For this one we have to start a ways back, nearly 30 years, in 1986. In that year the now well recognized mangaka Masamune Shirow released his first new manga since achieving professional success, Dominion: Tank Police. While Shirow is most well-known for Ghost in the Shell and a crap-ton of porn in the past decade, Dominion doesn’t seem to come from the same place as that. I’ll say now that I might be wrong about that, as I’ve never actually read any of Masamune Shirow’s manga. But we’re not looking at his manga today; no, today we’re looking at an OVA adaptation of Dominion made by Koichi Mashimo and (studio) Agent 21 in the late 80s. One of the most funnest, craziest, tankiest anime ever made.
Before we get into the actual anime, we have to deal with some menu navigation problems. I have Dominion as part of a 2 disk Masamune Shirow collection; it shares a disk with Appleseed. On the other disk things are simple; you load it up and are immediately met with one menu listing Black Magic M-66, Ghost in the Shell, and Gundress. Click on any one of those and it’ll bring you to another menu for playing, scene selection, set up, etc. for that film. That part’s fine.
On the Appleseed/Dominion disk though, things are a complete mess. By default it brings you straight to the Appleseed menu, and there’s no way to back out further. How you watch Dominion seems to vary by machine, and just whatever mood the disk is in that day. On my laptop I’ve found I have to cycle through chapter and title selections, seemingly at random, until it just happens to bring me to a random Dominion scene, then I can back out to root menu to get the actual Dominion menu. But on my DVD player, the only way I could watch it was by actually just fast-forwarding through Appleseed right through to the end, then keep going through a black screen for a minute or two. But once I finally got there, oh baby was it worth it!
Our protagonist is one Leona Ozaki, a new recruit for the Newport Tank Police. There’s one problem though, she’s got girly parts, and probably cooties too. Her hyper masculine squad leader, Charles Brenten, doesn’t want to catch any cooties, and makes it clear to Leona that if she wants to stay on the force, she’d better grow a penis or kick more ass than any man. Leona takes the second option, and sometimes takes it too far, even pulling a gun on the Prime Minister.
After sending Charles’ tank to the scrapyard after the most destructive chase scene ever, Leona is supposed to be transferred out of the Tank Police. But, before the transfer can go through, she and her partner Al Cu Ad Solte (who has the cutest crush on her ^.^) use the scrap parts to build her very own tank, which she names Bonaparte. With this new badass machine in her possession, Leona blackmails her way out of the transfer, and saves the day! It’s not corruption and incompetence, it’s Tank Policing!
If it’s not obvious, this fictional city of Newport isn’t exactly a utopia. It’s a crime ridden mess where the police typically cause more damage than the people they’re after, and that’s when they decide to go after them at all. It’s a satire of a police state, and what makes it work as well as it does is that it doesn’t actually present any characters who oppose it. The Prime Minister hates the tank police, but it’s more for political and budget reasons than ideological. And Leona is actually completely on their side. It gets its message across without getting bogged down in it, and can instead focus on the fun crazy non-sense when you have a massive police force armed with tanks.
While the first half of Dominion is mostly non-sense, the second half is more serious, taking on the same kind of Sci-fi themes as GitS, i.e. artificial life, and variation. It doesn’t have nearly the same level of philosophical of poetic prowess of GitS, and it could have used a lot of polishing and better dialog. My main problem with it is the ending, which probably had some significance but was so poorly executed I doubt it can be accurately unpacked. It gave the show and the characters some depth, even if very little, instead of just being a fun but otherwise empty bit of entertainment.
Leona herself at first seems like a prime candidate to top the mountain of dim-witted anime characters, but quickly becomes very likeable and a perfect representation of the show. Though she contrasts the rest of the Tank Police department by being neither gruff nor unfriendly, she’s certainly got as much guts and brains as any of them. She’s not a perfect cop, and doesn’t have any dreams of reforming the broken like most new blood characters; instead she strikes a balance between learning from her superiors (even if the lessons suck), and threatening them at gunpoint. She takes her roll protecting the city seriously, but is also friendly and relaxed enough to keep her from becoming another emotionless anime war-chick.
In the 3rd and 4th OVAs her character is diminished a little bit, as her love of her tank Bonaparte is tank too far. She starts obsessing over it at every opportunity, being more concentred about the tank than other people. At first it’s a charming bit of development as she cares for the creation that set her apart as a tank police officer, while simultaneously having their affinity for the machines. But it’s overdone to the point where she loses a lot of what made her so likeable in the first place; she lets caring for the tank get in the way of her police duties. She’s still a lot of fun though, which is what’s most important in this show.
She’s a badass with a good heart, and I wanna see more characters like her.
Charles is the opposite, he projects badassery non-stop, and is more interested in driving a vehicle with the most phallic cannon possible, than actually using it sensibly. He’s an exaggerated asshole, but fun to watch because he’s not all that bad, just too macho for anyone’s own good. The guy reads a magazine called “How to Kill” for god sakes, how can you not love him.
The rest of the Tank Police aren’t just background characters; several of them have distinct designs, personalities, and even some story significance, which adds a lot of charm. They’re not worth going over specifically, but they do help bring the whole show to life, and diversify the interactions.
Lastly, the villains, who might be even more fun than the heroes. First there’s Buaku, who’s a joke bad guy in the first two episodes, but is heavily developed in the latter two. Unfortunately, I can say anything about it without giving away the story, so let’s move to cat girls! Specifically the Puma twins, a pair of gun loving, cosplaying, cat-eared beauties who work for Buaku. Every moment either of these two is on screen is a blessing (I really like cat-girls). Beyond the obvious greatness of these two characters, they make a perfect comic duo, often volleying a joke back and forth for a while before throwing at their boss.
In terms of animation and sound, Dominion is a late 80s adaptation of a Masamune Shirow manga. Technical animation is fine quality -nothing to really gripe with. It really comes down to whether or not you like the style. I rarely see a hand-drawn anime that I don’t like, and Dominion is no exception. If you like vintage, you’ll find it looks fine.
As for sound, the dialog is from the same era, so it’s a little clumsy at times. Toni Barry needed some time to find Leona’s voice, but by the second episode almost everyone sounds great (or as good as they could with the available technology), and the writing offers a lot more genuine laughs than ironic ones. The only character voice that never seemed to set in right was Buaku, which is a shame because a better performance could have really helped his character in the second half.
The sound track fulfills its purpose well, but doesn’t do much else. Despite the bombastic nature of the show, the start of almost every scene is silent with the exception of some music. These tracks set the mood for the scenes well, and then fade away into a forgotten but still effective background as yelling and explosions take their place. Most of these songs are very simple, slow and relaxing, so it’s impressive just how much then can convey, even when setting a very active and excited tone.
Overall, Dominion: Tank Police‘s first half is superior to its second, but both are fun and have a something to offer. It’s a classic anime that deserves its place in a lot of fans’ hearts, but doesn’t measure up to it’s more popular brethren in intellectual value. Better execution could have helped it through the ending, and maybe some better dialog too. It’s well worth watching, even if you skip the second half.
Next time we’ll be looking at another anime in the Dominion franchise, New Dominion Tank Police. Until then
Don’t Lose Your Way