REVIEW: Download – Devil’s Circuit (1992)

An Anime OVA

AKA Down Load: Namu Amida Butsu wa Ai no Uta (Lit. Song in Loving Homage of Amida Buddha)

Based on the PC Engine game created by Wataru Nakajima, Download: Namu Amida Butsu wa Ai no Uta is an exciting, although nigh forgotten, cyberpunk romp directed by Rintaro (Galaxy Express 999 films, Metropolis, and Harmageddon) and veteran animator Kanada Yoshinori (Birth, Castle in the Sky, X). The film is about a hacker/vigilante who is surprisingly also a womanizing Buddhist monk, his hacker friend, an adult dancer, and a biker gang of teen delinquents called “The Pinkey’s”[sic] that all get embroiled in an effort to discover the true origin of so-called “Death Mail”. Death Mail is a futuristic iteration of a chain letter of sorts, sent via E-mail into someone’s VR helmet (which are ubiquitous here), that can cause dire circumstances to those that foolishly open it. Teen suicides are plaguing the streets and all roads seem to lead to a new piece of computer hardware called the Echigoya Cyber Helmet.

This OVA is VERY atypical for most cyberpunk properties of this era, mostly because the soundtrack, including the opening theme and all other music, is a weird mix of blues and occasional Buddhist chants, setting this apart from pretty much any other anime out there. It doesn’t really adhere to any of the usual tropes from this genre, almost making it’s own version of cyberpunk. The setting is also the same kind of mash-up between 1950’s pop culture aesthetics and super technology as Final Fantasy XV.

This anime somewhat reminded me of the 1995 anime classic Golden Boy in that the main character, Shidou, spends about ninety percent of this film ogling women and being a complete lecherous slimeball. For example, in the beginning Shidou is seen frequenting an exotic dancing establishment whose prime entertainer is an exotic dancer named “Suzie Wong” aka Namiho. He gets so into her performances, that he gets kicked out of the club at one point for uncontrollably jumping up on stage.

This gives the audience some confusion when it’s revealed that Shidou is some kind of master hacker that rides a futuristic motorcycle to fight against street crime. We really only see him do this once, so one is left wondering if this is some sort of Batman/Bruce Wayne situation, or if this anime was just throwing stuff at the wall to see what stuck. Being an OVA based on a PC Engine game that I have never played, nor does it appear to exist or have an English fandom, means that I am left wondering if there is actually more plot that we are merely seeing a sliver of.

It was funny to me to see how the “future” is presented here, knowing full well that it is likely supposed to be somewhat around the current time. Computers are these huge technologically unstable rigs that someone needs to sit in to correctly operate. They are full of all manner of antiquated hardware and software, and are presented in a similar manner to just about every 80’s hacker film. People wear VR goggles to surf the internet, which I guess isn’t too far from the ultimate aim of guys like Mark Zuckerberg in our modern era, but I’m sure it will be better than the monstrous rigs we see here.

One thing that, funnily enough, was VERY realistic was the depiction of the internet in this film. It is first introduced as a place full of crazy flashing lights, unwarranted death threats, incitement to commit violence, pornography, tenuous promises of sexual gratification, and memes about Hitler, so at least that’s somewhat on the nose.

This film stands out due to the presentation alone; the setting, strange characters, and world building are intriguing for what little we see of it. I really wish this would have been a longer story, had a manga component, or ran for several episodes, because there is a lot of untapped potential here. I can’t say I’ve ever seen some weird cyberpunk film starring a Buddhist monk unless you count a subplot in Key The Metal Idol. You also don’t really get a sense of what Namiho is in the film, she appears to be into Shidou at times, but also has an obvious ulterior motive we never really see. Is she some kind of secret agent, cat burglar, or a rival hacker? Could she be a Catwoman to his Batman? A Fujiko to his Lupin? Who knows?

I will say that this is likely one of Rintaro’s more strange directorial efforts, and fits more into the camp of something he’s done like Final Fantasy Legend of the Crystals than any of his big motion picture works. I won’t say it’s his worst or anything, I haven’t seen everything he’s done, and honestly I’ve seen him do worse, it’s just sort of there. Love him or hate him, Rintaro was almost THE premier anime director there for a while, and some of his works defined the genre. Download is not bad by any means, it has an interesting cinematic flair, and crosses all the T’s and dots all the I’s of late 80s/ early 90’s anime, but it seems like it’s missing something. Perhaps with it being a licensed property to coincide with a videogame release, that is the culprit?

Like many classic OVAs, this is a relatively short affair, clocking in at just shy of an hour. In that time, a lot of plot happens without much time to really get used to any characters or give them breathing room. I mentioned that the change in character for Shidou was somewhat shocking, nearly coming from left field, and that’s largely because there was absolutely zero hint that he led a double life and had a secret hacker lair under his house. With more time and plot this could have really been something special. While I liked it, I was left somewhat feeling like it missed the mark just a bit. It still has the same heart most older anime has, and for that very reason it’s worth watching.

This can be easily found on YouTube in the form of a Laserdisc rip if you would like to watch it yourself.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s