September 4, 2016 posted by

“Forgotten” Anime #33: “Black Magic M-66” (1987)


Black Magic M-66, directed by Hiroyuki Kitakubo. 48 minutes. June 28, 1987.

Black Magic M-66 was famous at the time. It was an adaptation of a popular 1983 manga novel (just Black Magic) by Masamune Shirow, who was very well known for his longer 1986 manga Appleseed. It was known that Shirow was a pseudonym, but not for whom, which added to the mystery allure. Today, he is even better known for the 1990s Ghost in the Shell theatrical feature and its sequels, and his real name is known: Masanori Ota. But in 1987, this OAV based on his earliest manga, produced by AIC and Animate, and distributed by Bandai Visual, was hot.

black-magic-m-66-vhs_13019593The OAV was directed by Hiroyuki Kitakubo, who was about to become better-known as the director of the “A Tale of Two Robots” sequence in Robot Carnival. But Shirow was very closely associated with it as well. He wrote the screenplay adaptation and was the storyboard director. He also got a co-director’s credit; usually a courtesy credit to the author of a work being adapted, but maybe not in this case.

It begins with a military helicopter flying through a storm. Something blows up (engine trouble? sabotage?) and the copter crashes in a thick forest near Central City. Its top-secret cargo is thrown out; two coffin-like cases marked M-66.

The scene jumps to a young woman taking a shower. She jumps out when her computer begins beeping. She is Sybil, a freelance reporter who is looking for a scoop. She has connected her computer to a radar dish set to pick up Military Broadband Transmissions, and she has intercepted the Army’s communications to recover the wrecked helicopter and its cargo. She calls Leakey, her photographer, and they go to the site where the wrecked helicopter is reported.

Black Magic-ray-beam(The military technology shown, and the later sequences in Central City, put this in the near future.) Several more Army helicopters drop armed Special Ops Forces commanded by a nameless Major. He and others identify the two cases, now empty, as having contained Mario-66 antipersonel automated soldiers; unstoppable assassin robots built as woman androids. The Major summons Dr. (or Prof.) Slade, the assistant of the M-66s’ principal designer, Professor Mathews (or Matthews). The Major’s and Dr. Slade’s conversation establishes that the two robots were being taken to a top secret proving grounds; that they were supposed to be unprogrammed but Dr. Slade had loaded a dummy program into them; and that the shock of the crash had started their programming to kill their target. The Major orders that Prof. Mathews be brought to the site.

Sybil is photographing the soldiers from afar, with Leakey complaining that she’s nuts for getting mixed up with a secret Army operation for a scoop. The Army air vehicle to pick up Prof. Mathews blows off his roof, exposing his granddaughter Ferris who is getting dressed to go into town with some friends. Prof. Mathews is a stereotypical Nutty Professor surrounded by his robots including a robot maid. He joins Dr. Slade in the air vehicle. Their conversation reveals that the two M-66s have more flaws than they had expected.

black-magic-celThe rogue M-66s slaughter a bear and two hikers, demonstrating that they won’t kill only their target but anyone that they encounter on their way to the target. The soldiers set up traps where the robots are expected to emerge from the forest. Sybil and Leakey are captured and brought to where the soldiers have gathered. There is an extended battle between the soldiers and the two M-66s, demonstrating their indestructability. Sybil and Leakey escape during the destruction of the soldiers’ camp. Sybil sends Leakey to a TV station to sell their film, while she tries to find Prof. Mathews’ home which she has gathered from what the soldiers were saying is in the area.

Sybel finds that the Mathews’ house has been completely destroyed by the remaining M-66 looking for Ferris. A video answering machine message shows a recording of Ferris in Central City, saying that she and her friends are going to dinner at Ramplings, a restaurant. Sybel realizes that the M-66 has also seen it and has gone to Ramplings after Ferris, and that she is the only one who knows this.

The rest of Black Magic M-66 is Sybel’s attempts to keep Ferris free from the assassin robot, and the Army Special Ops Force’s efforts to save the two women and to neutralize/destroy the M-66. Lotsa destruction in the midst of Central City.

black-magic250Note that the Army is unspecified but visually entirely the Japanese Army this time (no mention of “Self-Defense Force”), and that it’s still unsure whether the incident that caused the initial helicopter crash was an accident or sabotage by “the North”. Japanese audiences would have understood that “the North” was a euphemism for Russia/the Soviet Union; a traditional enemy. Actually in Shirow’s original manga, the story was set on the planet Venus millions of years ago. The OAV adapters (who included Shirow himself) made the setting vague enough that buyers unfamiliar with the manga (which was originally published as an obscure fanzine) could assume that it was Japan in the future.

Also note the poor level of animation in the forest, and with Prof. Mathews’ whirly eyeglasses. Black Magic M-66 was produced primarily by AIC, but it was funded as an early effort by Bandai Visual; not yet the anime giant that it later became.

Black Magic M-66 was picked up in the U.S. by Books Nippan’s U.S. Renditions. After several license expirations and appearances on other labels, it’s available in the U.S. today from Section23 Films; considered old-fashioned but still worthwhile as an example of the “unstoppable killer robot” genre. (The OAV was made after James Cameron’s The Terminator movie, but Shirow’s original manga came first.)

Next week: “Forgotten” OAVs #34.

1 Comment

  • I looked up my copy of Intron Depot to see what Shirow himself had to say about it. Partly that some people construed the mentions of “the North” meant the DPRK and that the setting was the RoK, but he denied that view.

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