Jan 022012

I mentioned in one of my Ben-To posts that I had my eye on David Production. They haven’t done much in the way of anime series, but the few that they’ve done seem to steer away from popular trends. I have no idea if it’s a deliberate choice in their part or if its purely coincidental, but Book of Bantorra, Level E, and Ben-To all came off as decidedly non-mainstream. I was curious to see if this was a trend in David Production’s stuff, so I’ve made a deliberate effort to go back and look at other series they’ve done.

Turns out I’d already seen part of one of their first efforts: Dogs: Stray Dogs Howling in the Dark.

When I first realized this, I remembered kinda hating Dogs. I couldn’t remember why, so I decided to give it another shot. Maybe I was just in a bad mood that day or something. At the first episode of this OVA made me think that was exactly the case.

Dogs is split up into four 15 minute stories, each one dealing with a different criminal and their personal problems and shit like that. The first one was pretty cool. An old school assassin returns to his hometown and has to deal with his former protegé. Turns out said protegé murdered the assassin’s girlfriend several years prior and has it out for the assassin as well. Flashbacks show us that these three were something of a makeshift family unit, but the protegé was jealous of how the girlfriend occupied a lot of the assassin’s attention. The kid never had a proper father figure, and the assassin was the closest he had to that and didn’t wanna see him get pulled away by some woman. So he kills her, because that’s how assassins-in-training deal with little issues like that. They don’t run away from home or threaten to never speak to you again, they just put a pillow over your face and shoot you. I guess that solves your issues, but it also kinda makes other people mad and stuff. So the assassin and protegé finally realize how the other one feels, but it’s only after a third-party successfully assassinates the protegé. Again, the only way assassins can fully express their feelings is if someone’s life is lost, so it’s fitting that it takes the protegé’s proverbial death-bed to finally confess his jealousy. It doesn’t make his actions right or anything by your usual moral standards, but in the world of professional killing this is the sort of shit that gets your sanctified.

So that first episode was really good crime drama stuff. Real good Luc Besson shit. So I was thinking I was wrong about Dogs. Even if there’s a drop in quality in the next episode, it couldn’t be enough to ruin all this cool stuff from the first one.

I was wrong.

The second episode is godawful for two reasons. The first is the fact that the assassin from the previous episode is shown to have lived. See, at the end of that first episode, the older assassin gets knifed by a street urchin type. It was a sort of karmic balance– he was paying for his own sins with his life much in the same way that his protegé died in the previous scene. It was a fitting end to his character arc. But in this second episode we find him alive and well. All of that drama and shit from the first episode was rendered null and void.

But what makes this second episode worse is the character it focuses upon. He has a mildly amusing bit where he photographs a mob boss having a little bondage fun with a young boy and has to run for his life afterwards, but it’s the resulting climax that ruins everything. This guy normally avoids violence at all costs, but he snaps if you take his cigarettes away. His nicotine withdrawal turns him into an Uzi-wielding maniac, and he sprays everything in sight if he can’t get his fix. So the other characters use this to their advantage, take his cigs away, and then sic him on the mob boss and his cronies. And on top of that, when he does his spray and pray tactics, he never kills anyone. He unloads clip after clip, but he hits everyone in the shoulder or arm or knee or leg or whatever. ALL of his shots are perfectly placed to wound and not kill. He’s like some sort of druggie Vash the Stampede, and he manages to suck even more than Vash.

That’s what pissed me off about this OVA back when I first watched it. The second episode managed to render the first one meaningless and topped it off with one of the worst characters ever seen in an anime. And I still think this episode is among the worst I’ve ever seen. But unlike last time, I pressed forward and watched the second one. Hell, it’s only 30 more minutes. Even if it sucks as much as the last one, the suffering will be short.

Turns out the second two episodes are considerably better. The third one is probably the best of the bunch. It deals with another assassin and protegé scenario, this time with a swordsman who takes in a girl whose parents he murdered. The assassin trains her, never allowing her thirst for vengeance to die and using it as motivation to improve her skills. But there’s a few catches to this scenario. First, she’s robbed of her vengeance by the swordsman’s partner in crime. This guy turns on the primary assassin so he can finally be freed of his influence. This leads the girl to take him on and kill him in a pretty damn good sword fight. But once he realizes he’s dying, the usurper busts out the truth: it was someone else that murdered her parents, and the initial guy allowed her to believe it was him to give her a reason to keep living. He did this because it was his former student that performed the murder, and you gotta assume that he was hoping he’d be able to train this young girl so that she could take on his former pupil in his stead. Kill a rogue student and get a new one at the same time. That’s some clever assassining there.

The fourth one starts to get into genetic manipulation with some dude that looks like a Devil May Cry reject and some mute chick with angel wings. They toss in the asshole that ruined the second episode, repeating his shtick yet again. The parts without said asshole are decent, but it’s not really worth talking about. The best stuff is in the first and third episodes.

All in all, the thing’s a mixed bag. Two genuinely awesome stories, one mediocre one, and one that makes me hate every living thing on Earth for being of the same carbon-based life as the Uzi asshole. When it’s playing things right, Dogs is great stuff in the vein of more recent assassin-themed movies like The Professional. It takes itself seriously without being completely dour and whatnot while playing off all sorts of crime elements that I dig. But when it sucks, it fucking sucks.

Still, it’s offbeat compared to most anime we see nowadays. The closest thing that comes to it is Black Lagoon. Maybe CANAAN, although its primary sucktastic character was completely different from Dogs’. So far my theory about David Production stands. For whatever reason, they seem to be targeting stuff that isn’t completely beholden to the proverbial new hotness. That doesn’t necessarily mean that said anime is good, but at least it isn’t the same old shit placed in a different school uniform.

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