Sukeban Deka

Some things just don't work when you play them straight. Killer clowns attacking blond-haired vixen with king cobras as Elvis clones giggle manically in the background as they plot world domination, for example, could be appropriate in a comedy. I don't know what comedy, exactly, but you might pull it off. But put them in even a semi-serious or literate show, and you're going to have a hard time selling your show to anyone. Ultimately, that's the problem with Sukeban Deka. It has the makings of a camp masterpiece. But the writers seem to think they're dealing with the juvenile delinquent's equivalent of The Godfather. Combined with a badly paced first episode and animation apparently done on the third shift, and you've got a lousy show.

Saki is just getting out of reform school, apparently cured of her aberrant behavior and ready to join the real world. But Saki's mother is on death row for killing her father, and the government is willing to stay her execution only on one condition: that Saki become an undercover agent at her old school to expose a suspected crime ring. Saki agrees, since she has no other option.

When she arrives, she finds that the school has been virtually taken over by the three Mizuchi sisters, each one evil in a different way. One's a budding artist with little talent but a penchant for stealing others' designs, another's a money-grubbing extortionist, and the third's a manipulative wench who dabbles in mind control. Between the three of them and their affluent father, they've already masterminded an accident that killed two busloads of students, though the authorities can't prove it.

However, there are still a few students who haven't fallen under the seductive spell of the Mizuchi clan. Sampei is a cute, goofy guy who immediately falls for Saki and wants to help her in whatever limited way he can manage. There's also the sweet, trusting Junko, an artist who Saki saves in the opening minutes from a vicious assault. As Saki gets closer to unraveling the secrets of her alma mater, they become more of a danger to her and to her friends.

Now, all that sounds interesting enough, right? And Sukeban Deka could have worked as a serious show played right. But the average viewer won't be drawn in enough to take it at face value. First, let's take Saki as a character. She's completely unbelievable as a former hood. Her favorite weapon is a yo-yo, for crying out loud! And with her amazingly long purple-pink hair, she looks like Revolutionary Girl Utena as envisioned by Go Nagai. (Granted, this show came out in 1991, but ride with it.) I just don't buy her as a real character. And this holds up for the Mizuchi sisters too. Each one is way over the top, on their way to being villains in the 007 series in their quest for overacting awards. I can just see them cackling, "I don't expect you to talk, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die!" Granted, their henchmen don't hold a candle to Jaws or Oddjob, but I digress. We're expected to take everything at face value, as seriously as we would perhaps Patlabor or Jin-Roh. And we just can't.

Of course, the animation makes it all the worse. I've seen bad animation in my time, but Sukeban Deka ranks as some of the worst. The artwork itself is disagreeable. The character designs, if you can call them that, are ugly creations of an animation crew too bored or underpaid to do better work. And this comes from someone who appreciates old styles of anime design. The word unpleasant frankly gives it too much credit.

The story of Sukeban Deka is also particularly vicious, with a ton of deaths right up front along with some nasty abuse and assault thrown in for good measure. Though we are not shown a lot, thankfully, the ugliness involved feels unnecessary. Although I don't want to give away any spoilers, the show's treatment of its sweetest character is sad and pointless. All this I could deal with if the show was exciting. But it's dull. The second episode does keep moving at a reasonable clip, but the first episode could have been twenty minutes instead of forty-five. Expect to be bored by a good long stretch of this show if you pick it up.

I can envision Sukeban Deka being great as a hysterical comedy making fun of all the conventions of the "school in chaos" genre of shows with very few changes, since all the elements of great humor are here. But left unused, they leave us laughing at Sukeban Deka, not with it. And then again, it's hard to laugh even mockingly because the violence is a bit too real. This one had a lot of potential, but it's a mess.

Sukeban Deka -- violence (some graphic), brief nudity, sexual violence -- C-