Dog Soldier: Shadows of the Past
Ex-Green Beret John Kyosuke Hiba is working at a construction site with his buddy Fudou when they are embroiled in an international incident: a female American scientist carrying a vial of what is thought to be a biological weapon has been kidnapped on Japanese soil by the mysterious arms dealer known only as "Phantom", and Hiba is manipulated by the CIA and elements of the Japanese government to get down to the bottom of this, at any cost. Of course, Hiba proves to have closer ties to "Phantom" and the American scientist than anyone could have expected ... or did they?
No actual dogs were harmed or depicted in the production of this film.
I apologize in advance for the synopsis above, as I made this poorly-written, slipshod story sound a lot better than it really is.
Dog Soldier may very well be the paragon of bad 80s anime. Every single aspect of this film is fatally flawed, starting with the paper-thin copy of Rambo (who, on the cover, looks remarkably like Charlie Sheen from Hot Shots) who nevertheless feels the need to occasionally embark on half-hearted attempts at distorted City Hunter-esque facial expressions (and perhaps one attempted panty shot that is mercifully avoided). His meathead buddy Fudou, looks even more out of place amongst the otherwise "realistically" styled characters.
There is the inevitably tragic backstory, where the half-Japanese/half-American characters are shown in flashback about five or six separate times facing off in what we are told repeatedly are the slums of the outskirts of Los Angeles. Never mind that, in the early 1980s as today, the lower-income parts of Los Angeles were decidedly in the inner-city areas such as South Central LA and Compton. Also, there was much more danger from street gangs than from terrorists. It's not that you should expect these guys to have done any research whatsoever. And what do I know? I only lived in Southern California from 1983 to 1989, after all ... only the exact time period these idiots are referencing!
The characters also hilariously nickname it "Los", which means "The" in Spanish. I, too, look fondly back on those formative years living in the slums of the outskirts of "The". Because none of us could think of any other popular nicknames for Los Angeles. Nah.
By the way, if you're wondering if these characters will ever exhibit any sort of actual philosophical depth or personality? No. Categorically no. I would argue they are too thin to even qualify as archetypes, especially the lone female character, whose entire purpose is to ping-pong ineffectually between the obvious protagonist and obvious antagonist and ultimately make the obvious choice such a character generally makes in a 1980s action thriller anime (suffice it to say that her chances of survival are remarkably slim and leave it at that).
Following along this seemingly neverending parade of suck, we have scads of invariably ridiculous action sequences, during which we are expected to believe that John / Kyosuke (and no, they never decide which name to call him during the course of the film) is able to leap a hundred feet in the air onto a helicopter skid, defeat multiple guys armed with machine guns by using throwing knives, and so on and so forth, thanks to what must be some of the laziest editing and combat animation I've seen in the "action" genre. During the climactic battle, we get a quadruple take during a single stabbing sequence that lasts approximately a minute and a half: probably the most drawn out single action in a combat sequence ever filmed in Japanese animation.
Does it make the action look any more exciting or well-connected? Absolutely not. Is it funny as hell? YES.
What doesn't help at all whatsoever is the music, which essentially involves the music director's toddler crawling all over the lowest-budget Casio keyboard possible. It's so jarring that it absolutely destroys the mood of half the scenes that aren't action - and when it isn't horrible synthesizer, it's a synthesized harmonica montage: a cliche we're ALL glad failed to survive to the present day.
Another point that is clearly NOT in this anime's favor is the dialogue, which involves lines like, "Phantom? The new up and coming death merchant, right?" Pointedly, the most promising five minutes of this film are in the beginning, when no one is saying anything; it's only when people start expositizing for the next five eons that this anime jumps headlong into the proverbial handbasket. Honestly, I was kind of glad when most of this cast inevitably died, if only because it finally shut them up!
Finally, there's the MacGuffin in this whole thing, the actual nature of which I called within the first thirty seconds of its arrival. Unfortunately, the characters don't actually get there for another forty minutes; I'll just say that this "Rambo with AIDS" would've probably been more interesting if it actually had AIDS. (Actually, there is a similarly plotted and honestly far better animated film out there that name-checks AIDS and has a Rambo-like lead, though it does admittedly involve puppet sex, so your mileage may vary.)
The worst thing about this, though, is that, with poorly plotted and generally poorly animated action, woefully inconsistent and often butt-ugly art style, borderline nausea-inducing music, and characters with personalities thinner than stone soup, there isn't even a satisfying ending: pretty much John / Kyosuke / PICK A GODDAMN NAME DAMMIT! wins the day, tells everyone to go screw off in a scene essentially misappropriated from Top Gun, and flies into the sunset with his lunk buddy who's maybe only showed up for half the action scenes (and not even the important one).
Yeah, I totally spoiled that he survives the film, but there's no sequel because Movic and Sony didn't care to find out what happens next, and frankly, neither do I.
While hilariously mockable on every conceivable level, I hesitate to call Dog Soldier a remotely enjoyable experience; taken at face value, it's an obnoxiously unsubtle, abject failure of a film. Taken from an absurdist point of view, though, it's stupid funny, but still not enough for me to pry its remains from the smoking crater it has left in the bottom of the barrel. — Carlos/Giancarla Ross
Recommended Audience: For an action film, this has some of the least detailed action scenes I've ever seen in an OVA. Only a couple of on-screen deaths are shown explicitly; the majority of the mooks are taken out by plumes of smoke and explosions. There is one scene where a young child is shown being murdered just offscreen, and while there is blood shown, the violence here is potentially overshadowed by the viewer's annoyance at witnessing a ham-handed attempt at emotional manipulation. No nudity or sexual content - a potential panty scene is actually averted (a rare occurrence in anime). While technically appropriate for teens and up, it's actually hardly appropriate for anyone.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital source, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Dog Soldier: Shadows of the Past © 1989 Movic / Sony Music Entertainment (Japan), Inc.
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