Dominion Tank Police
Genre:Futuristic Police Comedy (Comedy)
What’s in it?:Gunfights, Mass Destruction (the good guys do most of it), Music (several musical interludes), Super Technology, Tanks, Chases and Races, Slapstick, Parody
In the not so distant future, Newport city is the pinnacle of modernity. The air is perpetually polluted by an ever present bacterial cloud, the general populace is forced to wear gas masks in the street, and crime is so out of control that the police formed a special division – the Tank Police. These are the best, the brightest, the most sadistic, of the city’s police force. Ok, so they’re feared by the general populace, they usually cause more destruction than they prevent, and they care more about their tanks than catching criminals. But they perform a mean interrogation (pun intended). These guys are (in American style due to lack of special English police units) NYPD Blue, the LAPD, and Rambo all rolled into one. And so begins the tale of a girl and her mini-tank, Bonaparte.
Part 1 (Ep. 1 and 2):
As our story opens, we meet Leona Ozaki, the newest member of the tank police, freshly transferred from the motorcycle patrol. Well, Leona doesn’t think much of tanks or the Tank Police’s rather unorthodox crime control methods, but she’s determined to make herself a valuable member of the force.
Her chance shows up promptly when on her first patrol run behind the controls of the boss’ 25 foot steel monstrosity, she happens upon a crime in progress, the notorious criminal Buaku and his beautiful-as-they-are-deadly henchmen, the cat sisters Annapuna and Unupuma are busy running from a theft at a mysterious research hospital. Well, things don’t go well and Leona ends up totalling the boss’ tank, but she’s not quite ready to give up yet, and Buaku and his gang are still at large. And then there’s the mystery of the very hospital that was robbed. What exactly are they up to there?
Part 2 (Ep. 3 and 4):
Buaku and friends are busy on their next crime, an art heist. The prize is a rare painting, but this time it’s personal. Somehow, this valuable painting is a portrait of Buaku himself, and he intends to reclaim it. But someone isn’t so anxious to have their painting stolen, and have hired the notorious assassins known as the Red Commandos to stop whoever tries. Now Buaku’s on the run from more than just the police, and Leona manages to get herself mixed up in the whole mess. Now the Tank Police are out looking for their kidnapped rookie, who’s trying to escape, and the cat sisters are looking for their boss, who is trying to figure out what this painting has to do with his mysterious past and why it seems so important to him. And time is running out for both of them.
Of the four of Masamune Shirow’s works to take on an animated incarnation so far (the others are Appleseed, Ghost in the Shell, and Black Magic M-66), I would have to say that the animated version of this was more true to his original vision than any of the others (and that includes Ghost in the Shell). I’m not saying that this is better than Ghost in the Shell, but that movie, however well made or written, was quite a bit different from Shirow’s original story and characters. Dominion on the other hand seems to really capture the feel of the original manga version of the story. Note that I don’t mean that the story is the same (it’s not), but that the style and feel of the story and characters were very true to the original. Note also that Dominion is probably the most humorous of Shirow’s stories, and definitely the funniest of those that have been animated, so don’t come expecting heavy philosophy or serious violence. Well, actually there is a bit of philosophy but… Anyway, it’s got lovable characters, fun action in abundance, silly humour in all the right places, and (true to Shirow form) a really convoluted plot.
There are two story arcs in this series, and they are somewhat different in mood. The first story, though it has a few introspective moments, is basically high comedy. There are tank chases, hilarious “interrogation” scenes, and a generally high spirited mood. The second story arc is no slouch on fun or humour, either, but it delves more deeply than you’d expect into the history of a seemingly very superficial bad guy. This surprisingly philosophical mood will no doubt put off some people who came looking for empty comedy, but it does match Shirow’s knack for blending comedy and complex storylines together. About the only thing that bothered me was the very ambiguous ending (heck, the whole story was pretty obscure), but even that somehow seemed to fit.
As with any good anime tale, the thing that really makes Dominion a keeper is the characters. The character designs are memorable and more or less true to Shirow’s; whimsical (not the semi-realistic style of Ghost in the Shell, to be sure), funny, and all around cute. But even though this is a comedy series, they still have plenty of personality, and in a couple of cases, more depth than you’d think at first glance (how many comedy series have you seen that spent a significant portion of their running time looking at the traumatic past of the villain?). Other characters, of course, are just silly caricatures, but you’ve got to love them anyway (who can resist the tank-loving Captain Britain or lovable anime-every guy Al). Al deserves an honourable mention in the poor-anime-guy-fighting-for-the-heart-of-the-girl-who-doesn’t-seem-to-notice-him category; this guy isn’t up against the girl’s dream hunk, her family, or even her job – he’s got a miniature patrol tank to compete with.
Artistically, Dominion is an older series and so shows some of its age, but still holds up quite well. First off, the feel of the characters and the world they inhabit holds true to Shirow’s original story (note that we’re talking about the original Dominion series here, not Dominion: Conflict). The world is worth a look, and is surprisingly original; rather than your ordinary everyday futuristic skyscrapers, this city is covered with oddly organic looking structures, and even the tanks (most of them are bio-tanks) have a sort of alien look to them. Despite this, the world still seems like a place where real people live and there are always an abundance of pedestrians wandering the streets (usually to get run over by something heavy). The animation, though not perfect, is quite good, particularly for an older series, but does go pretty heavy on slapstick and “cartoony” stuff. Whether that’s a bad thing or not depends on your taste. The chase scenes in particular are well done, and the city scenes always have lots of extraneous action going on (car accidents, yelling pedestrians, that sort of thing). There’s also a neat-looking bit of stylised intro animation (and an end version that isn’t very visible above the credits in the dubbed version), along a few little musical interludes during the story (a striptease by the cat sisters, and a couple of Scooby Doo style chases set to music). Speaking of which, I’ll mention that all of the music was re-recorded for the dub (with entirely different tunes), and I don’t think the quality was as good as the original; the score was weaker and more repetitive than the original, which featured a weird (and very amusing) mix of 80’s pop and old-fashioned Japanese themes.
The acting in the dub isn’t particularly good, although the humour did survive the translation process relatively well. The Japanese acting, on the other hand, is hilarious, with lots of distinctive voices and a few standouts–Britain is great, as are the cat sisters and many of the minor Tank Police characters (and Leona’s voice is fine too–it fits perfectly). Buaku also has a very distinctive voice, but the relatively low-key, quiet delivery of many of his lines didn’t really match either the general mood of the series or the apparent amount of on screen screaming. The lack of really over-the-top screaming in particular was kind of disappointing. On the bright side, he’s still acted well, and does fine in the quieter moments in the second half, and some of his more offhanded humour comes across quite well.
In all, Dominion is an anime classic, and is worth a look if you enjoy light, wacky (and occasionally a bit sadistic) comedy with an occasional dose of convoluted plot and philosophy. Be warned that the second half of the story is a bit slower and more philosophical than the first, so come prepared. If you’re a fan of Shirow’s manga work, you definitely shouldn’t miss Dominion, and this one may be worth adding to your collection.