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Remembering Genocyber in the Blockbuster Video Anime Aisle of 1998

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"Letters from the New York Otaku"

By David Cabrera


#5 -Remembering Genocyber in the Blockbuster Video Anime Aisle of 1998


Last time I left you on a cliffhanger: that was cruel of me, and I'm sorry. To make up for it, here's a true story.

At a friend's birthday party, I wound up in an enthusiastic discussion about games with someone I'd just met. She brought up anime and immediately asked, to my genuine surprise:

“Hey, do you remember Genocyber?”

Now that's an unusual thing to hear out of anybody, but I did indeed. Do you remember Super Cult Animation Genocyber? Koichi Ohata couldn't be counted on for a coherent story, but when it came to bad-ass machines and indiscriminate, bloody carnage animated in grotesque, loving detail, he was your man. His stuff was quite popular here: though several orders of magnitude below Akira, it filled the desire that a lot of people had for dark, violent science-fiction after having watched that film.

In the late 90s or so, once one dug past Pokemon (a phenomenon unto itself) and the precious few shows that made it to American airwaves, one found a very different image of Japanese animation waiting at the video store.

Back then there were very few releases of full-length anime TV series on video-- not a lot of people aside from the Evangelion fans were willing to buy 13 $30 VHS tapes of something they'd never even seen before-- and we weren't up to date with the Japanese like we are today. Instead of the latest TV hits, the aisles at Blockbuster Video (the biggest video rental store at the time) were packed with single movies and short OVA series instead.

As a result, the movies we rented back then weren't mainstream Japanese hits at all. Yoshiaki Kawajiri's ultraviolent ninja action film Ninja Scroll (originally Jubei Ninpucho) was the infamous “you gotta see this movie” in my freshman high-school class, a title spoken of in reverent whispers along with Akira. We watched The Guyver and Devilman and Fist of the North Star. Every tape in that section, even if its content was completely inoffensive, had the “Not for Kids” sticker on it. Anime had its reputation-- more than one oblivious parent had brought Ninja Scroll home to distract the children-- and the store wanted to stay safe.

Japanese anime is many different things to many different people, but at Blockbuster Video it was dangerous. It was madness and gore and chaos.

Maybe it's because it's beautiful, manic science fiction, but a lot of people who watch Redline say it makes them nostalgic for those times. Newer anime fans say it gives them the feeling of Gurren-Lagann, another hit that inspired full-on fanaticism in the Western fanbase. And just like Simon and friends, Redline is driven by a raging, passionate and irrepressible energy. Seeing that creative energy run wild is what made me fall in love with anime in the first place, and I dare say my friends feel the same way.
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