Thursday, December 17, 2015


Sanctuary is as close to the quintessential 90s OVA as you can get. It has yakuza, corrupt politicians, nudity, sex, and violence. It moves along at a breakneck pace for an hour, with nary a dull moment. That makes its fate inexplicable. The OVAs were abandoned after one episode, and the one that was released never made it to DVD.

Sanctuary is based on a ten-volume manga of the same name by Ichigami Ryouichi and Fumimura Sho. It chronicles the parallel stories of two Japanese school friends, Hojo Akira and Asami Chiaki, who as youngsters survived the killing fields of Cambodia. The two are determined to create a safe haven for themselves - the "sanctuary" of the title - in the treacherous terrain of late 20th century Japan. Based on a game of rock-paper-scissors, Hojo takes the "dark path" and becomes a yakuza, while Chiaki takes the "light path" and goes into politics. They covertly support each other as each attempts to rise to the top of his chosen field.

The OVA is unsparingly bleak in its portrait of Japanese society. Politicians are shown as thoroughly corrupt: reptilian old men only interested in money and much younger women. The yakuza don't fare any better: they're portrayed as greedy, cowardly, and backstabbing. Hojo and Chiaki are ruthless in their pursuit of their aims, manipulating others and themselves to acquire power. Only the Deputy Chief of Police, Ishihara Kyoko, seems to stand above the fray, but that changes in later volumes of the manga. The sex is explicit for a non-hentai anime, and the violence is quite graphic. This OVA is NSFW and most definitely not family-friendly.

The voice acting is very good. The leads are played by Hayami Sho (Hojo Akira) and Nakata Kazuhiro (Asami Chiaki), who are still active in the industry twenty years later. Tsuru Hiromi (Ishihara Kyoko) has had recurring roles in the Ranma and Dragon Ball franchises. The background music is a jazzy score well-suited to such a noir OVA. The ending song, A Baby's Born, is sung by American jazz vocalist Chris Connor. It suits the mood perfectly. The soundtrack is very rare; if anyone has it in digital form, please let me know.

Orphan's version of Sanctuary is technically a resub. The script is based on the original US VHS subtitle. It has been completely translation checked, because the original subs were a bit loose in places, retimed, and fully typeset. In addition, the Laserdisc contains an extra and a few minutes of promotional material not present on the VHS version. The extra is an illustration gallery of Ichigami Ryouichi's color drawings and demonstrates the subtlety and vitality of his work on Sanctuary.

M74 transcribed the original subtitles from HansDampf's VHS rip and then timed them. kokujin-kun translation checked the whole show and translated the signs and promotional material. convexity translated the manga captions in the Image Gallery. I edited and typeset. Calyrica, Juggen, and Skr did QC. Erik encoded from his own Japanese Laserdisc. 
Is Sanctuary an example of a show discontinued because it was too critical of the Japanese establishment? It is unsparing in its portrait of Japanese politics and its criticism of the ruling LDP (lightly disguised as the DLP in the original Japanese). In this century, Japanese anime has tended to be much more indirect in its criticism or satire of Japanese society; the kind of direct critique featured in Sanctuary no longer happens. (Japan's press has been muzzled by restrictive laws in the last few years; Japan now ranks 61st on a world-wide index of press freedom.) While American cartoons have gained a biting edge with shows like The Simpsons and South Park, Japanese anime has lost its sting. The satiric intent may still be there, in shows like Un-Go and One-Punch Man, but it's disguised. It makes me nostalgic for shows like Sanctuary.

1 comment:

  1. There's always the great Zaizen Jotaro for ample contemporary critique that takes awhile to fully click once the layers of bombast are peeled back---though it then got buried under a rep for being "cheesy terrible" and also didn't get a fully wrought anime treatment. A Spirit of the Sun fared much better critically, but again that trend of an inconclusive anime narrative treatment strikes! Thanks for this premium release of a classic!