Midnight Eye Goku

Most modern anime takes a shiny, clean approach to the future. Apocalyptics are easy to find, but the dirt and grit are usually missing from the dealings, especially in anything created since 1995 or so. It's nice to occasionally go back and see the grime on the streets of Megatokyo, and Midnight Eye Goku fits that bill. The love child of Wicked City and Ninja Scroll director Yoshiaki Kawajiri and Space Adventure Cobra author Terasawa Buichi, Goku is not the kind of title to take home to Mom. However, the two-OVA series is a darkly cognizant look at the underside of futuristic society that was way ahead of its time when it was released in 1989.

Goku is a studly former cop who wears no shirt, just a necktie and jacket as his uniform. He works as a private detective for the meaner crowd of Tokyo in 2014. However, when officers from his old special investigation unit start committing suicide on the job, he knows that something is very wrong. Haruko, a vicious crime lord, was the subject of each cop's work right before death, and Goku is certain he is somehow responsible. He's right, of course, as he finds out when Haruko's naked peacock henchwoman nearly hypnotizes him into taking his own life. In one of the most cringe-inducing moments in anime history, Goku stabs out his left eye to stop the madness.

Partially blinded and in incredible pain, Goku drives off a bridge. Expecting to drown, he instead wakes up strapped to a table. Somebody somewhere must really like him, because his eye has been replaced by a new cybernetic implant. This device is not just a way to see again, though. It's actually interconnected to computers throughout the world, and any information he wants is immediately accessible. He could even start World War III, if he wanted, but his mysterious benefactor trusts Goku to use his gift wisely. Wisdom to Goku is, of course, taking revenge on Haruko before any more police officers wind up dead.

Meanwhile, the second episode takes us into a new case. A mysterious woman believes her brother, declared dead by the military years ago, is actually still alive, and she hires Goku to find him. He's been made into a superhuman killing machine by the government, but he's kept alive by the drugs they feed him. Goku is tasked with finding the brother, but not before running into various problems with the government. It turns out the bro could go on an indiscriminate killing spree without his drugs...and he's gotten loose right in the megalopolis.

Goku is awash in violence and sexuality, which should come as no surprise to those who've followed Yoshiaki Kawajiri's rise to stardom. Goku feels very much like Wicked City, and that's due to a lot of the staff working on both features. We have a return, too, of the angular characters and darkly lit cityscapes that made Wicked City a hit back in 1985. The color schemes are muted in comparison to today's brightly lit palate, but that works in Goku's favor. I really enjoyed going back and taking a look at these two OVAs to see how well they stood up, and they still look great.

Goku certainly will offend some squeamish viewers out there. Each episode has at least one scene that can make the sensitive run for cover. The taking of Goku's eye in the first episode is bad enough, but there's a scene with the superhuman creation and a prostitute in the second one that just makes my head spin. That also leads into another problem in Goku--it's not as misogynistic as Golgo 13, but it certainly has no respect for its female characters, either. Most of them are cunning and all of them are deadly, and virtually each and every one is a sexpot. There's also the matter of characterization. This show is based on style and plotting, but not on deep development of its players. A viewer also has to get past the unknown benefactor willing to risk the end of the world to give Goku an eye that's essentially a gimmick.

However, Goku has some really nice strengths. First, that eye is an awesome piece of equipment that predicted the rise of the Internet and works in very much the same way, even though the Internet as we understand it didn't exist for many years after the show was produced. It's haunting to see how close Terasawa could be to reality, even if it's too over-the-top. Meanwhile, the concepts of hypnosis and manipulation combined with the gritty look and feel make this film reminiscent of Kathryn Bigalow's Strange Days, which wasn't made until 1995. Meanwhile, this film has plenty of well-choreographed action, good pacing, and nice plotting. Though we may know our bad guys well ahead of time, the show keeps us guessing at certain things (particularly in the second episode). Fans of Golgo 13 might also appreciate the similar feel but through the eyes of a far more sympathetic and emotional hero.

Midnight Eye Goku is a guilty pleasure show. It isn't pretty in the conventional sense, and I don't doubt that some will just dislike it immensely. However, for an older audience wanting to see a skewed dystopian vision that skims surprisingly closer to reality than we might think, it's a good night's entertainment.

Midnight Eye Goku OVA 1 & 2 -- graphic violence, nudity, adult themes, disturbing imagery, profanity -- B