Review for Cyber City Oedo 808 Remastered - Limited Edition
In 2017, Roadshow Entertainment released The Dish in Australia on Blu-ray. It’s one of my favourite movies and I was quick to place an order. It didn’t take long after it arrived for disappointment to set in, as Roadshow had apparently used an HDTV broadcast source for the transfer, and it looked like an upscale. Customers were vocal about this and subsequently, Roadshow issued a recall, promising to replace the faulty discs with a release sourced from a film print, if not an interpositive or original negative. When I wrote to the Australian retailer where I bought it, they actually told me not to send it back, given the cost of postage between the UK and Australia, and seven months later, they had sent me the corrected version, free of charge. I tell this story for contrast.
In 2021, All the Anime released one of the seminal anime that got me into the medium, Cyber City Oedo 808 on Blu-ray. This was a show that I first saw on Channel 4’s Late Licence, and then subsequently picked up on VHS as part of Manga Entertainment’s Cyberpunk Collection. There was never a UK DVD release, so I wound up importing the Australian disc, and had been watching that, as well as a DVD-R rip of my Manga VHS copy ever since, as only the UK version had the Rory McFarlane music soundtrack. The 2021 release used the Discotek assets, and they had created it by heavily massaging the same SD source used for the US and AU DVDs and indeed that old Manga VHS. At best, the image looked faux HD, and at worst, the posterisation artifacts and crush made it look faulty, worse than that first Dish release. I wasn’t reluctant to say as much, but the feedback I got was that this was as good as the show would look given the source material. While I appreciated the digipack packaging, the soundtrack CD, and the booklet, I vowed to stick with the consistent, if lacklustre DVD. And then a couple of months later, Discotek in the US announced that they had found a film source for Cyber City Oedo 808 and a better Blu-ray would be forthcoming.
We’re way behind the US on these things, but towards the end of 2022, All the Anime solicited the Limited Edition of Cyber City Oedo 808 Blu-ray again, this time the corrected version. Now remember my experience with Roadshow, as All the Anime put this up, just as Discotek did, as a new SKU, expecting punters to buy it all over again. Only this time you get the disc in an Amaray inside a slipcase with artcards, not the book, and no soundtrack CD. You have to have both if you want the full experience, and there’s obviously no disc replacement scheme if you bought the original. But, as a ‘gift’ to people who bought the original, All the Anime did offer £5 discount on the new version if you pre-ordered it last Christmas, and then, only if you did so from the Anime Limited Webstore, and dependant on you having bought the original from them as well. Any other retailer and you were out of luck. I have now spent over £50 getting this 2-hour OVA series on Blu-ray. Even if it’s worth it, it’s not really worth it.
In the year 2808, crime is rampant, and the Cyber Police have to take unorthodox measures. Chief Hasegawa recruits criminals to track down criminals. He offers three hardened long term convicts the chance of parole. Sengoku, Benten and Goggles are each serving 300 years sentences in an orbital prison, but if they agree to work for the police, then each criminal caught will knock a few years off their sentences. But to keep them from resuming their former careers, they will have to wear explosive collars. Not only keeping them on the straight and narrow, each mission assigned to them has to be completed by a literal deadline.
Three OVA episodes were completed for Cyber City Oedo 808, and all three are presented on this disc, along with extra features.
1. Time Bomb
There’s trouble at the space-scraper. A mysterious hacker, who wants the building’s chief designer dead, targets this miles high building. Soon computers are compromised, people are being held hostage in an elevator 700 floors up, the security systems are killing anyone trying to attempt a rescue, and someone’s trying to get control of satellite weaponry. Goggles, Benten and Sengoku have 24 hours to find the hacker, rescue the hostages and protect architect Dave Kurokawa from his hidden assailant. Kurokawa is out of touch, having locked himself away, and the first thing that Sengoku has to do is to contact him, but time’s running out, when the gyroscopic system keeping the building upright is shut down. Worst of all, the chief suspect behind the crime has been dead for fifteen years.
2. The Decoy
Goggles is on the trail of another criminal turned Cyber Policeman who has sold classified data. Sengoku investigates the mysterious death of a man, apparently killed by a military robot, while Benten is on the trail of a group trafficking in human body parts. It all ties in to the military. There are certain people who aren’t pleased with letting the criminals police the criminals, and look to depose Hasegawa and the Cyber Police as the city’s main line of defence. To that end, they have created a cyborg policeman with psionic abilities, but to convince the government they need an effective test. Goggles is being set up to become the opponent in a fight to the death.
3. The Vampire
At the same time that Benten is making the acquaintance of a mysterious girl, a series of brutal murders are taking place. In seemingly inaccessible locations, illegal bio-researchers are dying of horrific throat trauma, and an odd code number is scrawled in their blood on the walls. The murders are quickly attributed to a vampire, and the Cyber Police are on the case. As Benten investigates, he finds his way impeded on all sides, including by an old ally. The leads all point to Shuzo Saionji, a wizened old philanthropist who lives in a space station on the top of a space elevator. Saionji is looking for the secret of eternal life, and he doesn’t care how many corpses he leaves in the process. Benten will have to choose between his heart and his duty.
Yes! With relief and joy I can confirm that this is what Cyber City Oedo 808 should look like. They found a film source, scanned it, restored it, and made sure the colour timing was right and consistent, and we finally get a genuine HD transfer. The 4:3 pillarboxed 1080p transfer is clear and sharp, with rich and vibrant colours. Detail levels are excellent, and the animation is smooth. The character design is iconic, while the cyberpunk visual aesthetic comes across brilliantly. There is a discrete level of film grain, and compression and aliasing is wholly absent, let alone any of the issues that plagued the first release. It’s not perfect; you do get the odd scratch or blemish on the print, but that’s the kind of thing that happens with cel and paint animation. Erasing that would be how Disney treats their back catalogue films. This transfer is everything I wanted for Cyber City Oedo 808.
