Harmagedon: Genma taisen
To celebrate the recent release of Akira on Blu-ray, we continue our look at the work of Katsuhiro Otomo with his first step into animation, Harmageddon…
Often left of the resume, sometimes understandably, Harmageddon is nonetheless an important step in Katsuhiro Otomo’s career. Contributing character designs, some key animation, as well as illustrations to the film directed by Rintaro, it showed exactly where he wanted to move as a creator. The film has become better known thanks to a more recent collaboration between the two, Metropolis – the film based on a 1949 manga by Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka that itself was inspired by the Fritz Lang film of the same name. (Which has, it must be said, the best uses of a Ray Charles song in a movie – even better than his own appearance in The Blues Brothers!)
It’s also quite a pertinent comparison point with Akira, putting that later film in context. In contrast Harmageddon looks cheap, lacking the painstaking care and attention to detail of Otomo’s later film, and yet this was a big-budget release for the time, coming long before the cinema and OVA scene truly took off in Japan (most of it was still on TV). Fort instance, there’s a lot of scanning of painted scenes with little or no movement, quite usual for Anime of this time. Yet it even carried a soundtrack by Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer fame (about the same time he also contributed to Dario Argento’s Inferno).
Harmageddon is roughly based on the first three novels of Genma Taisen, a long-running manga written by Kazumasa Hirai (8 Man, Wolf Guy) and illustrated by Shotaro Ishinomori (Cyborg 009 and creator of the first Super Sentai series, Himitsu Sentai Goranger, which would later become better known in the west as the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers) published in Weekly Shōnen Magazine from 1967.
The story template is not exactly unfamiliar, even if on paper it sounds a little off the wall. Deep in space a demon, Genma, is intent on destroying the entire universe, taking nihilism to new levels. Only a small group of psionic warriors stand in its way: including Transylvanian princess Luna, high school student Jo Azuma and a millennia-old cyborg warrior with depression issues. (Well, Genma did destroy not only his girlfriend but his entire race 2,000 years before.)
Summoned together by a mysterious energy being, together with others from around the world, can they stop the might of a demon that has already destroyed so much of the universe? No, I’m not going to tell you…
Familiar it may be, but before Harmagaedon this type of sci-fi epic or monster movie didn’t really exist. Following such monsters and heroes dominate Anime, including in such films as Crystal Triangle. At points the destruction of familiar landmarks and cities, such as Tokyo, and particularly the Statue of Liberty and New York, feel like something out of a Roland Emmerich production to come a decade later.
It’s interesting that the lead character Jo, who became such an archetype for such characters after this, is a dupe for Kaneda in Akira, while his powers are much like that of the character of Tetsuo. One of the film’s best scenes comes as he discovers these new powers, paying homage to The Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment in Fantasia.
Ironically, considering I was watching this on my old laserdisc copy (yes, really, I still use it!), some of the footage was originally reworked to become part of a laserdisc video game, Bega’s Battle, cutting in back stories between the actual gameplay, much as games do now.
There are, as you’d expect from Anime, some fairly random inclusions. A bizarre, witch-like woman breaks onto the screen after the titles, warning of Earth’s destruction, before disappearing from the plot and us getting to hear it again from that mysterious being.
One thing you do notice is just how slow the plot moves. We’ve passed through a whole hour with barely a scrape with the bad guys, then all of a sudden all the gangs here and working together against Genma. Often criticised for its racial stereotypes – if anything there’s a not so subtle message here about understanding different cultures and races – perhaps the biggest crime is the inordinate amount of costume changes and looks Luna has. Shouldn’t she be a bit more concerned with the impending threat of Genma? I mean what is this, a Lady Gaga video?
Invariably the ending feels a little rushed and dare I say rather lacklustre, having faced down Genma’s demon lackeys in epic fights it doesn’t seem to take that much to off the main villain himself. That said, this a pretty enjoyable Anime effort and (fairly) family friendly.
Distributor: U.S. Manga Corps (US)
Edition: Collectors' Series (2002)
A second DVD from this now defunct label included an interview and commentary by Rintaro himself, making this quite a desirable release.
Distributor: U.S. Manga Corps (US)
Edition: Retail (1993)
Considering the age, and watching this on a modern flatscreen, this is a good transfer of the film and sound. No bonus features.