Friday, 19 December 2014

Iron Virgin Jun (1992)

Dir. Maezono Fumio

Within Japanese manga and anime, Nagai Go is one of the most important individuals within both mediums. Starting in manga in the late sixties, his success would continue on, increasing with his contributions to television anime in the seventies and becoming one of the most successful individuals in terms of volume. Volume of output, volume of successful creations, volume of live action and animated adaptations, and volume of praise he has both in Japan and internationally. He is as vital in building both anime and manga as it is today as Studio Ghibli and Tezuka Osamu, having juggled anything in his career from innovating the super robot genre to bringing more adult content to manga. He is also something, like the acclaimed manga writer Koike Kazuo, who is unapologetically dark and lurid in some of the creations of his. He has gained immense critical praise but not only has his more controversial works, that many would find shocking, not been ignored, but no attempt has been made to sweep them under the carpet. This is someone who has created work for children and popular franchises like Mazinger Z (1972-74) but was also someone who in one of his first manga series, Harenchi Gakuen (Shameless School) (1968-72), got attacked by Japanese parent groups and moral campaigners for creating a degenerate piece of filth. Just watching a few of the anime adaptations alone show Nagai's more adult side, whether they are accurate to his original manga or not. His most infamous creation is Kekko Kamen (1974-1978), a parody of the pop culture character Gekko Kamen, a female superhero who wears as mask, boots, a scarf and nothing else, completely naked in her battles with villains. Ironically with that example, Nagai created it as a joke for his editor, only for them to like the idea, and for this joke to lead to a 1991-92 anime and ten live action adaptations. One that wasn't a joke was Violence Jack (1973-73), which lead to an 1986-1990 anime that is only going to get an uncut version on DVD available in the US next year, which may lead to some very traumatised viewers knowing of the things that were removed and have traumatised myself with without having seen the content itself. Again, as someone who has a lot of his work to explore for the first time, it's obvious how diverse Nagai is. And he is important regardless. But once you know of works like Kekko Kamen and the such you cannot ignore such lurid works, proof if any of how diverse and fluid the mediums of anime and manga are. For better or worse, this mentality, from creating children's work to Violence Jack in Nagai, allows flexibility to take place in creating new stories, unpredictability happening more often.

On her eighteenth birthday, the titular Jun flees a forced marriage proposal against her mother's wishes, her servant and friend Kurata pulled along with her. As Jun is a super strong Amazon who can break men's necks, even if she is as girly as you could be for a young woman, her mother sends anyone she can to force her to come back, anything from ninjas, a reward for members of the public to find her, even deviants for more twisted methods. Its forty six minutes long, which is both a very short amount of time and yet needs a lot to fill it out. Short because it'll suddenly end meaning you cannot choose a normal length narrative, but you need to find a narrative more appropriate for the length. If I describe the plot for this anime, it would be summed by this - Jun escapes, Jun eludes escape, gets captured, fights her mother for the finale - which is a minuscule plot for a short work with little flesh to its bones. The straight-to-video anime, unless feature length, was usually between thirty to fifty minutes long in their heyday, be it per episode or the one-off, and even a ramshackle one could still be a vigorous shot of content to sit through and watch. The worst kind in this type of anime would likely be the ones that feel like many hours to sit through in such a small space of time. Like many nineties anime, its candy coloured and gaudy. Average animation. The character designs for Jun and her mother are the only distinct aspect. Jun is drawn as a very feminine character, but the many times when she is in a fight she is drawn with a body builder level of muscles, hulking out all the sudden. (You'll notice the discrepancy between Jun in the screenshots shown - all I can say that she finds normal clothes that hide a lot of pounds of muscle). Her mother, to be honest, is drawn as a male villain design from something like Fist of the North Star - giant black eyebrows, a scowl, a monolithic bulk and height - only with breasts and wearing make-up.

