California Crisis: Gun Salvo
Noera is a lazy bum who does nothing but tool around San Diego in his vintage convertible. This all changes one day on the freeway when, after being passed by airheaded biker girl Marsha, they both witness a semi-trailer get into an accident, one that leaves a strange artifact in their hands. Compelled mysteriously to Death Valley, they must dodge the US military and Russian spies through Southern California in pursuit of their own American Dream.
And yet again, I probably wrote a synopsis that is likely better than the actual plot, but sometimes with 80s anime, that's practically unavoidable. Fortunately, unlike other 80s debacles like Bobby's In Deep and Dog Soldier, California Crisis manages to pack a lot of admittedly shallow fun into its forty-five minute runtime, even if the scriptwriting is minimalist, and the ending incredibly unrewarding to a degree that almost could incite a riot.
If it weren't for Jason Huff at The Anime Review, I quite literally might never have heard of this title, but his recent review prompted me to take this for a spin of my own. In many cases, I find it quite sufficient to take him at his word, but seeing how few anime sites have even heard of this (much less reviewed it) I figured I'd have a crack at writing this one up myself.
Let's be honest, vintage anime fans: the vast majority of 80s one-shots suck. They're in essence failed pilots: if they were successful (even on a marginal level like Angel Cop, Gall Force, or Sol Bianca), they'll make more episodes and turn it into a series. (In the case of MD Geist this had to wait ten years for Americans with bad taste and bad economic acumen.)
This didn't happen with California Crisis but not for the same reasons as usual: there's actual skill here. The one great thing about this film that automatically jumps it two slots out of the junk heap is its commitment to its setting: this actually feels like California circa 1986. The art style, while criticized for being oversaturated and poorly shaded, actually seems to elicit the ubiquitous neo-Art Deco style used in hair salons and fashion magazines of this era, most widely popularized by Patrick Nagel; the flat shading and often completely monochrome backgrounds almost seem a perfect match for the Nagel look, and in a strange way ends up sort of paralleling the Superflat art movement that would come out of Japan later on. Neon signs, billboards, beach houses, and even yucca are all given the detailed and accurate treatment usually given to places within Japan, and very little of it feels wrong. The fact that it's a contemporary piece means that there are period details that wouldn't work later on; the makes and models of cars and the relative lack of development in the parts of Orange County we see date this film very specifically -- these guys did their research and since I lived there as a child during this time period, I can vouch for the setting's accuracy based on how right and familiar it all feels. California Crisis gets California, or at least the alternately glossy-and-grimy 80s version of it I still hold as my first memory of America, just about spot on: a truly impressive feat indeed.
Unfortunately, that's exactly where the skill of this piece ends. While well-animated for its era, the constant use of active animation for driving scenes and fights feels a bit superfluous after a while, almost like they were working harder but not smarter. A favorite trope of the animators seems to be broken glass, and unfortunately they seem to have used prop candy-glass as their model, rather than the kinds of glass actually breaking in this film. Even worse, this is overused to the point of embarrassment (even a used car salesman gets some action, as it were). While I really have no great issue with the shallow B-action-movie plot, which is no worse than something out of Dirty Pair or Riding Bean, I can't pretend it's good: we've got the two characters, their MacGuffin bowling ball, and a bunch of dimwit military and poorly-kept-secret agents who can't aim or drive, all of them gallivanting across the Southland in ways that obviously invoke a bit of artistic license with geography (given that the only major freeway between San Diego and Orange County runs smack through a marine base so you'd think a military convoy would have no problem with Russian spies who have managed to smuggle RPGs onto I-5 ... not to mention that it'd be hard for Noera and Marsha to drive off that beach, what with the nuclear power plant at the end of it ... the list goes on). We are also led to believe that the only path through to Death Valley from LA is blocked off by Edwards AFB which has never been true (you can skim the west side of the base on Highway 14, though, which was often two lanes then but considerably larger now).
Also, they keep calling Los Angeles "Los" which is perhaps even stupider than calling San Francisco "Frisco". DON'T DO IT. I know, I know: In Japanese, among Japanese speakers, "rosu" is totally an acceptable way to abbreviate "rosanzerusu", but when you are portraying American characters, and are trying to make a point of evoking California, you might want to consider reevaluating this and use the popular abbreviation actual Americans use. I even use it in this very review. Jus' sayin.
How about the character work? There really isn't any: Noera (Yoshito Yasuhara, who would later play Aoshi Shinomori in Rurouni Kenshin) and Marcia (Miina Tominaga, whose big late-80s fame would come from playing Noa Izumi in Patlabor) don't ever veer too far from being a shiftless drunk-driving gearhead and a flaky danger-seeking bimbo, though to Noera's credit, he never pounces Marcia even when she strips right in front of him (something I'm pretty sure never happens to 99.9% of Americans, ever, no matter what Japanese animators want to think about us).
The single egregious problem with this film, though, way beyond all that, is the ending. After all the misadventures and action scenes, what we get in the last three minutes is the most anticlimactic, abrupt thing I can remember happening. It's like the creators really didn't plan an ending for this, and how it pans out essentially leaves everything unresolved and, worse, unresolvable. I honestly don't remember the last ending I've seen that was this bad: maybe The EYES of Mars? Suffice it to say that our characters get no development at all ... and we never do get to know the big deal about that MacGuffin Bowling Ball, or why the military and the Russkies were chasing our leads across California for it. I'm sure I could've written a better ending. I'm sure I could find a better ending if I ask random people to write one on Reddit. I don't know. It's just that horrible.
Still: I am hesitant to sink this film based on its remarkably poor ending, because it has a uniqueness and a charm that is largely absent from many works in its period, and while not an entirely successful storytelling experiment, it still manages to effectively evoke a bygone era and even give us a fun ride for most of its runtime, which is far better than most 80s one-shot OAVs could ever give you.
A energetic, painstakingly detailed film rendered mediocre by a plot that quite abruptly runs off the pavement, California Crisis is an oddly endearing curiosity best left to historians and the hyper-curious. Anyone else might drop this a star and move on to something newer. — Carlos/Giancarla Ross
Recommended Audience: For all the bullets flying around, the violence level is close to an episode of the A-Team, as no main character gets seriously hurt (a helicopter pilot is even shown walking away from the crashed, burning wreckage of his chopper). Marsha gets naked in one scene but there's no frontal nudity and nothing comes of it. Teens and up (and the only folks who'd be interested in this would be old fogies by anime fandom standards anyway).
Version(s) Viewed: Digital source
Review Status: Full (1/1)
California Crisis: Gun Salvo © 1986 Studio Unicorn
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