Shin

Dominion

Masamune Shirow’s Dominion 3rd Edition

Story and Art – Masamune Shirow
Japanese Publisher – Kodansha
English Publisher – Dark Horse
Release Date – 05/1993
Format – Left to Right
First Volume ISBN – 1-878574-74-4
Genre – Action, Comedy, Sci-fi
Age Rating – Teens

Welcome to Newport – Japan, 2010AD. Newport is a vast, technologically advanced bio-constructed super city, spanning as far as the eye can see in every direction…

Granted that’s not very far however, the world of Dominion is shrouded in a thick, viscous, omnipresent toxic smog that hangs in the air like a poisonous gas. Whilst the Smog doesn’t block out daylight completely, it forces the population to live and work inside the safety of sealed structures with artificially maintained environments and compels those who must venture outside to wear gasmasks or face sickness and possibly death.

As if things weren’t bad enough, crime and poverty in Newport is out of control, according to police statistics a violent crime is committed in Newport every 36 seconds. In fact things have become so out of hand that the reactionary government of the future have issued the police force with tanks to chase criminals and inevitably rack up damage claims as their trigger-happy, sledgehammer tactics cause mayhem through out the city, causing not only the criminals but also the civilians to loathe and fear the mighty Tank Police.

This is the background to the world Dominion, an action comedy staring Policemen and women with a difference, they’re as psychotic and dangerous as the bad guys they chase. It’s also, in my own humble opinion, Mr Shirow’s most integrated and complete world to date and his best work to boot. Having said this Dominion is probably Masamune Shirow’s best-known work only after Appleseed and Ghost in the Shell; though in truth it is his longest running work which covers more formats than any other. With Dominion and Dominion: Conflict mangas both being serialised by the publishers Dark Horse and the Dominion Tank Police and New Dominion Tank police Anime OAVs being released by Manga Corp for us lucky western viewers it is by no means unavailable, yet it remains largely forgotten, eclipsed by what could be described as its offspring Ghost in the Shell.

Dominion is an unusual piece of work for Shirow, as it is lacking some of his usual “trademarks” and talents. Whilst Dominion maintains Shirow’s talent for drawing complex and huge scale mechanical devices and machines as well as side arms and equipment in beautifully rendered black and white drawing accompanied by some incredible surroundings and somehow managing to keep an air of realism about the whole piece, it lacks his usual fascination with the female form. His usual scantily clad big busted heroines have been replaced with the Tom-Boy Leona Ozaki, who is clad for the most part in large baggy Tank Police fatigues and standard Tank Police body armour, she also has a unnatural fixation with her mini-tank Bonaparte, which she is incredibly over protective of. The sheer irony of how Leona protects the thing that is designed to protect her is funny enough, but Shirow manages to capture Leona’s insanity perfectly, her expressions and actions make it easy to believe that she really does love her tank… maybe to a degree which is decisively unhealthy, and an attentive (or perhaps mad) reader may even begin to understand her obsession.

In another departure from the style that has made Shirow so famous, Dominion’s story is surprisingly simple, far flung from the twisting, complex plots and triple crosses of the likes of Ghost in the Shell and Appleseed, though it still manages to remain far from formulaic – unlike the average, gritty cops and robbers storylines from America the where the cops are the good guys and the criminals are the bad guys – yet Dominion remains mature enough to avoid being classed as childish.

Despite the breaks from Shirow’s normal style, a casual glance at the artwork will reassure you it is indeed the work of the great man himself. The art work in Dominion is indisputably Shirow’s style, though it is more sketchy and playful than some of his other works, which I think suits the lighter mood of manga perfectly, though some may not like, but as stated above he does manage show off his skill for drawing mechanical devices, advanced cityscapes and weapons… oh as well as sexy Catgirls.

The plot is an interesting one revolving around the Tank Polices efforts to capture the villainous, though vertically challenged Buaku and his gang of misfits including the sexy Puma twins Anna and Uni and Green Peace Crolis – a human air filter created in a laboratory and discovered by Buaku at the end of the first Anime OAV. Not wanting to give away the plot it soon becomes a little more complex than your average comedy, the characters don’t seem to be good or back, insane maybe but neither righteous nor evil, which is a very interesting concept which contrasts with our overly simplistic “Goody/Baddy” mentality of today.

In conclusion, though the artwork is a little sketchy at times and despite its age and relative obscurity Dominion is an excellent Sci-fi comedy romp, more than worthy of my highest endorsement and defiantly worth tracking down, if for nothing else but to see the origins of “Ghost in the Shell”.

Characters

Leona – is the impatient, psychotic, tank loving protagonist of Dominion whose job it is to thwart Buaku’s every villainous endeavor. Leona is loud, brash and energetic. She is known for her stubbornness in her pursuit of evil doers and has been consistently follows them round, over and through any object in her and her beloved mini-tank “Bonaparte’s” path.

Al – is Leona’s long suffering partner and driver of the Mini-tank Bonaparte. He is seriously infatuated with Leona but not necessarily with her tank, perhaps unfortunately for him as it is often a fact that works against him in any attempt at romance. Al is the rational voice to curb Leona’s often erratic fervor to combat crime, though his retiring personality and sometimes his shyness coupled with his unrequited attraction to Leona results in him finding himself going with what she tells him more often than not.

Inspector Brenten – is a commander in the Newport Tank Police and he commands the precincts whole tank battalion and its crews. Brenten maintains a tough, macho cop image; he is obsessed with tanks, guns and violence. Beneath the harsh exterior however, Brenten is a bit of a softie (though some might say lazy… Just not to his face), in consequence he prefers riding around the streets in his beloved tank to actually solving any crimes. Of course, he wouldn’t let anyone else know that, and tries to live up to his image as a hard taskmaster.

Buaku – is a one time cyborg guinea pig, used in genetic and psychological experiments into the human conscience, who is now the most renowned gang leader in the Newport Area. He leads a large outlaw gang full of renowned criminals including his lieutenants the Puma sisters. Buaku has recently been terrorising the citizens of Newport City and recently took to infiltrating companies to rip off high tech equipment to attain an as yet unknown super mysterious goal. While he manages to have a few close shaves in his encounters with the Tank Police, military, and other authorities of Newport City, he manages to stay one step ahead of the law at all times.

Anna and Uni Puma – are twin feline androids whose only differing feature is Unipuma’s 0.014″ longer ears compared to her sisters. One time exotic dancers, they now work for Buaku as Lieutenants in his gang. They are professional soldiers with a fondness for automatic weapons, jewels, diamonds and antique clothes; they fit in well with the characters in Buaku’s gang. They do however lack common sense (some might say intelligence) and whenever they use their initiative rather than following Buaku’s orders they tend to cause only more problems.

Greenpeace Crolis – is the bioengineered humanoid female with wings acquired by Buaku from the research facility in which he was born years after it was destroyed. She’s a living air filter. Her wings filter air, purifying it and her green skin is embedded with chlorophyll, allowing her to gain energy directly from the sun. She seems to fit in as part of Buaku’s Gang well and is somehow part of his master plan; as a result he is forced to kidnap her back from Tank Police on many occasions with the help (and sometimes hindrance) of Anna and Uni Puma. She seems totally indifferent to the idea of being owned or who owns her as she has little concern for material or philosophical enrichment… As long as she gets enough light she is happy.

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.

By Raven

Work in progress... not home!
Trying to get all/most of the new code working before I start on the eyecandy.