"No one understands the reason for battle…"—Japanese Closing Theme
Back in the days before there was much of a commercial anime market in the United States, even before fansubbers could make their own translations on a home computer, anime collectors used to pass around bootleg VHS tapes. We would sit around and watch the latest shows—no subs, no dubs—and try to figure out what was going on. Released in 1989, Biobooster Armor Guyver seemed state of the art. It had plenty of blood and gore, weird monsters, and seemed to make some vague sort of sense, even in Japanese.
Now it is 2003, and Manga Entertainment finally packages the original video series for DVD. The plot is pretty straightforward: slacker Sho Fukamachi is just trying to get through high school, when he stumbles onto a suit of organic armor that fuses to his nervous system. This parasitic weapon was stolen away from the Chronos Corporation, a syndicate whose main project is to genetically modify humans into grotesque monsters, called Zoanoids. With the help of his best friend Tetsuro and his girlfriend Mizuki, Sho must use the Guyver armor to defeat Chronos' plan for world domination.
It is a familiar story, but the success of The Guyver depends not on the story's use of familiar anime tropes, but its entertaining balance of character development and rising action. While most shows of this sort—young superhero takes on a vast army of evil monsters—tend to tread water, just offering a bigger monster every week without actually going anywhere, Guyver keeps the plot interesting through its six installments. Episode 1 sets up the origin story fairly in standard fashion, but Episode 2 ("Battle of the Guyvers") pulls out a plot twist most shows would reserve for later: Sho must battle a second Guyver unit fused to a high-ranking Chronos executive. The conflict is an effective way to show the audience (and Sho, who is unfamiliar with his new powers) how the Guyver suit works, without resorting to awkward exposition.
Episodes 3 ("Mysterious Shadow") and 4 ("Attack of Hyper-Zoanoid Team 5) involve more gory battles, but the real appeals here are Sho's own fear of the parasitic suit and the introduction of the enigmatic Makishima, a classmate of Sho who has ties to Chronos. The action reaches an exciting climax in the final two episodes, "Death of the Guyver" and "Terminal Battle: The Fall of Chronos Japan," in which our hero is killed, comes back from the dead, battles alongside another Guyver, and learns a major secret about the origin of the human race.
Got all that? Surprisingly, the show actually manages to make that entire plot comprehensible—and free from the usual expository technobabble that drags down many of its kin. And in between, we actually get characters who are interesting, at least by the standards of 1980s anime. Indeed, Guyver is very much a product of the 80s, from the power-chord heavy theme song to the simplified art style characteristic of a mid-budget animation video.
While Manga Entertainment includes the original Japanese soundtrack in a 2.0 mix, there is also a terrible English dub in 5.1 and 2.0. Skip the dub, if only because it removes the Japanese opening and closing songs for the most awful synthesizer instrumental you have ever heard short of a porn movie. Extras are thin: the original Japanese credit sequences (free of English overlays), a gallery of the original video cover art (badly cropped), and the original Zoanoid Data Files from the Japanese releases, featuring cool sculpted models.
Younger anime fans may find the animation on The Guyver a bit dated, but this still holds up as one of the more entertaining shows of its type. But Manga Entertainment is severely reprimanded for including this lousy older dub and not giving the Japanese soundtrack the attention it deserves.
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