REVIEW: Dead Heat (1987)

An anime OVA

Last night, I was looking for something quick to watch before I went to bed and stumbled on this short anime OVA that sits at just under thirty minutes in running time. There is a treasure trove of old anime on YouTube, much of which has never been released officially in a capacity outside of ancient fansubs, and I am a sucker for the obscure as any of my readers can tell. I had never heard of 1987’s Dead Heat, but the concept of a racing anime in the same vein as Formula-1 with the cars replaced by weird motorcycle-like mechs seemed interesting enough. Man, the 80’s sure were obsessed with motorcycle mecha weren’t they?

Upon further research (of course Anime News Network has something up about it), I learned that Dead Heat was released on one of the more obscure analogue video disk formats killed off by Laserdisc (and honestly VHS) – the JVC Victor VHD Videodisc system. This format used huge floppy-disk looking cartridges that contained a disk that would be read by a diamond needle in a way somewhat similar to a record player. This somehow worked without a laser or grooves as well. I have no idea how this would work, and I’d rather not go down the rabbit hole of figuring it out, but it sounds crazy. Apparently, as the system was dying, a last minute attempt to breathe relevancy into the format resulted in an add-on that gave it 3-D functionality using wired goggles. As you can imagine, this also did not do well. This film is one those few 3-D capable projects for this, and was touted as Japan’s first 3-D anime.

According to Anime news Network, some really high profile people worked on the film:

“Dead Heat is interesting because it’s made by some noteworthy talent. Directed by Toshifumi Kawase (When They Cry – Higurashi, Beyblade, Shion no Ou), who by that time was a veteran mecha anime director, and scripted by Akinori Endo (3×3 Eyes, Armitage III, and quite a bit of Gundam ZZ), the short OAV was produced at Sunrise, who at that time had basically become a mecha Anime Factory. Animation director Toshimitsu Kobayashi, who had to figure out how to animate for 3D without any digital technology, has a resumé longer than the phone book.”

This film is oddly constructed in terms of its storyline and almost appears to be the typical “this is a commercial for a manga” styled OVA, but I cannot find a record of a manga ever existing. For those unaware, a LOT of Japanese anime back in the 80’s and 90’s were created to drum up interest in manga sales and generally only covered a small portion of the overall series. This is why most old anime VHS tapes that one could rent from Blockbuster Video “back in the day” seemed unfinished or ended on a cliffhanger. There was an assumption that the Japanese viewers would then rush out and buy manga to see what happened next. For example, the manga and anime juggernaut that is One Piece was originally introduced to the world in an animated format via a short film called “Defeat Him! The Pirate Ganzack!” a year before the official anime was made.

That makes me ponder as to what this exactly was – a pilot for a show that was killed off by the failure of the format they chose, a manga OVA that is so obscure I can’t find anything about it, or a bizarre film that was hindered by a short running time and just summed up a second race in the last minute for no reason. Either way, I still enjoyed this for what it was and am somewhat sad I can’t continue the story in any way.

“Makoto is the driver of a rag-tag Formula X racing team competing in the bottom rung D-Class, with aspirations of one day making it to A-Class. When a mysterious benefactor sees potential in them, he offers his engineering services and shiny new engine to help them compete in the Open Cup. This yearly event is open to all classes and the winner automatically earns A-Class standing. Claiming to be “Japan’s first 3D anime,” this curio using the VHD-3D system features 21st-century youngsters racing “FX” machines – predictable crosses between motorcycles and mechas.”

Being such a short movie means that we never really get to get accustomed to the principal characters for very long, but the small bit that we do get is pretty endearing. Makoto is the sort of sports hero cliche from numerous properties that tries to live his life under a code of ethics and sportsmanship that he sees as integral to whatever sport they are doing, in this case Formula-X racing. He’s the sort of character that gets angered when he sees others not living up to his standards, and in the case of Japan’s top-ranked Class-A racer he sees a corrupt bully that is not living up to his potential. Thus, the beginnings of a feud end up brewing that should end up leading towards Makoto eventually taking his place at the top of the rankings, that is if this had more story.

I was actually impressed with how this looked, and have no idea what the source file was, but I’d imagine it was either a Laserdisc or a VHS rip that had been run through an upscaler. Some of this older anime has not aged well, and I found this quite watchable and well made. The soundtrack was sufficient, although this didn’t have a big hit single or anything to really catch the viewers like some other OVAs have. Overall, you could tell some real money went into this production, especially considering the 3-D version, which helps it stand the test of time.

Overall, this was an interesting short film. I watched this in 2-D, but I have since discovered a possible 3-D rip of it online, so I may dip back into this to see how that looks. You can tell where the gimmicky 3-D stuff is supposed to happen, but the movie stands on its own without the glasses. If anything, reading about the production and release of this has been just as entertaining as watching the anime itself, and it’s a shame technology like this never took off. I wish I could have more story here, but what we do have is interesting and well worth the watch. I have posted two versions down below if this sounds like something anyone would be interested in.

For the version I watched:

For the full 3-D experience, I have come across the following video, but have yet to also try it out:


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