Sunday, 31 January 2016

#17: You're Under Arrest! - The Motion Picture (1999)

Director: Junji Nishimura
Screenplay: Masashi Sogo and Seiji Soga
Based on the original manga by Kōsuke Fujishima
Voice Cast: Akiko Hiramatsu (as Miyuki Kobayakawa); Sakiko Tamagawa (as Natsumi Tsujimoto); Bin Shimada (as Ken Nakajima); Etsuko Kozakura (as Yoriko Nikaido); Ikuya Sawaki (as Inspector Tokuno); Issei Masamune (as Chief)
Viewed in Japanese with English Subtitles

The You're Under Arrest! franchise encapsulates how a Japanese franchise is just as much, if not more, dictated by its success with its home audiences as it does Western fans. Its known in the West but it was through how well it did in its home country that, after the original 1986 to 1992 manga, there have been since 2008 four television series, one live action TV drama, straight-to-video stories and this feature films based on the antics of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department at the fictional Bokuto Police Precinct station. Since the manga its followed two female traffic cops. Natsumi Tsujimoto, a brash and hard-headed woman who appears at work many times with a hangover and, turning the franchise into a fantastical one, has superhuman strength with her trademark being able, without causing any permanent harm to herself barring possible shoe leather costs, to open the door of a moving vehicle she is in and, through placing her feet on the tarmac below, being able to steer/stop said vehicle as a result. Her partner Miyuki Kobayakawa is more coolheaded and collected, though her various interests including cars, computers, booby traps and firearms, both real ones and fake ones to which the later plays a major plot point for this feature film. Alongside their motley crew of colleagues and superiors, they have to tackle anything from speeding to the subject of this film, a terrorist group who start by causing traffic light malfunctions to threatening to blow up bridges, intending to actually invade the police station when knowledge is brought up of a police training scenario on disc so good that it could actually be repurposed to commit international crime.

I've seen three different pieces of the franchise including this film and I find plenty of potential in You're Under Arrest! as an entertaining franchise, something as innocuous as traffic cops a potentially fun idea. The light comedic action tone allowed, over the three entries I saw, for the stories to juggle between the film's more serious moments, as if its abruptly going to turn into Mamoru Oshii's Patlabor 2 (1993) in political subtext, to a sex comedy. The issue with the franchise however is that, while thankfully this feature film was good, the first two I saw were terrible, the length of the franchise and its presumed popularity bringing in a danger that, as long as the characters act like they are expected to, any level of quality can be accepted. This is a pulp franchise, where the characters over the three pieces I saw don't change psychologically and the plots are easy to predict in their outcomes, but this isn't an issue when that can still being imaginative and fun. The real problem is when lack of good work or storytelling is involved due to complacency. My first viewing was a series of 1999 TV mini-specials, little episodes put together on DVD which prioritised the humour more, most of it bland and suffering from the early transition from hand drawn to digitally assisted animation with atrocious 3D modelling and digitally assisted camera pans within scenes. The second was You're Under Arrest: No Mercy! (2002), where in a bizarre decision to spice up the franchise the lead heroines were inexplicably transferred to the LAPD in the US; it is exactly like the parody of spin-offs in The Simpsons episode The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase (1997), the one within it specifically about Principal Skinner and Chief Wiggum inexplicably being detectives in New Orleans, only with Miyuki drooling over American muscle cars, the characters in skimpy bikinis on the beach, and being just as silly for only thirty minutes.

I came into this with trepidation, especially as the director of this made the mini-specials, the light and frothy nature of the franchise only over three parts already a double edged sword for me as a newcomer, where alongside being thrown into stories with the characters already established the quality could vary greatly. Thankfully, not only can you build up personalities for the characters for yourself from their quirks, but this motion feature is a bar higher in terms of quality in every way. The film's lightweight but it's still a huge leap above many anime outside the franchise for just getting a lot right. It helps, as a theatrical feature, that for a simple eighty plus minute film the animation is a high standard, making director Junji Nishimura's involvement with the mini-specials baffling but not taking away how pre-digital drawn animation had a beautiful look to it especially at this good quality. The other factor of why the film works is a personal one but one that is universal for any reader who becomes fond of an anime franchise despite the chance of entries being bad, that the characters especially the two leads of You're Under Arrest! are memorable, despite being archetypes, to the point you want to see them in more (preferably good) stories. This encapsulates a virtue of anime and manga that has been emphasised by manga writer Kazuo Koike - the writer of the original sources of Lone Wolf and Cub, Crying Freeman, Lady Snowblood and someone whose do well with this advice looking from those creations - that characters are the most important part of a story. Even less than great anime such as (blog entry #6) High School DxD (2012) have shown that no matter how lacking and dubious the stories are the characters can still be memorable, even if it's just through their designs and their charisma, to the point of wanting them to be used in better material. Even though they are simple clichés, from the police superior who is serious sometimes but would start crying if shot in the knee to the cute nerdy girl in glasses, these characters are likeable in the film, the two leads in particular managing by their own quirks to make them memorable anime protagonists that can carry a story along.

The seriousness of this entry in complete contrast to the other two I've seen was a surprise, but it thankfully isn't deathly serious which could've been mortally fatal as this isn't Patlabor II with a real depth but merely a story meant to offer thrills. Comedic characters in other parts have more seriousness here, and adds a lot to the entertainment, but the humour prevents this from becoming a slog if it failed to be a deep political drama. In fact there's a charm from how naive and light the franchise is especially when trying this serious story, where even if a bridge is blow up and the police station is threatened no one is actually killed, and the police never go as far as maiming any criminal to stop them. For one scene, the planned celebration decoration for a character for when they returned in the country proves to be a great improvised trap against an armoured grunt or two with full automatic rifle, surprisingly effective in lieu of what happens. The fact the franchise bends physics with vehicles and the strength Natsumi has means that the action scenes in these films have a movie realism that's impossible to dismiss, both the kind of spectacle of an American action film, if more sedate in tone, but also capable of ridiculous moments that can get away with what happen. There's as much a humour in witnessing a character get a perfect shot in hitting a boat from another boat with a tire as admiring how the moment itself is depicted from behind the flying tire's point of view as if flies over the body of water underneath it.

The breeziness which could be argued to make this a minor anime actually is its advantage as well, preventing the film from slogging at all in its feature length. Unlike the other two You're Under Arrest! anime I saw, this is paced well and never tedious, never weighed down with any shonky comedy or plot. That the others were short pieces is really damning of them as they didn't hold the consistency this much longer work has, and it's as much the drama being there, where a side character may have knowledge of the person causing the crime, that helps support the film by giving it a dramatic weight alongside the humour and thrills. This also makes this a great starting off point for the franchise, if you can find it, as you can quickly get the personalities of the characters because of their pulp story nature and have a well made story, in terms of animation and plotting, to begin with to introduce them. This is the template for one would hope for from You're Under Arrest!, especially for myself, even in terms of a television series within the franchise.


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