September 4, 2009
This short, four-episode OAV corresponds to the DOGS prelude, Stray dogs howling in the dark, but while it captures the sequence of events well enough, it fails to communicate the oddly charming harshness and raw energy of the manga.
STORY – The story for the first volume of DOGS has always been a little loose and haphazard; each of the four sections focuses on a different character, and the lot of them are strung together almost forcibly as their individual stories don’t necessarily mesh meaningfully with the others around them. The manga’s presentation did manage to find some kind of connecting thread between the four though, and each story also worked well enough as a standalone chapter. Unfortunately, while the OAV preserves the presentation order of the characters, each episode felt incredibly disjointed from the rest — actually, they felt disjointed in and of themselves as well, though I’m not exactly sure why that is.
Strangely enough, even at fifteen minutes a piece, the pacing in each episode isn’t noticeably rushed. It feels pretty scene-for-scene for the most part, but in the end, you really feel like you’re missing something. Was the story really so short and inconsequential? So… uninteresting? There is a lot of action — gunfights, swordfights, wild chases — and the action is highly entertaining and fun to watch, but the story beyond the action is sorely lacking.
Mihai is a retired assassin called back to his past, but the episode skips along too quickly for you to endear yourself to the character and the events that unfold are less emotional as a result. Badou collects information to sell and finds himself tangled up in a mob boss’s unfortunate business. As his section was always the most comedic of the bunch because of its sheer absurdity, the OAV counterpart didn’t suffer as much, but the humor did seem cheaper somehow in animated form. Naoto was raised with only hatred and revenge on her mind, but her narration in the anime flattened the story and I found it more difficult to sympathize. Lastly, Heine saves a genetically modified girl and confronts the haunting fringes of his own past in the process. Though his section is the one that explains the least, it’s also the one that’s most relevant to the on-going series. But Heine’s episode was surely the choppiest, and instead of exciting the viewer towards a continuing story, it seems to end on a note re-emphasizing its own precariousness.
Sure, DOGS’s strength never really lay in its amazingly thoughtful or unique story; indeed, the prelude does little more than introduce some characters’ pasts and other characters’ current lives, laying the groundwork for something bigger. But as I’m not left excited about the potential or possibility of more in this anime, DOGS has thus been reduced to a mindless hour of action with no beginning or end.
CHARACTER – Like the story, given the near-exactness of the presentation, I’m not quite sure why none of the characters have the charm they do in the manga, and I can’t say for sure whether my distaste is just because I was disappointed overall with this production. Perhaps the shortness of each episode has something to do with it after all — even if the sequence of events is the same, you watch through the episode faster than you would read through the chapters and you thus don’t have as much time to really care about the characters; you are less inclined to pause and rewatch the seconds of intriguing footage than you are to pause and reread a few interesting panels or pages. Mihai is an older man with a sad past. So what? Badou is a good-for-nothing with an amusing tobacco addiction. So what? Naoto is a young woman with a sad past. So what? Heine is a mysterious freak. So what?
Sure, all of these characters still have the potential to be interesting, just like their manga selves, but that potential is less obvious this time around, and I was easily bored.
ARTSTYLE & ANIMATION – Shirow Miwa’s art is gorgeous — his energetic character designs, incredible action sequences, and highly detailed environments are together the greatest strength of the manga; I can forgive the somewhat plain story and slowly-developing characters just because I can look at that art. As such, I spent many months worried about how all that style and detail would translate into animation. Preliminary samples gave mixed feelings. The first look at the animation was more reassuring, but the later revealed character sheets cast even more doubt over the whole thing. I wanted to be optimistic, but it seems that optimism was ill-placed after all. (Figures, right?)
It’s a given that much of Miwa’s careful detail will have to be sacrificed in animation, but DOGS was a much lower budget production that I would have imagined. For almost all long to mid-range shots, characters are drawn in a lazy, oddly elongated manner; their facial expressions are a joke. Most action scenes move along too quickly for this to be noticeable, but as soon as it slows down, it gets embarrassing. Close-ups are crisper, but really don’t fare that much better, especially for Heine and Badou, who appear strangely generic and without any of the attitude found in their manga counterparts. For them, animators really don’t seem to have bothered too much in capturing Miwa’s style and only replicated the most basic aspects of his character designs. Mihai and Naoto are less of a dramatic departure, but that may be because both designs are less unique to begin with.
Thankfully, many of the backgrounds are actually pretty all right. The cityscapes are still vast and grungy, and many shots are still taken from all sorts of interesting angles. Still, they’re not amazing by any stretch.
MUSIC – The little opening theme, if you can call it that, is endearing at first — a little reminiscent of the jazz tunes of Cowboy Bebop or Baccano!, which would be appropriate enough with all the action in DOGS. But considering the rather serious and depressing themes of three out of four stories, the upbeat and cheerful melody quickly feels inappropriate. The rest of the soundtrack for the series is incredibly negligible. Many scenes are simply silent with most of the music accumulating in the action sequences, but there’s nothing really memorable.
VOICE ACTING – The OAV uses the same cast as the drama CDs, which I thoroughly enjoyed. A few fans have criticized the use of “brand name” voice actors like Akira Ishida and Takahiro Sakurai but I think both do a fantastic job as Badou and Heine respectively. They give some much needed emotion to the characters when the animation fails utterly, and both depart significantly from their previous voices so even though I’ve heard Ishida and Sakurai’s voices many times before, hearing them here doesn’t invoke thoughts of their other roles. I also really like Akio Ohtsuka as Mihai; though the actual acting isn’t nearly as impressive as the former two, the voice suits the character very well. Naoto I find to be the least impressive, but that could be a mixture of my indifference towards the character and the generic narration she gave for most of her episode. Also, I think it’s worth noting Toshihiko Seki as Bishop, the blind priest, who has some hilariously delivered one-liners.
OVERALL – The DOGS OAV has been a huge disappointment for me, though in retrospect, I’m not sure why I had such high expectations. Still, aside from the poor technical aspects (mostly terrible animation and lackluster music), most of this anime’s drawbacks are uniquely difficult to pinpoint. The story and characters are almost exactly as they were in the manga, so why do they feel so different? For the first time, I theorize that DOGS might just work better as a comic and the anime only serves to overemphasize the weaknesses that were already present in the source. Though the same events are covered, the anime does feel strangely rushed, the most important consequence of which is that you don’t feel very attached to the characters. It isn’t as intimate, and without that connection to the characters, much of the interest and potential is lost — unfortunate, as the potential is what I found most appealing about the DOGS manga… along with the art. That Miwa’s art was bastardized as much as it was undoubtedly adds a bit of bitterness on my part.
So if you’re a fan of the manga, you’ll likely be disappointed. If you’re not, you’ll likely be indifferent — enjoy the action scenes for what they’re worth and then forget about it because it wasn’t actually that interesting.