Dude, this anime is so indie. It smells like vintage vinyl in a dusty record store. SNIFF… Whoo! They sure don’t make stuff like this anymore and to be honest how could you. California Crisis: Gun Salvo is a rare gem of an OVA that looks like nothing else, feels like nothing else and smells like nothing else… Smells? Am I going crazy? (shakes head) Far from it… “I’m California Dreamin’” on this anime.
How does one describe California Crisis? It’s utopian fantasy set in that fantasyland of California. It’s also a romantic tale about being young and free. And it’s like an art house styled road trip movie with a sci-fi twist where the government is chasing two young protagonists who have a mysterious alien orb of a crystal ball that is the focus of everyone’s desire. “My precious.” All this chasing and mystery over what could just be an ultra shiny bowling ball. STRIKE! Sadly it is not a bowling ball. BOO! … California Crisis, from all descriptions, could fit itself into the realm of a live action film territory. And this could be the case, but it wouldn’t look or feel as good as a well animated film (my opinion). And California Crisis looks really good; I mean really, really good… in a mid 1980s sort of way.
Visually California Crisis stands on it’s own in the pantheon of Japanese animation. I have yet to see any other production look like California Crisis and trust me, I am still looking. The basic line work and character designs are of a typical style for the era… very recognizable here. The use of shading and color variation to produce these tones and the inclusion of flat colors in the background give California Crisis it’s distinctive look. Usually you see simple gradations to skin or cloth, but the approach here is to accentuate the colors and shadows to an extreme. Check out the outlining of the shadow and highlight areas. This reminds me of 1960s Pop Art, inline with say Andy Warhol, or Roy Lichtenstein, mixed with a dash of Psychedelia. California Crisis, is one of those rare examples of anime as art for art’s sake clothed in the ordinary.
The indie vibe of California Crisis can be traced to the studio that created it. A little studio by the name of Unicorn, Studio Unicorn to be precise. Several little startups were around in the 1980s and like many bands of popular music would release a couple projects and perhaps even give backup aid on other productions only to break up before hitting the big time. Studio Unicorn was one of these little studios, or perhaps an artist collective, that tried to make it and go against the odds with the established studio houses. As far as who they were and where they came from, well… those answers are beyond me. But I am than thankful for their contribution to the Japanese animation continuum.
Released in 1986 amongst a wealth of one-off OVA titles including M.D. Geist (yes I know a sequel came out a decade later), The Humanoid and Wanna-Be’s, California Crisis stands out like a red headed step child. It looks different, it feels different and no matter what makes California Crisis different, I love it just the same. Being unique and individual always makes one special.