Mining colonies on the Moon have been supplying critical materials for Earth's survival, but the colonists are feeling disrespected by their mother world, and the overbearing actions of the newly-appointed military governor, Alex Leiger, inexorably drive more and more of the lunar denizens to revolt. They also look to a mysterious ancient machine, Dallos, for support.
Like most of us, I grew up watching the occasional anime series on TV, but I didn't really turn into a fan until the early 90's, when Sailor Moon hit American TV and when I discovered, in a local video store that specialized in foreign and "cult" movies, Battle Angel, though I suppose I was originally shown the boundless possibilities of animation years before, with the French/Czech film Fantastic Planet (1972). Dallos is another product of yesteryear, a 1983 production notable for two things: as an early work by the future director of Ghost in the Shell, Mamoru Oshii; and as the first OVA series. In the U.S., when something is released directly to video without TV or theatrical showing, it tends to be a low-quality production, but anime has often been a completely different matter, with some of the best writing and production values around.
But even the best in 1983 looks quite a bit less impressive today. Audiences used to the gorgeous computer-enhanced animation of today are likely to be disappointed by the crude-by-comparison art of this show, and maybe especially by the simplistic character designs, backgrounds, and depictions of motion in the show's numerous battle scenes. (The art here seems heavily influenced by the graphics of two contemporary SF movies- the spaceships and orbiting satellites by the designs of Star Wars artist Ralph McQuarrie, while the look of Dallos itself seems to be inspired by the bio-mechanical drawings of H. R. Giger, the Alien artist.)
I wasn't bothered by the "old-fashioned" art, but I WAS a bit disappointed in the characters themselves. My favorite SF anime series have always made the relationships among the lead characters the centerpiece, and developed the rest of their worlds through the eyes (and experiences) of those central characters. Here our major young characters, Shun and Rachel, aren't really very substantial- he likes to tinker, while she's a bundle of female stereotypes of the day: no interest in technology, rather easily bored, given to jealousy but usually unwilling to say what's on her mind. She doesn't even have a last name, apparently. Neither of these kids is political; but the aforementioned heavy-handed actions of military governor Leiger start pushing Shun and Rachel toward an alliance with the colony's main revolutionary group, led by one "Dog" McCoy. (This show is obsessed with canines, by the way.) Of some interest is the fact that there might be some parties running callous schemes of their own to deliberately make Leiger look even worse than he actually is. But as characters in their own right, rather than just pawns in the plot, I really didn't see much in Shun or Rachel.
The second thing of note is that the four OVAs comprising Dallos are apparently just the opening chapters from a longer story. And I'll say no more about that.
The third thing is I'm a little unclear about just what the revolutionaries actually want to happen, despite several speeches from Dog. The domed cities the colonists live in are spotless, with pleasant parks and an artificial sky, and I didn't see any evidence of poverty or crime; it's quite a bit different from the world of, say, Battle Angel. When I tried to sort out the issues, here's what I got:
- The residents all wear unremovable metal rings on their heads, which authorities can used to determine identities remotely. OK, that is rather Big-Brotherish, though the original reason for their having these was apparently to locate and identify the colonists in the event of a mishap. (It's noted that the early years of the colonies featured a lot of mishaps.)
- The colonists still feel attached to Earth, and yet can never actually see it from where they are (on the far side of the Moon), nor are they usually allowed to return to Earth. OK again, this is apparently either Earth's feeling that the colonists would not be content to go back to the Moon if they saw Earth, OR just that Earth doesn't want to spend the money to transport them, living or dead, to Earth. (The "dead" point leads to a startling visual in Dallos, one of the two outstanding ones.) On the other hand, I would think that succeeding generations would not feel so attached to a world that they'd never even seen, and would begin to find things they loved about the place they were born. (I seem to remember a scene in Planetes where we meet a young woman who had been born on the Moon and was content to live there, quite aside from the fact that her bones would never withstand Earth's gravity.) It's understandable that the graybeard First Generation survivors might be homesick, but harder to understand it for Dog's generation (2nd), and hardest of all for Shun's (3rd.) (Shun apparently becomes enamored of Earth after hearing stories from Leiger's girlfriend, who Dog and company are holding captive. But becoming obsessed with a place you've never seen can have its downside, as Yugo found out in Battle Angel.)
So in summary, the Lunarians here live in clean, though rather crowded, cities, have some free time as kids, but work hard as adults. So exactly HOW is this different from the Japan of today? (Maybe Dallos is allegorical, come to think of it.)
And Dallos itself? Nobody really seems to know who built it. But it's provided sanctuary (including breathable atmosphere) for the Lunarians when they needed it, and they worship it as a god. They expect it to intervene on their behalf during the show's revolution, though when the intervention actually occurs the results might be a bit more complex than they expected. It looks very much like a face pointed toward the stars (and is the other great visual the show has), and if that is not anthropomorphizing too much, it implies that there might be a lot more of it buried. More cannot be said.
On balance, I don't think the show has aged that well. The modern fan may hate the antiquated art, and the series' lack of completion. I found the leads a bit thin as characters, and the revolutionaries' objectives too sketchy. But like its namesake, Dallos is nevertheless an interesting relic of another age. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Surprisingly violent for its day; lots of space suits get ruptured, and in lunar vacuum we know where THAT can lead. Not for small children; maybe 13+.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (4/4)
Dallos © 1990 Hisayuki Toriumi/ Mamoru Oshii/Studio Pierrot/Bandai Visual
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