This release takes the CPM/Madman release and the Manga release and jams it all together when it comes to the audio. You get DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo soundtracks, the UK English dub which comes with the Rory McFarlane soundtrack, the US English dub (same voices) with the Japanese music with signs and song translations, and the original Japanese audio with full subtitles. For this viewing I chose the Manga version, and was in exploito-heaven for the duration. The English dub sucks, not to put too fine a point on it. You can hear in the documentary just how it was laid down, and why Manga’s dubs of the era were often so monotonous, and if you hear the US version, the one with the original music, it really is unbearable. But take that same sucky dub and couple it with the Rory McFarlane soundtrack, and you get something truly transcendent and brilliant. It might just be nostalgia talking, but I love this version, even more than the original language version which is usually my preference when it comes to anime. Incidentally I did sample the subtitle version, and you get some nice chunky but decent sized subtitles to go with the original language, which is still watchable enough.
You get 1 disc in a BD Amaray case, inside a rigid slipcase along with 6 art cards.
There are audio commentaries here for the first two episodes. Yoshiaki Kawajiri, director is joined by Masao Maruyama from Madhouse animation. These were present on the CPM/Madman DVD releases.
You get the UK VHS Trailer (2:22).
The US DVD Trailers (3:53) are here too.
The Inside Cyber City Oedo Documentary lasts 53:37. It’s a retrospective on the old Manga Video release, with a focus on the UK exclusive music soundtrack. This features contributions from Jonathan Clements (co-author of Anime Encyclopaedia), Justin Sevakis (MediaOCD and former CPM video and subtitle editor), Andy Frain (former Manga Video boss), John Wolskel (dub scriptwriter), and Rory McFarlane (composer). This was recorded under Covid safe circumstances, in other words Zoom Conferencing in various home offices and the like. It isn’t ideal for audio visual, and I can’t wait until the world has been vaccinated. It’s taken from the previous release, with clips taken from that original version so you can compare and contrast.
Not being distracted by a faulty transfer makes for a great viewing experience, and I was watching Cyber City Oedo 808 with the same intensity and joy as I did the first time I saw it, almost 30 years ago now. It shows the versatility of the OVA format back in the nineties, cheaper and not as time consuming for the studios as full on theatrical features, but not beholden to a schedule or broadcast standards as a television series. They could just use the time and space to tell the stories they want to tell. Much as I still wish that Cyber City Oedo 808 could have gotten a TV series the way AD Police did, in reality, a TV series would never have been as good.
We have three main characters and three episodes, and the maths is easy even for me. Each episode is spent on developing one character and telling his story. In effect they are three mini-movies. And regardless of which character you prefer, the standard is consistent throughout. We focus on Sengoku first of all, in an episode that quickly sets up the premise before moving on to the story. It’s a cyberpunk Die Hard, with a skyscraper siege prompted by the sort of thing that you usually expect in Ghost In The Shell. The building is actively seeking to murder one of its inhabitants, and it’s down to Sengoku to solve the case, and his personality comes strongly into play. He’s the sort of rebel anti-authoritarian figure who always looks cool in a red coat, and always takes time to look after his quiff. Reckless and brazen, he insists on doing things his own way, and he makes for an entertaining hero.
The second story sees Goggles take centre stage in a story that riffs heavily on Robocop 2. The military don’t want to see criminals in the police, so have developed a cyborg cop of their own. They need to test it of course, so they choose a target for practice. They use someone from Goggles’ past to set him up, and so he has an extra thirst for revenge. Of course our hero is going to prevail, but the solution he comes up with is interesting, with just enough science in, to make you think about pulling out a textbook. Goggles is big, brawny and mean, just enough of a B.A. Baracus outlook to overcome that ridiculous name. This is probably the best episode on the disc, making use of all the characters well, and telling an engaging if hackneyed story.
The final story is the weakest, not least for the vampire imagery, which seems to be a Kawajiri staple. There’s something incongruous about gothic imagery in a future milieu that doesn’t quite click in this episode, and Benten’s back-story is a little too similar to Goggles’. Still, this is the more romantic of the episodes; suitable as Benten is the most poetic at heart of the characters, always looking for portents in the heavens. He’s an early example of the white-haired androgynous male anime character, a little too fond of the lip-gloss, but making a stand for elegance and gentility in a lethal killer. His weapon of choice is a monofilament wire that he uses to dismember his foes, and oddly it isn’t accompanied by copious sprays of blood.
I love Cyber City Oedo 808. I don’t love how All the Anime have dealt with this situation. What I needed was a corrected disc to replace the faulty disc in the original collector’s edition. I did not want to have to buy a whole other collector’s edition on top. You could say that I should have waited for a standard edition release, and a sale to boot, to get the corrected disc as cheaply as possible. But All the Anime tend to wait for their Collectors to sell out before issuing standards, and I shouldn’t have to live with a faulty disc for that long. It shouldn’t be, but capitalism is the way the world works now. But I don’t have to like it... Just make sure you’re getting the right one when you place the order.
Cyber City Oedo 808 Limited Edition Blu-ray is available from the Anime Limited Webstore, Anime Online, and UP1, as well as all the usual mainstream retailers.