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Difficult to recommend...but that won't stop people from watching it.
The animated adaptation of TEITO MONOGATARI (Tale of the Imperial Capital, aka DOOMED MEGALOPOLIS here in the US) is an interesting specimen. Many anime enthusiasts consider this some kind of fan favorite and assume that's all there is to the franchise. Well...maybe it has become some kind of cult favorite here in the West due to some violent imagery and all, but the franchise it's based on had been going strong eight years prior to the anime's release.
The original novel DOOMED MEGALOPOLIS is based on began being published in 1985. The novel became a huge success winning it's author (Hiroshi Aramata) the National Science Fiction Award of 1987 (the same award Hideaki Anno's EVA series won), and sold over 3.5 million sales in its first few years on the market. It's success immediately inspired a blockbuster motion picture in 1988 (TOKYO: THE LAST MEGALOPOLIS) which was arguably the most expensive Japanese fantasy film that had been made at that time. After the success of the live action film, many other commercial adaptations and spin-offs of the franchise began to pop up, including manga, spin-off books, and of course, this anime adaptation.
Because Japanese SPFX films tend to be less popular in the US and interest in Japanese fantasy literature is practically non-existent, the live action film and its source material were overlooked by distributors in favor of the anime adaptation (called DOOMED MEGALOPOLIS in the West). Very sadly, the anime has become extremely notable in the West for its dark content more than its story. In the anime fandom, it does have some merits having been directed by animation director Rintaro and crafted by Madhouse studios, responsible for classics such as NINJA SCROLL.
But what many anime enthusiasts fail to grasp is that it was the book and the live action film which started the franchise rolling--NOT the anime. The anime was a commercial byproduct of the novel's success. Sadly the fanatic anime following here in the US has prevented the truth from emerging. For example when the live action adaptation of TEITO MONOGATARI was exported to the West under the title TOKYO: THE LAST MEGALOPOLIS, many English reviewers mistakenly thought THAT was an adaptation of the anime instead of the reverse!
This is a problem. The anime is an incomplete and loose adaptation of the novel delivered in a violent manner. However it's prominence in the West may fool people into thinking that it's some kind of definitive adaptation of the book. But to judge the original novel based purely off this adaptation would be like judging the entire LORD OF THE RINGS saga based purely on Rankin-Bass's cheap TV adaptation of RETURN OF THE KING. Except whereas that adaptation "kiddified" the source material too much, this adaptation goes the opposite route and pushes the subject matter past the bounds of good taste into the realm of "adults only".
That's not to say DOOMED MEGALOPOLIS is a cinematic disaster. There are some rather taut, suspense filled scenes in here. The compression of the story allows for events to push along at such a rapid pace as to constantly keep the viewer entertained. The soundtrack is surprisingly moody, despite the fact that it's filled with inappropriate modern enhancements (heavy metal riffs for a Meiji era setting??).
The problem lies with the story. The anime was designed as a supplement for the original novel, NOT as a replacement for it. In an interview, the director of the anime even implies that he EXPECTED the viewer to have read the novel before he even approached his production! The anime doesn't even tell the story of the whole novel; it just covers the first 1/3rd of the book. Also, due to time constraints, the story the anime tells is very compressed, cutting out a lot of exposition in favor of action scenes. Such an approach will easily confuse those not familiar with the source material. This is evident in the fact that there are references to plot points in the original novel all throughout, but hardly any of them are expanded upon. For example, the origin of the villain Kato's superhuman prowess and immortality is never explained in the anime, only hinted at. But the novel delivers many answers.
Compounding this problem is the fact the anime also aims for more shock value than any of the previous adaptations, upping the grotesque imagery and sexual content. There's a lot of unnecessary and disturbing violence in the early episodes (obviously an attempt to cash in on the craze of adult anime like LEGEND OF THE OVERFIEND which were being produced around the same time). This is extremely distracting and may easily frustrate viewers trying to just understand the story. It also completely contradicts the tone of the source material, which gave much more focus to the drama between the characters and the historical background.
It is impossible to recommend to any English viewer to just "read the books instead" as they have NEVER been translated. Unfortunately because the story doesn't make much sense, English viewers to this day will continue to watch the anime just for its violent/sexual content...completely ignoring the source material's award winning roots with its intricate mingling of real history and folklore.
I can at least recommend that the viewer watch the English subtitled version over Streamline's dub as the dub removes historical and cultural references required to properly interpret the story. But this is only a minor salve. There's simply too much of a cultural gap between the intended audience in Japan and the audience in the West, and the anime is simply too stylized to be a good introduction to the franchise. Until the TEITO MONOGATARI novel gets translated or everyone learns Japanese (unlikely), any viewer who watches the animated adaptation cannot gain complete fulfillment from it as it is simply a fragment of something much greater.
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