Parasite Dolls

Bad cyberpunk makes me weary, but good cyberpunk is like a surprisingly welcome kick in the pants. After seeing Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence last month, I realized I still enjoy the genre. Although that gabfest wasn't perfect, I loved the look of it: actually post-cyberpunk in a sense in that it wasn't all streets strewn with garbage and neon but a crisp sterility that stands in contrast to the decay underneath the shining surface. What I wasn't expecting again so soon was another dose.

Parasite Dolls is set in the Bubblegum Crisis universe, presumably the alternate one of BGC 2040. However, as A.D. Police did before it, Parasite Dolls discusses the same cyberpunk Tokyo without the presence of the Knight Sabers, our heroes in Bubblegum Crisis. Although the stories are not unique--we are still rehashing exactly what it means to be human for the umpteenth time--this is a very good show. It's like the Ghost in the Shell films with a little more soul and a lot more spunk.

Buzz is our man with the past. He works for a subsection of the AD Police, a hidden department that investigates the grittier side of robotic crime. Boomers, which are androids made in various shapes, sizes, and types, are everywhere, but they occasionally wind up creating all sorts of havoc. Sometimes these malfunctions are just coincidence; often they are caused by a larger scheme. Buzz lives by himself, a widower under mysterious circumstances. His partner, Kimball, is a boomer, and yet Buzz trusts him. Then there's Reiko, a brash and effective young woman who helps them when the heavy artillery needs to be pulled out. Perhaps Reiko likes Buzz, but there's still a lot of healing to happen before Buzz gets outside of his own world of depression.

The DVD is made up of three episodes, originally released separately, which have been combined into a theatrical experience. Nonetheless, it still plays out as three separate sections. The first gets us into the setup and involves a simple "crazy boomer" story with a twist. The second involves a boomer who's been put to use as a high-class call girl. Deaths follow her around, but is this naively sweet android the killer? Finally, the show ends with a story where anti-boomer factions implement a plan to destroy what they consider to be the infestation of robots. When they do, all Genom City breaks loose.

The stories are not unique to the genre; in fact, one follows Innocence closely enough that one might accuse the other of stealing, if the topics weren't so common in cyberpunk literature. However, Parasite Dolls proves that execution is everything. Even though the artwork is clumsy at times, particularly in the first episode, Dolls gets better and better as it goes. Although there isn't a huge amount of character development, each of the characters feels real. I liked the players, which hasn't been the case recently (too many brash young turks in my anime, I guess). Though I'd seen these stories before, there was a breath of clean air.

The action quotient of Parasite Dolls is also high, which I found refreshing, and yet it combines that with the thoughtfulness (at a lower level) of the Ghost in the Shell films. Having watched the first few episodes of the Ghost in the Shell TV series, Stand Alone Complex, it appears that that show takes the action packed direction of the manga at the expense of the intelligent discussion of human life from the films. Parasite Dolls is a near-perfect intermeshing of the two. It's dark, but not sickly twisted; it's moody, but not dull.

I had no idea that this program existed before a screener found its way into my DVD player, and I'm glad it did. I will say that having strong background knowledge of the Bubblegum Crisis universe is helpful, since the backdrop of the world itself is only explained in limited fashion. It also won't hurt if you go in with a casual attitude towards the animation; the design work just isn't that impressive.

But man, did I have a good time! I couldn't have watched Innocence twice in a row without falling asleep. In contrast, I've been trying to find enough time to watch Parasite Dolls again. My grade reflects the artwork problems and the core plotlines being canned (even though there are twists within them). But if this sounds like it's the kind of show you like, I urge you to give it a try. Frankly, it's the best cyberpunk show I've seen in years.

Parasite Dolls -- violence, language, brief nudity/sexuality, adult situations and themes -- A-