A secret unit of the AD Police, known as Branch, specializes in crimes involving humanoid robots called "Boomers". Branch officer Buzz must cope with having a Boomer for a partner, while officer Michaelson finds the line between human and robot to be a thin one. Together they serve to protect a world that is slowly deconstructing around them. (Adapted from ANN)
Parasite Dolls, a distant cousin to the original Bubblegum Crisis OAVs, is cyperbunk that suffers slightly from its retreading of the genre's most common themes but remains an entertaining watch nonetheless. Its three episodes tell three stories that are largely self-contained, with each separated by several years in time, and although the same cast of characters appears throughout, the series makes no explicit references to other media within the universe, thus making this as appropriate for those unfamiliar with the franchise as it is for fans. Parasite Dolls' strongest moments come when the action begins and the screen begins to play with our eyes: although the show knows how to build atmosphere effectively, it occasionally lingers on a slow point in the plot without using something else to compensate, and the characters and imagery are, in general, more engaging than the attempts at intellectual musing, which are less well developed than those I've seen in other cyberpunk anime. Its flaws thus bring my opinion of it below that of Armitage III, Ghost in the Shell, and some other standouts of the genre, but Parasite Dolls still makes for good cyberpunk on the virtue of its cast and a solid plot, and is well worth watching even with my caveats in mind.
The story of Parasite Dolls focuses on a police branch devoted to handling the misuse of "Boomers", this universe's class of Androids, and with the strain of juggling existential questions and the memories of especially bad incidents compounding the usual work-related stress, it's no surprise that they turn out to be something of a grim and conflicted group of people. No character stands out as a favorite, but the main cast is likable on the whole and, a few slips aside, easy for the audience to accept as full-fledged human beings. It isn't that the series makes the characters particularly endearing, for although Buzz and Reiko make solid protagonists, the "grim guy with a troubled past" and "tough female cop" archetypes have appeared many times before. It simply avoids the mistakes that many other shows make with short running times, eschewing melodrama and misplaced comic relief and inserting some well-composed monologues that expound on the characters enough for us to accept them. Indeed, while this isn't my favorite of Konaka's works (I've seen other anime of his with more depth and a little less meandering), he does a solid job with the characters' dialogue and uses his scripting skill to make some potentially cliched moments (Reiko's wondering whether her masculine demeanor makes her unapproachable) turn out surprisingly well. For the most part, Parasite Dolls also does a good job of making its characters count: it uses the relatively slow first episode to build their personalities, and when characters die, they've been established well enough for their loss to have an effect. With that said, a few misfires do occur to make the cast a little less than it could be. In one slightly embarrassing slip, Reiko acts empathetically towards the boomers in one episode but disdains them in her next appearance, and aside from the fact that this sets up a convenient "change of heart" type moment for later, there's no valid explanation given. Additionally, the show's third protagonist and the only Boomer among the main cast is something of a cold fish: in spite of some heroic moments, Kimball's potential to illustrate a fascinating gap between humans and Boomers is largely wasted, his role delegated to that of an emotionless and relatively passive sidekick. Kimball at least isn't particularly annoying, however, and the character development is strong on the whole, carrying some relatively standard cyberpunk plots to an enjoyably empathetic level.
Parasite Dolls is not the most intelligent story of its kind, for while its stories of interspecies love, implantation of robots with human memories, and anti-robot cults are interesting at a glance, there's relatively little left to think about at series end, as most of the questions it raises are safe musings that other shows have asked and answered already. In this respect, I'm a little disappointed with Konaka, some of whose other writing (such as his work on Serial Experiments Lain) remains relevant to this day, and Parasite Dolls sits uncomfortably as a series that attempts symbolic storytelling without making a full commitment to it and then spends the rest of its time on action scenes. Both aspects are good, but neither is brought out enough to really make it great. Nonetheless, what it does accomplish is satisfying to watch: once the plot really begins to roll in the final act of the series, the result is spellbinding, and the aforementioned use of quiet moments for character development definitely intensifies the effect. I enjoyed the show's most intense moments and was also pleased by much of the cinematography during the quieter acts: if the show had gone farther in trying to leave a message behind, it would have already had some haunting images on its side, and the second episode, in which a female Boomer struggles with her implanted memories and comes face to face with some hallucinations reminiscent of Satoshi Kon's work, does this particularly well. The show also looks good without really breaking any new ground: the character design is attractive and the level of detail is welcome, but the color scheme is occasionally too dark to properly highlight certain scenes and spectacular moments of animation are limited to a very few bursts. It doesn't have much in common with the design of other Bubblegum Crisis-related anime, which might disappoint some fans, but it suits the cyberpunk ambience well and provides an appropriate sensation of grimness for the audience.
Parasite Dolls was the last of any anime in its universe to be produced, and while I'm not very familiar with the rest of the franchise, the general consensus I've picked up is that it doesn't represent the series at its peak. Even if that's the case, I'd recommend Parasite Dolls to anybody interested in cyberpunk: it's a good series that doesn't pull many surprises but does make a satisfying if sometimes a bit graphic watch. If one comes in without expectations of greatness and prepared for the violence, you'll likely enjoy it just fine.
It's a strong three stars: I enjoyed it but wasn't impressed just enough to give it a higher rating. Those who don't care of cyberpunk anime can knock a star off, as this probably won't really change your opinion of the genre. — Nick Browne
Recommended Audience: Though this isn't gratuitous by any means, there's still a lot of stuff in here that kids shouldn't see: graphic violence, a suicide, drug abuse, a fair amount of erotic imagery in the second episode (including some implicit sex), and some disturbing dismemberments. Considering the fact that there's really nothing that would appeal to young children, either, I'd say this is best for mature teenagers and adults.
Version(s) Viewed: Stream Courtesy of crunchyroll.com (Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (3/3)
Parasite Dolls © 2003 Anime International Company/Imagica
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