The real worth, if you can find it, in this anime is if you can appreciate the absurdity of pulp that is churned as continuously like sausage meat, looking for the kinks within each one. The faults, the odd ideas, the good ideas, the inexplicable things. Even the nature of this type of material is interesting to me, admittedly because being twenty or so years old now this type of anime is now very different from what it is now. Even average animation with Iron Virgin Jun is better than average computer aided animation. The anime is interesting for me more in the churned out nature of this kind of storytelling, the same story as many other similar tales but with new weird additions and faults, rather than as a "good" work, which I'm not going to suggest. It's strange attempts at humour, its peculiar plot, the many things that make it a "bad" anime also the rewarding things in its slight form. There is one contentious issue with Iron Virgin Jun that will put many off, a reminder that its original creator Nagai Go is also someone who has created some perverse ideas, although whether the follow is from the manga I cannot confirm. Affectively her main henchmen, Jun's mother calls forth a group called the Golden Cherry Boys to help her force Jun back. With cartoonish, mechanical animal heads where their crotches are, including a swan and a turtle, their main task, to put it politely, is to deflower Jun under the apparent belief her mother has that losing her virginity will snap her out of her "deluded" concept of escaping marring to continue their family's power and economic gain. Never mind that there is no nudity, no sex of any sort, and likely chops out most of the original manga's content, an erotic work. That it little blood let alone gore. That Jun, while some of the male characters help her when her back is in the corner, normally destroys everyone in her way including most of the Golden Cherry Boys. This aspect, particularly the jokey tone to it at points, is immediately going to offend someone for understandable reasons. I didn't know this was going to be in the anime upon seeing it for the first time, only knowing the title and Nagai was involved. It is still unsettling in places for me personally as well. becomes more of a tasteless inclusion that is incredibly absurd. When it consists of animal heads and the desecration of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake at one point, I'm reminded that, in reality, something like the Golden Cherry Boys shouldn't be something to waste time on to criticise. That time should be spent on creating something that doesn't include that sort of thing to the objecting individual who'll hope their own creation is more popular. Far more offensive for me are the moments of stereotypical brattishness of Jun because no sane person who watches this, like myself, is going to take the tastelessness of the Golden Cherry Boys seriously, but stereotypes are more common problem.

What this is instead, and is the thing that makes Iron Virgin Jun interesting to me knowing its junky anime, is a mere slither of a peculiar area of pulp storytelling most of us know of but is rarely defined. Works which are not intentionally being politically incorrect or offensive but, forced into a tight, impossibly short deadline, delirious, maybe feted by alcohol or lack of sleep, where the creator(s) has to create something to keep the viewer/reader continuing to take interest in their work, having to do so through the most shocking content or weirdest idea they have in their mind. Perversely, evidence this anime qualifies for this term, is that it's trying to be a metaphor of how Jun has to grow from being a teenager to an adult woman. Her decision to go against her mother and be independent is effectively depicted with the two battering each other in a comic book finale scene rather than as a drama. Even the Golden Cherry Boys have a symbolic meaning in this way even if its a creepy way to depict it. (And the manga might've been more weird for this from just reading the Wikipedia summery). It even goes as far as having actual symbolism in how in one moment Jun sees an island out in the sea upside down, told she will only be able to reach it when she sees it the right way up. This is something of interest in pre-2000s anime, moments that don't work which are yet are fascinating in how they were even considered to be done and were put in the final work. You wonder watching anime like this what the maker(s) were thinking, but as a trashy work the result of these sorts of decisions are strangely watchable.

Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None
It is notorious how punishing deadlines for manga can be, as well as how much material for each release is required, punishing as a career from what is documented. In this position it wouldn't be surprising a work like Iron Virgin Jun was created, something as a result of a certain type of imagination and trying to write something that would grab a reader. And it is well known how underpaid animators are, anime a profession for those willing to sacrifice a lot of basic things to consider taking on as a job. A work like Iron Virgin Jun feels like the result of a manga pushed through by whatever peculiar ideas its creator had recreated for a straight-to-video anime as much a product to sell as it was an adaptation. You could find despair in the fact that something like this is made as much as a commodity only, but instead I find it more interesting to find entertainment in the inherent idea this was made in the first place, regardless of the flaws and things that cannot be defended at all. I can imagine this anime being created by people fed on long nights awake working on frames and ingesting a lot of Cup Noodle as basic nutrition, the back-story of how it was being made, as I try to imagine it, as much part of its story as the actual narrative. Iron Virgin Jun is too conventional to get on the list, but it's perfect to show this manic aspect of certain forms of entertainment, a frenzy of getting a work created along with the fevered ideas that were from the original manga, the result a strange mix altogether. I can just marvel at the fact it exists, decades later on, how it's come out of meat grinder as it is, the things that stick out amongst the merely watchable.

Personal Rating:
Only for the incredibly curious. A work like this is obscure for clear reasons, even if it still managed an American DVD release. For those who want to explore how perplexing straight-to-video anime in the nineties could be, even if the work is not that good, this is worth digging into for those who intentionally find the most obscure works intentionally. If you will find it tedious to sit through, or find aspects offensive, aesthetically or in content, I don't recommend it. It's not the strangest you could find but nonetheless a good example of how a certain medium like anime can produce oddities that inexplicably exist. 

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