A while back I fell in love with the ridiculous show Space Dandy, and especially enjoyed the episode where Dandy becomes a member of a rock band only to have the show nearly get cancelled due to one of the principal members quitting, then dramatically getting a chance to perform anyway, and in the case of tat show, end a galactic war because of how great the performance supposedly was. I knew this was a parody of something, but I had no idea until I finally watched To-y today.
To-y is a 1987 OVA (Original Video Animation) that became a cult classic in the early fansubbing scene in America. Back before every anime was readily available on endless streaming sites, fans had to import stuff from Japan then do an amateur subtitling job on it, copy it to a tape, then distribute through a network of trading hubs. I luckily got into anime at the tail end of this are digitized fansubs were starting to be the norm, but I salute my Otaku ancestors for their valiant but painful methods of keeping everything going. I knew about this film from being a longtime reader on a website called Anime News Network, and more specifically a series called “Buried Treasure” which highlighted obscure or nearly forgotten anime gems.
“Two weeks before a concert at Yaon Hibiya auditorium, while playing at the club Shinjuku Loft, lead vocalist To-Y of the band GASP is jumped by a rival, Aikawa Yoji. GASP is an up-and-coming band known for its violence, struggling to be noticed against the popularity of hotshot Aikawa, who’s #1 on the charts and beloved by his fans. The Yaon Hibiya concert represents GASP’s mainstream debut to break out of the small-time club scene, which is threatened by the schemes of Aikawa’s manager, Ms. Kato of Koyama Productions. Kato wants To-Y to leave that “bunch of hoodlums,” and sing independently for a major label.”
To-y is based on a popular manga written and illustrated by Atsushi Kamijo. It was serialized in Shogakukan‘s Weekly Shōnen Sunday from April 3, 1985, to March 25, 1987. The manga was adapted into an original video animation (OVA) by Gallop (the same studio that produces Yu-Gi-Oh). This was at the time when most OVAs were basically manga commercials and usually came out so early in a comics run they would just end in the middle of the story. I have not read the manga (perhaps I can find it?) so I’m not sure what part of the comic this film adapts. The OVA was directed by Mamoru Hamatsu, with character designs by Naoyuki Onda, and art direction by Shichirō Kobayashi.
Most notably, Masaya Matsuura was in charge of the music for the film, and the soundtrack is easily the strong suit of the movie. Comprised of rock, pop, and new wave songs from the 1980s, Matsuura and his band Psy-S provided much of the music. Songs like “Lemon no Yūki” (Lemonの勇気) and “Cubic Lovers” became modest hits at the time. While this was finally released recently on Blu-Ray in Japan, no word on anything in English as of yet, and I assume music rights issues are likely the culprit. according to Wikipedia: “To-y was a pioneer of band-themed manga and has served as an influence on other manga series like Beck and Nana.” I mentioned the whole Space Dandy thing up there, and while I don’t have any sort of confirmation on my assumption, it’s pretty obvious it is in some way a take-off of it.
I often gush about classic anime on here, I fact some of my reviews (like this one for Nineteen19) were originally from a short-lived anime blog I did before I merged everything together. I always enjoy material from the period around 1970-2000 the most because it was less commercialized (not made to sell body pillows to lonely dudes) and most had a soul that is not really in most modern productions. Even the most simple, flawed film like this has a spirit to it you can’t deny.
There are some truly awesome scenes in this, including one where a record executive tries to convince TO-Y to jump ship from his band on the roof of a building in some sort of crazy windstorm as garbage and rags from a broken laundry line swirl around and fly by. Stuff like this is animated so cinematically it’s easy to forget that Japan produced OVA films as basically cheap marketing ploys for selling copies of manga. The film has such an artistic eye that it really rivals a lot of arthouse films I’ve seen in many ways due to its cinematography.
It is strange that we don’t really hear any of the actual music of the bands in the film. “What?” you might be asking – yes, this film has an interesting way of having the band performances exist as a montage under one of the licensed songs, usually we just see people opening their mouths with nothing coming out while a symphony of synth noises enters one’s ear. It’s a little jarring at first, but you begin to realize the whole thing is about the vibe and feel of the music, and not hearing any slapped together tunes they could have worked up.
We can tell that GASP is likely some kind of post-punk band, and that their rival Yoji Aikawa looks like a Japanese version of Rick Astley in pretty much every way. In many ways the whole film is about the culture clash of those two types of music, and the way the record industry will kill creativity to make music specifically for TV appetites. Pretty heavy message from a one-hour long film made by Sony Music group!
Since I have yet to read the manga, the only part of the film somewhat lost on me was a character named Niya that is the love interest of To-y (when he’s not apparently banging his cousin who is another musician). As far as I can tell, she’s an energetic groupie turned girlfriend that genuinely tries her best to help the band. The only kicker is that she is either a literal cat-girl or adopts the mannerisms of a cat so much that the manga likely did joke panels of her with cat ears that the film took literally. She’s not a bad character or anything, but I’d like to understand her more. Another interesting character we don’t learn much about is To-y’s goth friend that nearly results to murder (as seen in the clip below) as revenge for stealing GASP’s gig at the amphitheater. We know he’s in a band as well, but that’s about it. I have discovered one volume is available “by other means” translated into English, and I will review that soon.
Overall, I loved this film despite the small issues I had with it, and can see why it was so popular in the 90’s. It has great music, and interesting plot, and really captures a moment in time that is very long ago, and yet somehow nostalgic. I thought it was interesting to see things like the fashion trend only in Japan for people to wear witch hats to punk rock shows, and the apparent overwhelming success of Coca-Cola Classic in the aftermath of New Coke. I would have loved to hear what these bands actually sounded like, but I get why that wasn’t done – in some ways that makes the bands more mysterious and makes this film more interesting. If you have never heard of this and would like to watch an ancient fansub of it, I found it HERE, let me know what you think!