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First made-for-video anime details a revolt on the moon
DALLOS (1983) is a pioneering anime production that was the very first made-for-video animated series in Japan and began the venerable OAV format (Original Animated Video or OVA, Original Video Animation). It was a series of four half-hours that were later compiled as a single feature which was then released on video in the U.S. in a considerably shortened version.
DALLOS tells the story of colonists who work mines on the moon and begin to revolt against conditions imposed on them by an oppressive earth-backed administration sometime in the far future. It focuses on Shun, a teenaged boy who gets swept up in the revolutionary movement despite the apprehension of his family and girlfriend. The "Dallos" of the title is the colonists' name for an ancient technological structure found on the moon when they first landed whose origins and purpose remain unclear and which has become the basis for a native religious movement among the beleaguered colonists.
The film was directed by Mamoru Oshii, who'd just come off a successful stint directing movies and TV episodes in the "Urusei Yatsura" series based on Rumiko Takahashi's popular comic book about the sexy tiger-skin-bikini-suited Lum, an alien girl who marries an impossibly horny school boy on Earth. Oshii went on to direct the PATLABOR MOBILE POLICE OAV series as well as PATLABOR: THE MOVIE 1 & 2 and, later, the sci-fi anime classic, GHOST IN THE SHELL.
While the character design and character animation in DALLOS are relatively simple and lacking in the strong detail which characterizes Oshii's later works, the production design is quite spectacular, ranging from the sprawling moon city of Monopolis and the cramped colonists' quarters to the tunnels and mines where the colonists work and the massive mechanical infrastructure of Dallos itself. In addition there are all sorts of mecha components, including police fighter craft and robotic fighting vehicles used to suppress the rebels, as well as cyborg dogs used by the police to hunt and kill their quarry. The rebels, on the other hand, adapt construction and mining equipment into weapons of resistance, a strategy that foreshadows events in the PATLABOR series and movies. There are some beautifully staged and animated battles and chases that are as intricate as anything seen in the more celebrated "Mobile Suit Gundam" and "Macross" (Robotech) series. One memorable bit of action has the young hero, Shun, use a rock driller to gore and disable a low-flying fighter ship.
Film buffs should note that some of the scenes of violent revolt, including some terrorist acts by the rebels and a police siege on a rebel hideout, deliberately recall Gillo Pontecorvo's Italian anti-colonial epic, THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS (1965).
The overriding flaw that keeps DALLOS from being a true anime classic is the failure to develop the characters and their relationships, even though the raw material is there. The hero, Shun, is taken under the wing of Doug McCoy, the rebels' leader, who admires the boy's ingenuity. Later, when the rebels take as hostage an Earth girl, Melinda, it is Shun who cares for her and uses the opportunity to ask questions about Earth. Melinda is the girlfriend of Alex Riger, the Lunar security forces commander who starts out taking a hard line against the rebels but also comes to feel an affinity for Shun and softens his stance somewhat as his girl remains a not uncooperative hostage of the rebels. Shun's grandfather tells Shun the whole history of the colony and the early settlers' initial reactions to Dallos and at one point takes Shun to a massive cemetery on the moon where are buried the victims of an accident that destroyed the first moon colony. It's quite a poignant scene as Shun gazes out in awe at the rows and rows of gravestones and little monuments. Ultimately, the most interesting characters in the film remain Alex Riger and Grandpa and one wishes the other major characters had been as well developed.
Viewers may be put off by the lack of a conclusive ending, but in terms of Dallos' purpose and the continuing Earth-colonists conflict, it makes dramatic sense. The cut 83-minute version of DALLOS is all that's available in the U.S. (as opposed to the 120-minute Japanese cut) and is saddled with a less-than-adequate English dub and a sound mix that has the music often drowning out the dialogue (at least on the Best Film and Video Corp. edition viewed for this review). Seen in comparison with the complete Japanese-only 120-minute compilation, the U.S. dub is missing a few bits of gore, including a scene where the cyborg dogs tear through a group of rebels, and lengthy dialogue scenes between the characters that might have illuminated their relationships somewhat. In addition, the action scenes are often shortened. In an early sequence the police chase Doug McCoy and his rebel lieutenants through the city of Monopolis. It's an exciting pursuit making great use of the subways, highways, streets and public places of the city. But it's missing four minutes of incredible action footage, as seen in the Japanese version. If any anime film cries out for restoration and release in a new dub on a dual-language DVD, it is this important work.
ADDENDUM (August 19, 2014): DALLOS is now available in a complete 120-minute edition in Japanese with English subtitles from Eastern Star/Discotek Media. Each of the four half-hour episodes is presented intact and I did get a better sense of character development from this version. The action scenes in Part 4 are quite spectacular.
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