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Dallos (1983)

 

In the 21st century, with Earth’s resources being gradually depleted, the Moon has become the next primary resource location to balance out Earth’s problem. With the Moon now colonised, and the third generation of the colony Monopolis emerging decades later, a wave of unrest grips the lunar nation. Those born on the moon with no sight of the Earth that rules over them grow increasingly dissatisfied and overlooked. One such young man, Shun, along with love interest Rachel, both inadvertently yet directly become involved in a mounted rebellion by notorious freedom fighter Dog McCoy. McCoy takes the fight direct to the Earth Federal Government by kidnapping the fiancée of Earth’s top agent, Alex Leiger, as she visits Monopolis for the first time. As the unrest and conflict grows, the older generation warn against disturbing Dallos, an enormous metal face-like structure, buried within one of the moon’s many craters, of which for many Monopolians acts as a god that must not be disturbed…

First impressions of Dallos depict a straightforward science fiction tale with to-the-point dialogue and standard animation from that period, but it’s religious and liberal themes soon become apparent. Director Mamoru Oshii’s work is typically synonymous with biblical symbolism, politics and philosophical themes, of which there are plenty on offer here. As a result, Dallos acts as a social commentary on the effects of a population granted a second chance, only to remain unwillingly subservient to that same government it is trying to escape from. As McCoy’s movement becomes more prominent, it emerges that he is no revolutionary novice. Alex Leiger puts up the supercool cop front, but makes increasingly reckless, escalating errors and snap judgements, much to the chagrin of his own council colleagues. Complicated egos? Absolutely. Sophisticated dialogue? Not so much. Throughout this four-episode feature McCoy, Leiger, and not forgetting the young idealist Shun, all desperately cling on to their own ideals.




Dallos’ place in the anime archives is as significant as much as it has also somewhat faded into obscurity. It didn’t help that in the case of the latter that there was no uncut release on western shores until 2014, some thirty years on. In the late 1980’s it became one of a few anime titles dubbed and edited (butchered, in truth) through the Just for Kids VHS brand, alongside shows such as Bravestarr and G.I. Joe. But Dallos is most famous these days for being the first straight-to-video anime production; a term better known in the industry as Original Video Animation. OVA productions- also sometimes referred to as OVA- represented the middle ground between heavily marketed TV franchises and big-budget cinema releases. Dallos was the first of its kind in the world, not just in Japan; Disney would go on to adopt a similar straight-to-video process throughout the 1990s and beyond, although history dictates this was accommodated mostly for cheap sequels and spin-offs.

Dallos is a prime example that the OVA concept allowed more creative freedom but was initially a gamble for the industry. Oshii was still working as the head writer for the Urusei Yatsura TV series during Dallos’ development. Oshii himself has since confirmed that while he holds the director credit, which to this day remains its key selling point, Dallos was in fact a collaboration with the late Hisayuki Toriumi, of Gatchaman (AKA Battle of the Planets/G-Force) and Ultraman fame. With duties spread across its four episodes, as well as directing separate sequences, it can certainly feel disjointed in places, the final product a compound of sharp tonal shifts and sequences that feel a little disconnected. 

 

And yet, there is strong evidence of what makes both creators so special. Oshii predominantly covered the action sequences, and the opening moments of the second OVA (bizarrely released first out of the four) has all the hallmarks of intensity you’d expect from an Oshii action sequence. These are meticulous in detail and methodical in their delivery and serve as a prime precursor to themes used in later works. The worker robots of Monopolis are instantly comparable to that of the Patlabor series’ labor vehicles, as well as their weaponization. Seeing Oshii’s signature traits in action throughout Dallos are a fascinating blueprint of his upcoming influence on the anime medium on the years that would follow.

The soundtrack has its moments throughout, but like some of the scenes, it accompanies it can have a somewhat erratic feel. The opening theme is certainly its most memorable piece; a booming, grandiose and ominous number that drives Dallos’ impending sense of doom. The rest are typically synthesiser-style numbers with little impact for them to be memorable. This uncut version only features subtitles, with no dub ever produced. The sound has been enhanced for 2.0 stereo – which is something – and the original 4:3 ratio is retained, with only little signs of a remaster. This is fine, as bar a transition to Blu-Ray, room for improvement is minimal.

With that in mind, Dallos’ character models are rather stereotypical; the action-oriented males are generically broad-shouldered, brawn of mind, often-bearded and built to lift the world on their shoulders. The women, on the other hand, are damsels in distress by nature but are at least more distinguishable; Rachel is the passionate yet dependable girl next door type, Melinda is stunning, resembling members of Jem and the Holograms, and Erna a puffed-up hair punk-pop rival. It may well be alpha male to the max in the action department, but Rachel and Melinda are the voices of reason as the situation increasingly escalates. In the middle is Shun, being pulled from left-wing to right-wing and back again, as he struggles to find belonging in the world he was born into, against that of Earth itself. Through his eyes and experiences the final message of Dallos is delivered with its most rewarding scene - with a sneak peek depicted on the DVD front cover - that no one’s path is certain and that such political power struggles are rarely resolved quickly.



Dallos does draw immediate comparisons with tales such as Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, a novel of which Dallos has been harshly cited previously as a direct rip-off of. Mark Twain spoke of there being no such thing as a new idea, and old ideas are made into new and curious combinations. Heinlein’s effort is a much more complex affair, covering specific politics that delves deeper into social classes, and issues such as polygamy. Dallos tracks the start of the revolution and the effects it begins to have on its people. But the presence of Dallos as a smiteful religious icon shifts Oshii and Toriumi’s work away from Heinlein’s, as does the intentionally unresolved ending of the OVA.

The 30-year wait for Dallos, if nothing else, delivers great insight into the early days of the anime industry boom. A patchy project this may be at times, but it also serves as a must for fans of Mamoru Oshii and/or Hisayuki Toriumi. Their influences course through Dallos’ veins, and when taken into context, contain strong philosophical and provocative statements. 


 FORMAT: OAV SERIES AVAILABLE ON:  DVD/DIGITAL/STREAMING  FROM: DISCOTEK MEDIA RATING: 13+ RUNNING TIME  4 EPISODES

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IN A NUTSHELL: For the historic value alone Dallos is certainly worth a look.



★★★☆☆

 



Kevin Kissane is an Information Security Specialist by day, and avid animation, movie/TV and video game fan by night. WIth a love for animation since the Saturday morning cartoon era of the 80s, and riding the crest of the 90s anime wave in the UK, I continue to celebrate the medium as much as possible. If it is retro, it is likely to turn my head. Follow him on twitter here.

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