelievably absurd all while maintaining a ghoulishly somber atmosphere that it’s simply amazing to watch because there’s nothing else like it.
The 2005 harem comedy Koi Koi 7 has poor animation quality, unoriginal character designs, and a hodge-podge story, yet it so innocently acknowledges and rips-off other better anime and so gleefully revels in developing its own slapdash narrative that it becomes fun to watch just because it’s bad and doesn’t care that it’s bad. The show ends up feeling akin to anime like Happy Seven and Mahoraba ~Heartfelt days~ with the abstract humor and unexpected homages of the first epsode of Danshi Kokosei no Nichijou.
I’ve watched a variety of late 80s and early 90s OVAs that were just plain bad, including Heavy, Bounty Hunter the Hard, Roots Search, The Humanoid, Dog Soldier, Alice in Cyberland, D-1 Devestator, Koryuu no Mimi, and Bavi-Stock. But a handful of terrible OVAs from that era also surpass their conventional categorizations to land in their own, distinct stratification. By conventional standards, the first Riki-Oh OVA, Battle Royal High School, the three-episode Maryu Senki OVA series, and the two-episode Shin Karate Jigokuhen OVA series should be immediately dismissed as awful examples of anime. Yet like the better known Kakugo no Susume, these anime are so transgressive and surprising that they transcend their conventional categorization.
The 1991 live-action Chinese Riki-Oh movie is actually a more faithful and gratuitous adaptation of Masahiko Takajo & Tetsuya Saruwatari’s original manga than the 1989 first OVA. But the first OVA still manages to be tremendous fun despite defying every common-sense standard of taste and dignified cinema. Even though the first Riki-Oh OVA is relatively restrained compared to the manga and live-action movie, it’s still grotesque, masculine, and absurdly exaggerated enough to be a jaw-dropping viewing experience. The second OVA, however, is just plain awful.
From a strict, demanding perspective, the 1987 Battle Royal High School OVA makes no sense at all. But any anime that manages to include space-ships, Tiger Mask, sentai heroes, wizards, fairies, tentacle monsters, and a six-foot tall fighting teddy bear into a single hour earns the attribution of awesome.
Similarly, the three-episode Maryu Senki OVA series makes only a modicum of narrative sense; it’s highly sexist, and it’s ridiculously graphically violent. It includes graphic nudity, plentiful drinking, unsafe motorcycle riding, multiple dismemberments, a trio of Buddhist monks behaving badly, and an army of ninja. It’s everything that mothers fear from anime, which is exactly what makes it awesome.
The little-known 1990 Shin Karate Jigokuhen OVA series discards delicacy to an extent that would make even grindhouse movies blush with embarrassment. The OVA story begins almost like a parody of the 1973 historical anime drama Karate Baka Ichidai before introducing rampant racism & sexism including Nazi war criminals living in depraved luxury in South America, explicit pinku movie style “torture porn,” and shockingly offensive black Amazonian “spear chuckers” that rape the white woman. This OVA series could be considered Kizuoibito extended to the Nth degree. “Good” in this case is especially subjective and debatable, but if European movies like Ilsa the She-Wolf and Cannibal Ferox can be considered “good,” than Shin Karate Jigokuhen is likewise “good.” If nothing else, it’s an unforgettable anime viewing experience.
I haven’t mentioned Toei’s 1980 Yami no Teio: Kyuketsuki Dracula TV special yet because I haven’t yet gotten around to watching it yet. So while it’s widely mentioned as an example of beloved bad anime – most frequently by critics whom I suspect haven’t actually watched it – I don’t know first-hand whether it’s legitimately so bad it’s good or if it’s just simply bad. Furthermore, as I haven’t watched every anime, I have no doubt that there are still titles out there that I’m not familiar with which qualify as “so bad they’re good,” and still more titles that qualify which I have watched but just can’t immediately recall.