#224 : Lily C.A.T.

Space can be a lonely and dark place. When one is on a long interstellar space flight time can play funny things with it’s crew. Moving at light speeds puts us decades behind our home world, which begs the questions of are we really returning home? Now if that wasn’t bad enough lets add a killer virus invasion on this ship as well. Two strikes for sure, but let’s add a third. Two of the passengers brought on board are not who they say they are and one is a suspected murderer. Did I really sign up for this flight? The saving grace, at least for me, is the fact that we get a cat to join us on this trip. Thankfully this is all fiction… an OVA from 1987… Lily C.A.T.

LilyCAT_1Certain anime titles are painful for me to watch and Lily C.A.T. is one of them. Not because of the subject matter, a dark who done it mystery set aboard an interstellar spaceship, or the occasional depiction of blood, or violence to human characters. Or even the fact that this is an average run of the mill thriller sci-fi OVA that can be lobed in with a slew of other titles that are very similar. As someone who loves cats and has had cats around since my birth watching the few scenes of violence towards, or hearing, the extreme cries coming from the feline character always makes me uneasy. Seeing a cat in pain or suffering in plain bold sight hits too close to home from personal memories that just hurt. No cat should suffer, as well as anything else either.

LilyCAT_2Lily C.A.T. is often compared to the film Alien, but I also see this OVA as a combination of three anime productions as an alternative (this is my theory by the way). I see Lily C.A.T. as a mix of Gall Force: Eternal Story (which is in many ways similar to Alien), They Were 11 and Dallos. The obvious double whammy of a who is the stowaway here (They Were 11) and confronting a killer alien virus, which leaves two people left alive to start over (Gall Force), are obvious if you are familiar with these two films. But Dallos is a little more of an outsider, unless you examine the production credits. Both Dallos and Lily C.A.T. have a similar visual look as they were both made at Studio Pierrot (with differing character designers) and feature the talent of Hisayuki Toriumi, a long time veteran of the anime industry.

LilyCAT_3Toriumi’s approach for a darker and more serious sci-fi is characteristic of the earlier Dallos. But unlike Dallos, Lily C.A.T. does actually have a plot that progresses without plot holes, has an ending that has some sort of resolution and makes… SENSE! Maybe something got lost in the shuffle when production began for Dallos, or perhaps there were plot holes from the start?… hey now this one is about Lily C.A.T. remember?… Toriumi had been around for decades and is in some ways one of anime’s best directors that never gets much attention. Many of the Tatsunoko classics like Gatchaman as an example as well as Area 88, Baoh and a co-director on Mysterious Cities of Gold. Nice resume! And those character designs which are attributed to both Yasuomi Umetsu and Yoshitaka Amano are stellar mixed with the production work of Studio Pierrot.

LilyCAT_4For a thriller that mixes up a lot of ideas, Lily C.A.T. is a damn good action sci-fi drama examining relationships in a time of crisis. Of course I had my difficult moments, but I know this was all a work of fiction and no cats were really harmed in the process. Still… those cat cries are terrifying. This was also one of Streamline Pictures releases way back in the VHS era and the dub is quite good as well. Mike Reynolds as the captain is one of my favorite roles he has ever portrayed. We learn over time the secret of who this Lily C.A.T. really is and this reminds me a little of 2001: A Space Odyssey in terms of the character HAL… even yet more sci-fi influences. I guess there is no harm in mixing up a lot of stuff to come up with something quite entertaining.

#188 : Dallos

“And if the band your in starts playing different tunes… I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.” There is tension in the air… on the moon of all places, which has no breathable air except for the enclosed colonies where the inhabitants live. These colonists who mine resources to feed the Earth are beginning to find their social treatment and political conditions unbearable. Beyond these tensions on the dark side of the moon is an odd mystery. A gigantic mechanical device that many of the inhabitants revere as a deity sits in utter silence. The name of this mysterious giant as well as the production that features it is a landmark title in the history of anime, Dallos.

Dallos is known for two distinctions in the general knowledge category of anime. The first was the fact that it was the original direct to video release, known better as the OVA. The second was it was directed by Mamoru Oshii (Angel’s Egg, Ghost in the Shell), which is partially true. Also directing was a quiet legend, mostly unknown here in the west, Hisayuki Toriumi (Gatchaman, Salamander, Lily C.A.T.), who as the senior of the two should honestly be listed first. As the first OVA release, Dallos broke ground in terms of distribution of anime at the time. Within a couple years the category became a viable market for projects that may have had the budget, subject matter, or space for creative freedom to afford itself to be either on television or the cinematic big screen. Long before the internet, or digital sharing, the OVA was a gray area to work in as an in between, a place Dallos fit into very well.

With a slick presentation, Dallos does perform in terms of the action sequences in terms of detail and fluidity, but the story is something that still leaves me questioning. Though we do have a good cast of characters, no one really stood out in this hard sci-fi dystopia as the major focal point. The young, slightly angsty Shun Nomomura is our obvious protagonist, yet the overall collective and environment felt like the star of this show. Dallos is an anime about society under Orwellian social control, an anime about the status quo bourgeoisie versus the working class proletariat, an anime about native Earth born humans versus spacenoids (Gundam?), an anime about the varying opinions of generations. All great themes, but unfortunately with all this great drama, it never focused itself into a cohesive narrative that went anywhere, or answered to any conclusions.

Mixed with the underdeveloped story is the concept of the supposed deity like machine Dallos itself. A giant mechanized mystery on the far side of the moon that looks like a face has no real mythology beyond the respect by the original moon settlers. This older generation, well into the twilight of their lives, try to explain this to the younger elements with little acceptance. Such is youth to take life into their own hands, but they to will soon learn. Autonomously Dallos defends itself  during the uprising tensions, but as to any explanation as to what the mechanical behemoth stands for, or even it’s purpose for existence is a pure mystery.

The DVD copy that I own also contained a retrospective containing interviews with many members of the crew from Studio Pierrot including Oshii. Even though this was not an episode of the OVA series it was my favorite part of the whole viewing process. Perhaps the inclusion of two directors for one project weakened the possibilities of what could have been? The discussion of doing a hard sci-fi production with no promotional material, like toys or model kits, and having heavy subject matter was a great idea, but needed more time for polishing the final product. Dallos had so much potential, but is nothing more than an experiment that just did not fall completely into place. A visual treat for sure, but a disappointment in terms final explanation. A longer narrative run could have helped? Although Studio Pierrot’s upcoming OVA for 1985, Area 88, performed flawlessly as a short run episode count series as well. Area 88 by the way was directed by Toriumi.