Urban Square

Every once in a while, a short OVA slips onto my radar that might just be worth watching. I had always been intrigued about Urban Square after picking up a Japanese magazine in 1986 that had a few frames from the show in an ad. I'd rarely thought about it since, especially since it was never picked up for American release. Since it wasn't a continuing series, I dismissed it and went on. However, I did eventually find a copy of the film, along with a script, and took a look at it recently. Although it's not an A-list production, Urban Square is a nice, tight little thriller that manages to stay entertaining despite its predictable plotline.

Ryo is a budding author whose books are just a little too flat for publication. "Put more of your own life into your writing," his editor tells him, but he feels his personal stuff isn't worth writing about. His life is about to get more interesting, though...Ryo is handed a package by a man who runs off, only to be unceremoniously murdered not a minute later. The contents of the envelope suddenly put Ryo in mortal danger, along with his newly found love interest Yuki. Although the police don't believe his story, a hardened older detective named Mochizuki watches after Ryo and starts putting together the pieces. He realizes that the trail leads back to Goda Geese, a nefarious antiquities dealer, and his henchman Henmi. If Ryo and Yuki are to survive, Mochizuki must put together the pieces before Goda and Henmi discover the truth.

To be honest, it's rare for a one-shot OVA to be decent, particularly when it's a "thriller". Frankly, the Japanese just don't do that genre much justice. This one isn't stunning, either, but it did hold my interest. To be sure, the soundtrack is dated, with soft nondescript jazz underscoring the whole thing, and the animation is canned late '80s. The production simply isn't much. And, frankly, the plot is little more than a "world of intrigue" mystery that's not involving.

However, on a character level, Urban Square is actually interesting. We have five main characters, and the show wisely chooses to focus on them exclusively. There aren't too many extraneous characters getting in the way. Due to this focus, we're able to get a little closer to these folks than we expect for 50 minutes. Also, the action here is quite well done. The firefights and shootouts are entertaining, and in some ways they reminded me of what I'd always hoped the Golgo 13 pictures would look like (minus the assassin, of course). The pacing is the final key ingredient here. Things keep at a good clip throughout, which makes the Joe Ordinary storyline seem less important.

Urban Square is not an easy title to find, and I can't say that I would recommend going out of your way to find it. However, if a convention happens to be playing a fansub of it in a little room dedicated to forgotten shows, you might plan to stop by.

Urban Square - violence, profanity -- B