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Old Skool Anime: New Dominion Tank Police

The last edition of Old Skool Anime recalled Dominion Tank Police, the hilariously crazy police force that enforce the equally crazy crimes of Newport city, a city almost unliveable within its near-poisonous air and totally toxic crime levels. One of the OVA’s greatest strengths is how it compliments Masamune Shirow’s Dominion manga universe without having to have read it just to make any sense of it in the first place. How do you follow that up? A sequel of course. Can it be followed up? Well, on the evidence of New Dominion Tank Police, for the most part anyway, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.

New Dominion Tank Police (known in its native Japan as Crusher Police Dominion) is the sequel that Shirow’s second manga series never was. The first OVA was a 4-episode animated origin story to the already-published first manga but the second’s wholesale changes were ignored in favour of familiarity. Norubu Furuse, a long-time animation director across multiple productions yet with few full director credits, with 1988’s Madhouse production Kaze o Nuke!, a fabulously fun BMX drama (yes, really) being his first, is at the helm for this 6 x 30-minute OVA. There may not be a Buaku in sight this time around, but New Dominion Tank Police is a much more accomplished production than the first OVA.

Veering away from quirky-looking street gangs and mysterious crimes related to the toxic air of Newport, the Tank Police are embroiled in a conspiracy to eliminate the city of Newport and most notably its mayor. Ties to Leona’s past are explored and exploited, co-driver Al continues his efforts to keep Leona’s anger in check, and Brenten proves just how hilariously bad he is at following people. The offbeat police force is largely the same (in the case of the English dub practically identical) but with some cosmetic changes; the vibrant shades of blue of the squad’s original uniforms and tanks are replaced by a S.W.A.T team flavour of purples and greys. The crew is still spearheaded by Captain Brenten but the limelight is of course focused on Leona Ozaki and her delightful diminutive tank, Bonaparte. Mohawk-donned Mohican is replaced by Charlie Nam, Brenten’s tank pilot, who was introduced during the manga, and there’s the addition of Sophie, the ever-bubbly blonde office secretary forever leaning on Brenten for his police reports. Leona’s distinctive red hair has been altered for a uniform-matching auburn colour. The squad camaraderie dynamic is still present, with its funniest moments in the hustle and bustle of the office; a coffee machine that barely works and a short-fused Leona just one source of comedy. The questionable interrogations of the first OVA are no longer evident, replaced with often-heated squad vs chief/mayor meetings that are just as compelling for their procedural importance and passionate policing.    

With a highly entertaining series-long story arc, a much more patient and consistent pacing, established characters and a winning formula, New Dominion Tank Police is an excellent series. It’s more procedural and consistent formula could easily have been sustained as that of a 65-episode Saturday morning cartoon series of the time. Or at the very least a standard 26-episode anime, with its established tones, characters, cases, and ongoing political narratives. Expect a laugh or two as well, with not a giant plastic penis in sight (I really hope you read the last edition!)

Furuse’s follow on is at its core an original production that relies on little prior reading, although tributes to Shirow’s original work are referenced that are worthy of reprisal; The early moments of the first act reaffirm Dominion’s satirical message surrounding tank battalion high street police patrols as Leona and Bonaparte tear through, and subsequently tear down, a local restaurant to catch a criminal who is on foot. During a state funeral with both the mayor and police chief present. The series’ introduction, backed by the brilliant rock number Just Before the Time (a soundtrack available to stream under the name Tokuso Sensha-Tai Dominion, well worth a listen), is a montage of moments brought to the screen, without context, straight from the pages of the manga. Additionally, and unfortunately, Bonaparte’s colour change is not explained – the new blue/silver Bonaparte 2.0 was built due to the original being destroyed – and would have served well as a bridging flashback. But fear not as these merely differentiate the two different mediums, so both can be enjoyed in silo or together. Fans of Shirow’s work will no doubt fawn over the inclusion of the Fuchikoma, the spider-shaped mobile mini battle unit from the pages of Ghost in the Shell, which is used to great effect throughout the series as a constant and testing threat to the tank police.

New Dominion Tank Police is home to some truly great action set pieces. The Fuchikoma appears in one of the best in the very first act, taking on Leona and Bonaparte in a multi-storey building. With excellent, explosive yet clear and consistent animation, the action shifts from corridors to elevator shafts and back again, complete with an exhilarating sense of danger and a finale to match. The soundtrack comprises a variation of heavy rock numbers that accent moments of high tension or danger, as well as the lighter tracks that are designated aptly and evenly. When the inevitably catchy Bonaparte’s Theme kicks in, expect action, and with How to Write an Apology (Shimatsusho no Kakikata) expect the office hustle and bustle scenes. Such an accompanying soundtrack adds an established, multi-episode familiarity of a 1980/90s cartoon, and the resulting package is a highly watchable, and re-watchable (believe me I do, regularly) three hours of pure fun. There are plenty of funny moments too, with a standout being the chief giving a rundown on the potential danger surrounding a chemical bomb heading towards the city, just as Charlie Nam blows up and pops a paper bag behind his head. I almost spat my coffee out at that one.  

The release of New Dominion Tank Police in UK stores was as close to a new release as they came at the time, coming just two years after the Japanese release. This resulted in a much closer release gap between the first OVA of three years instead of five in its native Japan. Manga Video decided this was enough to market the episodes with continued numbering (5-10) despite this series not being a continuation and, even more baffling, including its own 1-6 act numbering on the episodes themselves. Nevertheless, the English translation hit UK stores April 1995, with each episode VHS tape, complete with the original cover artwork, and by this point most anime was available to pick up from my local Woolworths store. Vivid memories of Manga’s VHS range often appearing in weekly charts was a great vibe. And in the case of New Dominion Tank Police, it was also on merit.

With great action, characters, stories, and pacing, with a great soundtrack to boot, New Dominion Tank Police rises above its predecessor and becomes a brilliant and (almost) unique product thanks to its direction. A direction much better than the second manga series ever took, and even has the feel of an 80s American/Japanese animation production at times. And that’s thankfully without a mention of the Puma twins. Oops. Although no longer available on the current market, expect to find second-hand DVD copies easily online, but the prices are starting to rise somewhat. Retro is in, and New Dominion Tank Police is as delightfully retro as it gets.