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Old Skool Anime: Dominion Tank Police

In far-future Japan, the city of Newport, comprised of complex, curved cityscape constructs yet tinged by barely breathable air and a crime rate just as suffocating, it falls to the publicly unpopular methods of the Tank Police to stem the tide. Such unpopularity comes not from corruption or issues of racism, but from the very brutal crime-busting methods and tools reluctantly granted by the state: Tanks. Behind the tanks is a force of frankly weird stereotypes who treat their tanks like brothers but treat the criminals like target practice. With explosive - and expensive - results. This is the Tank Police, and their world is a strange one, with both the police force and forces of crime vying to be Newport’s dominion.

The first Dominion Tank Police OVA is one part cop drama but larger part cop comedy, with an underlying dose of satire for good measure. The western release of the first OVA series in the early 1990s, alongside heavy hitters such as Fist of the North Star, saw Dominion become an early benchmark for the west’s initiation into Anime. Serving as a prequel to the Masamune Shirow manga series, it was brought to the screen by Koichi Mashimo, who would go on to create the studio responsible for the .hack series, Bee Train. This four-act OVA is a far more character driven piece than its published parent, largely focused on the entry of newly recruited Leona Osaki, the origin of her iconic miniature tank Bonaparte and last, but by no means least, criminals Buaku and cover-girl fodder the Puma twins


Leona is the new addition to the Tank Police, and considering the unit is one of all-male dominance, the highly-strung Lieutenant Brenten initially takes exception to it. Such trepidation begins to ring true quite quickly; in her first few hours Leona makes the most disastrous moves, from questioning the squad’s comically tortuous interrogation techniques, namely tying a grenade pin, with said grenade in suspect’s mouth, to a precariously propped-up bucket as the squad try to hit balls and knock the bucket over, to inadvertently obliterating the lieutenant’s prize tank, breaking the squad’s number one rule: “Love your tank like a brother”. But her more than admirable determination and hilariously fiery temper ultimately wins over the whole team. 

From the wreckage of Brenten’s tank comes her own brother, her very own tank creation Bonaparte, the miniature source of the majority of the Dominion franchise’s cover art. Let’s be honest here, it’s as iconic as Ghost in the Shell’s Fuchikoma combat vehicle, and both are closely tied not just by their creator, with the latter making its on-screen debut in the later New Dominion Tank Police OVA. But that’s for another time. Parallels between Leona with Patlabor’s Noa Ozumi can be easily drawn, with both creations coming in the same year, both with signature red hair, and while both are equally passionate for their assigned law enforcement vehicle, Leona’s gradually unhinged nature in the face of workplace sexism hilariously sets her apart.   

Dominion Tank Police paints a bleak future where a crime is committed on average every 36 seconds, yet our “heroes” face the thankless task of pleasing a public that would rather see them tankless. It’s an understandable concern; Brenten’s super tank literally rips up the very road it is also far too big to be travelling on in the first place. Such what-the-hell moments are aplenty and bring the biggest laughs. Watch out for the multi-coloured plastic plates that transform into giant penises that overturn the battalion’s normal-sized tanks as Buaku makes off with urine samples from the local hospital (he's quite literally taking the piss). There is method to all this madness in what was one of the first interesting anime stories I ever experienced and understood. The concept of mask-wearing citizens was complete science-fiction to me 30 years ago, with recent world events bringing that element much closer to home. The second half of the OVA is a much deeper, philosophical affair, with Buaku’s own personal origins and demons being the motivator, leading almost directly into Shirow’s manga.

Throughout the OVA is a unique English dub and score provided by Manga UK. Adopting its earlier practice of British-English dub with American accents provided by mostly London based actors, Dominion Tank Police perfectly showcases the early 90’s anime snapshot in time. Regardless, the dub is pretty much completely faithful with Toni Barry capturing Leona’s energy perfectly, while Sean Barrett (Cyber City Oedo’s Gogul, Gramps in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Father Fitzgerald in Father Ted!) never ceases to amuse as Brenten. Less common was the replacement of the original score, a matter forced due to lack of availability of the original at the time (owners of the Manga Corps DVD received both years later), but the results are pretty special, and a definite improvement over the original. Punchy beats, catchy J-Pop theme tune lyrics (“Tank Pol-ice, feel the power that we’ve got”- what’s not to like?) and several soothing synth numbers even fit the mood much better. It has such an endearing quality to this day for me personally, unfortunately, restricted to internet-available mp3 rips from those who obviously feel the same.


As for the DVD release, which is pushing twenty years old now, does include both dub and score tracks. Well mostly anyway, with the ending theme restricted to the re-scoring only, including the annoyingly cropped-out screen from the VHS release, but it's as good an effort as there is currently. In the meantime, it is readily available elsewhere for those who know where to look, like most old skool anime, and is heartily recommended. Like Cyber City Oedo, recently resurrected in the west with a remastered Blu-Ray release, it really should only be a matter of time before this piece of anime history receives similar treatment. (Discotek, Anime Limited are you listening?)

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