Monkeys Fighting Robots

When I started reviewing old OVAs, I didn’t expect “OVA Diamonds” to be a regular column, this all started on a whim. As a result, I’ve been reviewing OVAs out of my comfort zone. It’s easy to talk about Devilman, it’s hard to talk about Phoenix (Madhouse), it’s a true challenge to talk about a Yaoi classic: Ai no Kusabi, in particular, the 1990s OVAs.

First, a caveat: if there is anything I write in this review others would consider offensive, I  am sorry. None of the erotic scenes did anything for me and even if they did, this is smut with a plot. This means the plot should take focus over the smut. I don’t know how to react to this. On one hand I love a solid story. On the other hand this is porn, a genre not known for its strong plotting. So it’s “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

Curveball joke in Ai no Kusabi (1990s)
She’s a very attractive man.

The setup: It’s the future, on a distant planet. There exist two types of people; the “Blondies”, the upper crust who dress like military officers from the Principality of Zeon, and the “Mongrels”, dark haired humans who live in slums, who look like Abercrombie & Fitch models, and dress like them too. One day, a thief named Riki is attacked by a gang, until he’s rescued by a blondie named Iason Mink (member of the Seme Hall of Fame, and illegitimate offspring of Char Aznable from Char’s Counterattack and Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII). Instead of being grateful for someone of the upper crust saving his life, he gets upset over this. Thus, starts a story of doomed love, a gay love square (a love triangle with four people instead of three), and commentary of class structure, social problems, and power in a relationship set against a dystopian future. It’s a classic “He said, he said” story.

Sarcasm aside, there’s a lot I do like about Ai no Kusabi. I love the world the series creates. It’s distinctive and for sci-fi, if you can create a unique world, you’re already halfway there to being great. I love Iason Mink and his black-market contact: Katze (His first name is not Berg and no I’m not making a Gatchaman Crowds joke). All the characters are distinctly well rounded, specifically our four leads. Mink, in particular strikes me as someone, endlessly fascinating. A humanoid robot who could organize the universe, is widely regarded as the best at what he does, and universally respected by all the blondies and their ruler a computer called Jupiter. However, he’s in love with someone of a lower class. So, the OVA checks off a decent number of positives on my personal checklist, so why I am not ecstatically praising this to high heavens?

The world in Ai no Kusabi (1990s)
I swear I’ve seen this before, but I don’t know where.

Well, as Phil Collins once sang: “Something Happened on the Way to Heaven.” In this case, those somethings turned out to be: a limited amount of exposition on who the blondies were, and where they came from. The fact I had to look up the plot point all the blondies were robots, is something which should be explained in the first five minutes, either in a text crawl or a canned narration. Other parts I feel needed exposition are not explained. How did this society come to the idea of “Pets” and “Furniture” (i.e. sex trafficking of Mongrels by blondies and people used as furniture)? Why do the pets only serve the blondies until they turn 20? Finally, one of the most important questions: Why does Iason have a sex drive? He’s a robot (fine, artificial human), but why does he need this? Didn’t we learn anything from Blade Runner about giving robots emotions. Really?

I should also mention those themes I talked about, specifically the power in the relationship theme. This OVA eschews the traditional Seme/Uke characterization, with both leads being Semes. Iason clearly has a strong personality, as does Riki (although his personality is more headstrong than anything else), however because of the class structure, Iason holds all the power, and Riki isn’t happy about this in the slightest.

Our two “lovebirds”, more like “hatebirds” than anything else.

I hate Riki as well. I mentioned the opening scene, where he’s ungrateful for being saved. This first impression left a bad taste in my mouth. This is a man who’s headstrong yet doesn’t realize in a world this dire and miserable, getting the breaks is the best possible situation he could hope for. So, this annoyed me to no end. There’s a scene where Riki is talking to Katze, and Katze mentions how being in his situation (being a pet older than 20, in a relationship with someone who loves you [Iason], and has sex with you, in this time where nobody can have sex) he should be consider himself lucky. Riki gives it barely any thought.

Finally, there is Guy. Oh boy. Guy was Riki’s right hand man when Riki lead a gang called the Bison. It’s clear Guy is not in his right mind and he slowly becomes a yandere in the worst way. What do I mean the worst way? He turns into a male Yuno Gasai. What do I mean by this: He kidnaps Riki, cuts off Riki’s tracer (apparently the Pets have tracers, so their blondies can follow their location) and turns Riki into a eunuch. Horrified, yet? It gets worse.

Evangelion joke in Ai no Kusabi (1990s)
Somewhere out there, Gendo Ikari is getting ideas.

Katze (who was formerly “furniture” for Iason and became an Iason’s broker in the black market) finds out Riki is in another castle and the place Guy sent Iason to will blow up with Iason and Guy inside. Why, because if Guy can’t have Riki, no one will. Cliché? You better believe it.

There’s a scene where Guy is asking Riki what he sees in Iason. Riki holds his ground and stands on Iason’s side. Then Guy says he refuses to accept the notion of Riki moved on to Iason. At this point, it would have been perfectly reasonable for Riki to punch Guy in the face or tell him screw off. He doesn’t and Guy castrates Riki. Why is Guy mad at Iason? From what I gathered, Guy assumes Iason was the one who sent The Bison gang to prison. Then again, Guy doesn’t have the moral high ground here. They were a gang, not exactly the Salvation Army we’re talking about. Iason’s hands in this aren’t clean either, pulling strings to get Riki out of prison, when a love affair between a blondie and a mongrel is forbidden. Yet, Iason has the appearance of a moral high ground (due to the class structure), so he at least has an edge over Guy. So Guy was probably right, yet Guy clearly doesn’t understand the word “optics”, it doesn’t matter if you’re right, if you don’t have the positive optics you might as well be in the wrong.

Hello, Operator? Send an army to find my lost boyfriend!

This leads to the ending where Katze finds Riki, and Iason goes up against Guy. I’ll say this, I got excited when Iason beat the crap out of Guy, although if I were Iason: I would have mortally wounded Guy. Katze and Riki catch up to Iason, and Riki throws a fit about Iason not hurting Guy.  Again, if I were Iason I would have yelled at Riki. Now was the time to complain? The building’s about to explode, and you’re complaining about a friend!

So, to barrel us through this ending, the building explodes, Riki and Guy get out, and Iason has his legs cut off by the explosion. In an effective bittersweet ending Katze gives Riki his last two specialty cigarettes to have one final smoke (because apparently lung cancer doesn’t exist in this universe), Riki goes back to Iason, to spend his last moments with a man who he thought he hated, yet he loved. We close out this roller coaster of emotions with Katze crying over Iason and Riki and Guy realizing Iason and Riki were meant for each other.

That moment when someone is blackmailing you, and you want no part of it.

I really wanted to like Ai no Kusabi and came out enjoying it for the most part. The OVA is not going out of here unscathed. I didn’t like Riki, Guy and his gang, yet the deep world building, and strong characterization makes the OVAs work overall. So as a critic, I recommend you track it down.

Ai no Kusabi (1990s OVA)
If he isn't watching a forgotten library title, Matthew Simon is watching anime or attending anime conventions.
ova-diamonds-ai-no-kusabi-1990sWhen I started reviewing old OVAs, I didn’t expect “OVA Diamonds” to be a regular column, this all started on a whim. As a result, I’ve been reviewing OVAs out of my comfort zone. It’s easy to talk about Devilman, it’s hard to talk...