There was a time in the 80s when the OVA (Original Video Animation) was king. It provided the chance for both animation directors and studios to experiment with whatever the hell they wanted. Some were one-shots, while others were probably cash-grabs. Many have gained a cult following, where one in particular has become one of the most beloved of all time, but that’s not the kind of OVA I’m here to talk about today. The OVA I’m here to discuss is not a high brow masterpiece. It is not based on a popular manga. Hell, it’s not even all that original. Nevertheless, this particular OVA excels in execution, color, action and the kind of fuck-this attitude that illustrates why this decade of anime is so beloved by fandom the world over. Now sit back, take a deep breath, put on your favorite jazz record and light it up as we shoot the breeze over Akira Nishimori’s Urban Square.
Ryou Matsumoto is just a down-on-his-luck screenwriter. He’s young, single and not really all that wise in the business. Nothing he writes gets greenlit, and tonight is just one of those nights all over again. He’s frustrated, so he does what other pissed-off screenwriters do when nothing seems to work: He shacks up in the bar and decides to get smashed. Fucker doesn’t even finish his whiskey and guess who walks in? Yep, you guessed it, that piece of ass who he’s going to chase throughout the entire fucking movie.
However, that goes by the wayside for a bit because before he knows it, he’s being chased by Roy friggin’ Batty for witnessing a murder. What Ryou soon realizes is that he becomes embroiled in an antiques smuggling operation that’s willing to off him and anyone else that stands in their way. Add the hard-boiled Detective Mochizuki in the mix and you got yourself a certified red-meat action thriller in OVA format. Oh, and did I mention that during all this craziness, Ryou still had the fucking temerity to hit some ass? Oh I did? Well he does, and she’s an utter badass!
Our female lead is Yuki Tamura and she’s no damsel-in-distress. Instead, she’s a whip-smart grad student who finds out her grad mentor is in cahoots with the smugglers. Telling you why her boss is involved is too hard for me to do right now ‘cuz I’m lazy, but let’s just say her troubles, coupled with Ryou’s, helps to bring them together. However, no one really takes their life-death issues seriously except for the aforementioned Mochizuki since he’s the wise-ass that pisses off EVERYONE on the force. He knows something’s up and goes through life and limb to help our two lovebirds out. He carries guns, guns and big guns and all he does is either smoke his cigs or smokes the bad guys. Nobody fucks with Mochizuki!
Urban Square is so full of 80s goodness that it hurts. From the awesome Jazz fusion score by Hidefumi Toki and his band Chicken Shack to the great use of colors which bring us all back to a ‘much simpler time.’ Hell, there’s even a Bruce Lee send off where Ryou has to fight a superbly animated henchman with all the moves from the Little Dragon himself. Mochizuki is more or less a Dirty Harry send off and Yuki’s awesome car chase scene is a welcome nod to any great stunt set-piece you’ve seen 30+ years ago. Furthermore, Ryou himself mirrors the kind of spunky protagonist that you’d find in movies like Fright Night or The Monster Squad, where he’s waaaaay in over his head yet refuses to back down, even at the cost of his life. In this day and age, you’d be hard pressed to find great one-shots like Urban Square, but for any hard-boiled 80s anime geek, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. OVAs like this are a reminder that anime wasn’t always so thought-provoking, but was likely to be a big, dumb and pulpy enterprise that was ready to flip you the bird without any hesitation. And you know what? That’s quite alright. Now stop reading this shit and go watch it.