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AKA: 爆炎CAMPUSガ-ドレス (Bakuen Campus Guardress)
Genre: Action-adventure romantic comedy
Length: OAV series, 4 episodes, 30 minutes each
Distributor: Currently unlicensed in North America
Content Rating: 15+ (adult themes, nudity, violence)
Related Series: N/A
Also Recommended: Bastard!!, Phantom Quest Corp, Tenchi Muyo: Ryo-Ohki
Notes: This series has never been licensed in North America, and likely never will, but has been popular amongst a certain subset of Western fans for quite a while; the "official" English translation was actually coined by a fansub group and has stuck for at least fifteen years.
Rating: Three StarsThree StarsThree Stars

Combustible Campus Guardress

Synopsis

Thirty thousand years ago, a group of heroes sealed a dark gate leading to another world. In modern day Japan, this gate is protected by the staff and students of Tobira High School, who are trained in magic in order to defend against the constant threat of the Remnants.

The Remnants, for their part, aim to reopen the gate by way of obtaining the key - Takumi Jinno, the pretty-boy reincarnation of the original hero of yore. Standing in their way is his older sister, Hazumi Jinno, who will stop at nothing to protect her brother, no matter the collateral damage, earning her the title of Queen of Friendly Fire (among other things).

Not that anything else matters to her, because she's dead set and determined to protect Takumi from any threat, because she loves him.


Review

About fifteen years ago, someone I used to know played a song for me that she described as the worst anime theme she'd ever heard. She then proceeded to play an MP3 of what surely must've been drunken schoolgirl karaoke ... ? Nope, it was the official release of "Innocent Heart" by Kei-Tee, and she went on to say how much she loved the show it came from, something called Combustible Campus Guardress.

Given that her recommendations eventually included Cosplay Complex, Mouse, and Eat-Man, it should come as no surprise that I would assiduously avoid this show until 2012. I figure, if the world's gonna end anyway*, I might as well give this a whirl. And while I'm not entirely sure what all the fuss is about, it's actually kind of a shame I didn't watch this as a wide-eyed college student, because I think I'd have enjoyed it way more back then.

Back in the early '90s, most parody anime tended to be very noisy, frenetic, slapstick-heavy affairs like Dragon Half, Ozanari Dungeon, Elf Princess Rane. The creators of this show, heavyweights Kazushi Hagiwara (Bastard!! - which gets a fairly hilarious shoutout in the first episode) and Satoru Akahori (Maze, and much later, Abenobashi) take a slightly different tack here by mixing together apocalyptic action and high-school dating hijinks, while lampooning both. The result is somewhat of a mixed bag - while Guardress is funny and exciting in fits and starts, it also subjects viewers to extreme mood whiplash - enough for me to suggest calling an insurance adjuster.

Frankly, a lot of the humor is very, very crass. We've got one sidekick whose appearances involve him unexpectedly appearing beneath Hazumi's skirt and commenting on the her undergarment choices. Another sidekick, Hime, essentially exists in order to have strategically placed wardrobe malfunctions. Even worse, the Remnant "mini-bosses" are a campy, criminally underdressed team of offensive stereotypes (ie. the Unwholesome Crossdresser, the Moustached French Seducer, etc) who exist to put the good guys in compromising positions before getting slapped down. And then there's the whole "fake incest" angle - Hazumi and Takumi aren't REALLY siblings, though watching Hazumi compete with their mom for his affections crosses the line to creeptastic. This trope is virtually always a load of epic fail in any anime and really only barely works even here.

But even two blind men can hit the side of a barn with enough shotgun rounds, and there are some comedy gold moments here. The "called attacks" are gutbustingly hilarious, and the collateral damage has actual, tangible effects on the local environment, though it seems utterly daft for everyone to be so concerned about finals when they know an apocalypse is coming. It's not like your test scores will matter if Tokyo blows up tomorrow, right? (Though if Apocalypse Zero has taught us anything, it is that Japanese schoolkids will go through the motions of being Japanese schoolkids, even when that goes against the primal instinct of self-preservation!)

Unfortunately, for all its humor, Guardress never really approaches excellence, by and large because neither Hagiwara nor Akahori seem to exhibit the slightest knowledge of subtlety, pacing, storywriting, or character development. Mood shifts are extreme and sudden - one moment we'll be having a lighthearted bit straight out of Tokimeki Memorial (which Takumi as the oblivious clean-cut high school hero archetype clearly belongs in) and then suddenly the Remnants show up and EXPLOSIONS HAPPEN and then that dude is looking at Hazumi's underwear again and then here's a dramatic flashback to the past and then there's creepy shoujo mom being really huggy with Takumi and then ... yeah, while not as frenetic as Akahori's later disaster Mon Colle Knights, it's obvious that the creators wish to just handwave the first half the plot and make us focus on the funny, instead of realizing we've just survived the scriptwriting equivalent of a freeway pileup.

Thankfully, in the second half of the series, the parodic elements mostly drop off somewhat, leading to a climax that actually turns out to be riveting and satisfying. A big point in Guardress's favor is the simple fact that Hazumi Jinno is probably the strongest, most interesting female character to come out of any Kazushi Hagiwara work - it's nice to see a Hagiwara girl not be a damsel-in-distress or a femme-fatale antagonist like the entire female cast of Bastard!!. Perhaps that's not saying much, but I have to give props to Rica Matsumoto (Ayaka Kisaragi in Phantom Quest Corp) for generally making Hazumi someone to root for, despite half of the dialogue being her yelling "Takumi!" at various pitches and frequencies. With all the humor and action, her angst and emotional conflict actually ends up bizarrely and unexpectedly compelling. It's just too bad that with four episodes (two hours runtime), we never really get to know the rest of the Tobira High School hero team - for the most part I don't even remember their names!

Even on a technical level, Guardress is heavily uneven. On the plus side, the animation is slick and about as good as early 90s video releases can get, which is to be expected with something bearing the Production IG label (in fact, this was the first anime with that label, previous efforts having been under the name of IG Tatsunoko). Even twenty years later this still looks like quality material, which probably goes a long way towards explaining its reputation among diehard old-school anime fans. The art is a really weird mix between bishoujo-game sugar and fighting-anime salt, like someone tried to mash up To Heart and Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, with lots of intentionally off-model SD moments (because that's what parodies do). And then there's the music, vacillating between forgettable 90s synth BGM and that horrible wailing thing I mentioned at the beginning of this review (sadly, every bit as bad now as it was in 1994, and equally sadly, not the only execrable song on the soundtrack).

If anything, Combustible Campus Guardress proves that tropes we think of as ubiquitous and unique to modern shows existed quite a bit longer ago than many of us think - think of this as a 90s precursor to Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere, a no-holds-barred mash-up of everything that fans thought anime "should be" in 1994. There really is a lot of fun to be had here, what with all the superpowered housewives and cheerleaders and student body presidents looking good showing off their animated (and named!) attacks. But don't let nostalgia fool you: this was always intended to be well-animated fluff.

Though not quite a classic, Guardress is a dumb-fun romp through early 90s anime cliches. If you REALLY love 90s-style action pieces, go ahead and add a star.Carlos Ross

Recommended Audience: There's some nudity (mostly played for laughs), fake mother-son and sister-brother incest (played for laughs), a character whose primary trait is blatant voyeurism, and some pretty tasteless costumes among the Remnants, but more than that, there is a lot of violence and blood (a character even gets cut in half). Lots of collateral damage and bystander deaths as well. Clearly for older teens and above.



Version(s) Viewed: Digital source, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (4/4)
Combustible Campus Guardress © 1993 Production IG
 
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