Ghostwriting is the dark side of book publishing. Many well-known personalities can sell books based on their names alone, but few have the time (or, frankly, the talent) to write as many titles as publishing houses anxious for bestsellers would like to have. Sometimes you run into a situation like Tom Clancy's Op Center books, which bear his name in the title, yet have no actual author listed. In more unscrupulous situations, an author actually takes credit for something somebody else slaved over because it sells more copies with a famous name on the dust jacket. Many publishers aren't nearly as concerned about the ethics of it as they are their sales figures, however, and it's a trend that occasionally extends to the movie industry. Gundress is one such case. The advertising for the show has Masamune Shirow's name all over it in a blatant attempt to cash in on the popularity of the manga artist famous for Ghost in the Shell and Appleseed. It's too bad he allowed his name to be associated with the project, for it is so badly made and so unoriginal that it tarnishes his reputation.
Gundress follows the exploits of the Angel Arms, a group of women in 2100 A.D. who work as licensed vigilantes in mobile suits handling cases the police can't or won't deal with properly. As the show starts, the gals apprehend wanted arms deal Ali Hassan, but the takedown doesn't go as smoothly as expected. Alissa, the newest member of the group, gets blamed for the damage caused and it further separates her from her teammates. But Alissa's holding a secret only her boss knows; she once was a terrorist herself. As Hassan awaits trial, his enemies plan to take him down before he can reveal all their secrets to the government. When one of his intended assassins turns out to be Alissa's former lover, who she'd thought was killed in an explosion during her final heist, her loyalties are put to the test.
Gundress is an infamous title for many reasons. According to the behind-the-scenes documentary included on the DVD, Gundress was the first attempt at a motion picture by its creative team. The film went enormously over budget and was released into theatres only halfway finished in an attempt to gain more money to complete the picture. Whether or not they got anything more actually finished on the feature is unknown to me; considering how terrible it looks, I can't be too certain.
Although it uses a few character designs from Shirow (his lone contribution to the program), Gundress looks ridiculous. There are a few tantalizing close-ups on the characters near the beginning that give us a great look at what Shirow intended, but they only make the other animation all that more grotesque by comparison. In-betweening is almost non-existent. Characters change shapes and sizes at will, and so do facial features. Mecha lack any sort of detail. The animation is something you'd expect from a low-budget Yu-Gi-Oh ripoff on TV, not from something released theatrically. Even the battle sequences, which the creators wanted to highlight, look shabby.
The animation is sadly characteristic of the whole program. Every cliche is in place without variation. If the Angel Arms weren't already a direct ripoff of the Knight Sabers from Bubblegum Crisis, then we could cite the creators for plagiarizing a dozen other shows. There is no tension because there is nothing that we cannot predict. It's a given that Alissa will have to confront her ex-boyfriend once we know about their relationship. We know that the girls will bicker amongst themselves about Alissa once they find out her true identity. There's even a maniacal army guy who shows up when the city is attacked by terrorists; as soon as he appears, it's clear he's bad news who will throw a monkey wrench into the works. If there is a surprise, it's that Hassan winds up being a "moral" arms dealer and helps the girls out. Although I didn't see that one coming, it's preposterous.
One could attempt to see the "virtual reality" segment of the show as something original, as this is where Alissa and said lover have their showdown of sorts. But instead of something cool, it's so weak that we laugh at the ineptitude of the animators. Watching a modern computer screen is more convincing, and so we stop caring. Both are in the nude during this entire sequence, but they manage to make the characters look so bad that any erotic edge that was intended is completely lost. I normally call nude scenes in anime a cheap attempt to gain word-of-mouth amongst adolescent boys, but here it's no selling point.
The only humorous thing about Gundress is the documentary included in the package. It's clear from watching it that the creators really thought they were onto something. One animator comments that he thinks this film blurs the line between live-action and animated action films. Nice try, buddy, but all it does is clarify the line between mere cinematic incompetence and true animated misery. In a way, it's both hilarious and sad that these guys believed so strongly in the project only for it to crash and burn so spectacularly.
Honestly, I watched 40 minutes of the program normally and the rest in fast-forward. It was just too painful otherwise. I have given programs with similar awfulness D ratings before, but somehow I feel compelled to flunk this one, for it is completely unwatchable. Somehow I managed to watch all 132 minutes of Odin, but I couldn't sit through this. What's more, the crass use of Masamune Shirow's name to lure in unsuspecting viewers makes it a shade worse. You'd have to work hard to find a worse title to rent, let alone buy.
Gundress -- violence, nudity (though no sexuality) -- F