Grey: Digital Target

Grey: Digital Target has had a strange, bizarre trip through the US since its inception by Yoshihisa Tagami. The author's 600 page manga series was brought to the US in the late 1980s as part of Viz's first wave of translated comic books. The uniquely designed, often disturbing tale was a nicely self-contained piece that unintentionally commented on the Gulf War as that saga was unfolding.

Viz made available the 1987 OVA adaptation to comic book collectors in absolutely ludicrous fashion--as an imported VHS tape, without any translation, for $120. The lack of English language versions, along with the outrageous price tag, pretty much sank Grey: Digital Target from becoming popular at the time of the manga's original release. Although Viz re-released a collected version of the Grey manga in 1997 to coincide with their fully translated release of the OVA at typical US prices, by that time Grey was old news. That still doesn't diminish the narrative's power. Although Grey: Digital Target is a little worn around the edges from its age, it has a timeless story that realizes the futility of war without delving into politics or platitudes.

500 years in the future, after a cataclysmic war has devastated much of humankind, the survivors live in meager boroughs, desperate to reach a better life. Grey is one such survivor, and he has joined the legions of soldiers who fight against other regions for ultimate control. To become a Citizen, one must start as a Class F Trooper and get confirmed enemy kills to move up through the ranks. Grey has become legendary for his skills, and at the beginning of the show, he receives Class B status.

But why does Grey kill? We find out that his old girlfriend, Lips, died years ago in pursuit of becoming a Citizen, and he wears her bullet-tattered helmet into combat. He wants to realize her dream for her, in some ways, and has become a deadly machine in the process. But when he gets assigned to a new unit and gets into a relationship with the sassy Nova, he starts realizing that not everything is right with the system. His journey of discovery takes him to the heart of Big Mama, the computer structure that controls their world, and there he finds out secrets that will shake the foundations of society.

Grey: Digital Target is a classical piece from the mid 80s in terms of animation. The manga reader will be pleased to note that the unique character look and fabulous mecha design remain; director Tetsu Dezaki was quite faithful to Tagami's work. However, those unfamiliar with the comic might be taken aback, as Tagami's style is raw and strange, not at all typical for anime characters (except perhaps for the peculiar hairstyles). The music has aged well, too...with a limited amount of JPop and a keyboard-driven but well-written score, Grey does not completely broadcast its age. All combined, it's a little ragged in comparison to the computer-driven shows released today, but not distractingly so.

What sets Grey apart is its particular take on war. Unlike Golgo 13's amoral hitman or his polar opposite found in Gundam's and Evangelion's conflicted pilots, the cast of Grey neither likes or dislikes killing. Death has simply become their way of life. The video reflects this viewpoint, neither shying away from violent and visceral scenes nor taking too much pride and enjoyment from them. The reality of these characters drives our interest in them. We want to understand Grey and Nova. We want them to succeed because they represent the collective "we" watching the show. At the same time, we want to know how they can kill without thinking about it, to find if we ourselves could go to that level. Most importantly, we eventually see the uselessness of it all.

There are still some things keeping it from a great grade; they are minor but important. At times, the dialogue gets silly. Some misplaced fan service (that nevertheless originated in the manga and is faithfully reproduced) gets in the way of an important scene. The story doesn't always translate the dark tone of the manga quite right. And though I love what I consider to be an incredibly brave ending, objects have been known to have been thrown after an audience hits the credits of Grey. Not serious issues, but enough to keep it out of the A category.

As the world heads towards another big military action in the Middle East, it would seem appropriate before more armed conflict that we take another look at the deserts of Grey: Digital Target. The dust kicked up within reveals a lot about war and a lot about us. As such, this one's worth at least a rental until Viz gets off its figurative rear and releases a DVD.

Grey: Digital Target -- violence (some graphic), nudity, sexual situations, language -- B+