Black Magic M-66 review

Posted Friday 13.05.2022

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Adorable really

Another protagonist for the Shirow Masamune short haired tomboy MC pile

I really want to see more of these guys!

Ok so hear me out, imagine the Terminator... but instead of Arnold Schwarzenegger it was a cute killer robot girl... Anyways this is Black Magic M-66.

If you have some cursory knowledge of japanese animation or " [aɲime] " as some people call it, the works of mangaka Shirow Masamune should be at least of some familliarity, or at the very least the anime adaptations of his works. From the countless adaptations of Ghost in the Shell with the 1995 movie in specific being considered one of the greatest films of the medium, to the sligtly less acclaimed, but still fairly well regarded Appleseed (the manga of which is a personal favourite of mine) Masamune's work has a tendency to get around, and reach popularity both at home in Japan and internationally. But when discussing these anime based off of his works there are a few that don't get brought up as frequently, the subject of this review, Black Magic being one of them.

What makes Black Magic notable in particular is first of all the fact that it was Shirow Masamune's first published manga. Having started out as a doujinshi manga published in the magazine of the doujin circle Atlas in 1983 and receiving a second printing the following year, it was in 1985 the manga would be picked up by the publishing company Seishinsha, the same company that would go on to publish his much more popular breakout work Appleseed the same year. As the original manga is an anthology work of sorts, the OVA of Black Magic only really adapts the story "Booby Trap", and even then is a rather loose adaptation, the only real constant being the M-66 type military combat androids (bioroids?) wreaking havoc, thereof the title of the OVA being Black Magic M-66.

Being his first published work the original manga is obviously holds a significant spot in Masamune's wider body of work, but this fact also holds true for the M-66 OVA. Black Magic M-66 marks the first and last time that Masamune himself was significantly involved in an anime adaptation of his own work, being credited for screenplay, storyboard and as a co-director of the anime alongside Hiroyuki Kitakobu who would go on to direct the best (don't challenge me on this) short in the animated anthology Robot Carnival aswell as be a key animator on absolute classics like Char's Counterattack and Akira.
Despite being a rather modest production and far from the most flashy OVA from the late 80s, it's worth noting the crew of rather well recognized animators like Hiroyuki Okiura and Kazuchika Kise (to mention a couple) that are credited with key animation on this anime. And though as previously stated this is a rather modest production I'd be lying if I said that there weren't several scenes that made me go "fuck yeah animation rocks!" during it's runtime.

It should be apparent enough by now that I consider Black Magic M-66 to be an OVA of some signifigance, but how does it hold up as a work in it's own right? Hey what is it even about?
Well if you can recall my Terminator comparison in the first line of this review then there's really not all that much more to add. An accident occurs during the transfer of a couple of highly dangerous and highly cute military combat androids leading them to escape and run amok. The story follows the foolhardy independent journalist Sybel who gets caught up in this mess after attempting to get a scoop on the accident, only to find herself in a struggle to survive and save the poor unwitting girl who is being targeted by the metallic menace.
A simple premise that obviously takes some inspiration from 1984s Terminator, and though it may seem like I'm exaggerating this comparison a bit too much I want to make a point of how much western movies, particularily hollywood sci-fi movies made an impact on the anime industry at the time and left a big imprint in otaku culture of the 80s and 90s, this of course being one of MANY examples.

You may be asking by now: "That's cool and all Red, but how is the work?" Well simply put it's a blast! I found the main character Sybel to be an instantly likable character. Not only is she and incredibly likable character for being one of the few civillians wrapped up in this wild ride of military secrecy and destruction, but her incredible one-track minded dedication to her work as a journalist makes her an incredibly endearing main character. This is communicated immediately in the first scene in which we see her run straight out the door after hearing of the accident that kicks off the plot of this OVA, only making sure to pick up her camera on the way, not even consdiering putting on some clothes first. Her headstrong and even somewhat stubborn personality is portrayed really well by Yoshiko Sakakibara who also portrayed Haman Karn in Gundam as well as Kushana from Nausicaä to mention a few. Though she has portrayed some of my favourite anime characters she's not at all the only notable voice actor in this OVA as the character Ferris, the "Sarah Connor" of the anime if we were to stretch the Terminator comparison a bit further is voiced by Chisa Yokoyama who most will recognize as the voice of Sakura Shinguji from the Sakura Wars series of video games and anime, actually making her debut as an anime voice actress with this OVA.
Though Sybel is really the only character we come to know on any meaningful level I found the supporting cast of special forces soldiers to be rather memorable too, definetely owing in large part to their strong character designs. I would seriously love to see more of them, especially considering how the short run time is, leaving a lot to be desired in that aspect.

This brings me to the only major negative I can say about the work itself, which is that it's painfully short! "Wow!" you may say "what a huge non-criticism!", but I'm only telling it as it is. This OVA had me quite invested, not just because of it's awesome action scenes and great mechanical designs, but in it's short duration also managed to introduce some genuinely cool and likable characters and built up what could easily become an interesting political sub-plot. Of course this is without a doubt far beyond the scope of this OVA, but I can't help but feel it could have worked really well if it was expanded upon into a feature length film or ran over several episodes. I suppose that it just disheartens me a little that the only anime Shirow Masamune would have any major involvement in ended up being this quite good albeit small-scale OVA production.

And since we're on the subject of "negatives" I suppose it's worth talking about the releases of this classic work... since well... it's kind of rough. If you're thinking of copping yourself a copy of this fine piece of 80s anime then you're gonna have a hard time, as of the time of this writing there have not been any reprints of the english language DVDs since 2013 as far as I can tell, and the situatation of the japanese DVDs don't look any better. But if you're not big into physical media then that's not neccasarily a big issue in our digital age of streaming and file sharing, but it doesn't end there because the picture quality of these DVDs are... well not too good. I won't pretend I'm at all too familliar with how this sort of stuff works, but from what I can tell the DVD sources have a pretty terrible case of interlacing. This seems to be a pretty universal issue since all the rips I have seen without interlacing seem to have been digitally altered to smooth it out, this of course looks nicer, but results in pretty unappealing and occasionally jerky movement, which is a shame. Now, I have no clue what the situation is with the original masters of this work, but all I can hope for is that it will someday get a blu-ray remaster, something a lot of older anime luckily seem to be getting these days, so we can only hope.

But that's a bummer to end the review on, so what's the verdict on this anime? Well I'm not gonna sit here and say it's the best anime I've seen or anything, hell it's not even my favourite anime of 1987. But what I can say is that there are plenty of worse ways to spend an evening, and considering it's significance as an anime in the careers of the people who worked on it, and the fact that it's just a lot of fun, I'd definetely recommend it to anyone who has bothered to read this review to the end, as I think it deserves a little more recognition then it has received.

I don't like numerical scores so I'll give this a prettygood/10 so make sure to check it out if you think you might like it.