Something new for you today, my friends. I don’t think I’ve done much anime reviewing here, and especially not much bad anime reviewing, but today I’ll give you my thoughts on a real stinker. The object of this review will be not just to make fun of an old terrible anime, but to explore why it’s bad and what we can learn from its mistakes.
The stinker I’ll be looking at today is “Roots Search,” an obscure one-shot OVA from 1986 that’s about 45 minutes long. Truth be told, I’m not the first guy to review it–in fact, the story of how I heard about it is part of the reason I wanted to review it. It was actually featured on the “Buried Garbage” feature Jestin Sevakis runs on Anime News Network every now and then. Check it out here:
I came across this review when I saw a fellow claiming it was too harsh. He said, “It’s a perfectly passable Alien rip off. Not great, not awful. At worst it’s sorta bad and bland. There’s been countless live action ones and they never get shit on as much as Roots. And the animation is perfectly fine. Not great, but better than 80’s TV shows. Some of the character designs are a tad ugly though. Probably my biggest complaint is that the alien design is pretty stupid looking.”
Personally? While I can believe there are worse animes out there, I’d still come down on Mr. Sevakis’s side. IMO Roots Search doesn’t reach the level of “passable” Alien ripoff. Let me explain why.
To start off, read the animenewsnetwork review–it provides a pretty good synopsis of the whole thing, except for the end, which I’ll get to later. You can also see the whole thing yourself on Youtube if you’ve got time to waste, here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2U6OhBYMQTo
OK, so here’s what I’d add on to the ANN review, and why I think Roots Search deserves the hate it gets.
1: Bad art and animation. The anon said it wasn’t THAT bad, but I don’t agree, even taking into poor youtube quality. The animation is only competent at best, and gets pretty bad at parts, especially at some parts at the end, where Buzz is fighting the alien and just kind of wobbles around the place. That would be forgivable in a TV show, but an OVA? C’mon. Also, the character, mechanical, and creature designs are generally poor, and anon agreed on that. Moira, the female protagonist, was supposed to look cute but IMO she looks kinda weird and doofy. None of the other human characters are particularly noteworthy (except for Moira’s ex-bf, Scott, who looks ugly and sinister), and the alien’s face looks kind of gross, but the rest of its body just seems like a run of the mill slimy humanoid. Obviously far inferior to Giger’s unsettling Alien design, and even inferior to most Alien ripoff monsters, like the thing from Creature/Titan Find. You can see it here, it’s clearly just a retread of the Xenomorph except with glowing red eyes, but at least looks more intimidating than this hairy Roots Search thing. Needless to say, the spaceships look equally uninspired, at least when you can see them. This is a stark contrast to other “bad” anime of the period like M.D. Geist, which at least had excellent mechanical designs (Geist’s power armor is undoubtedly badass).
2: Terribad music. Another way the other “bad anime,” M.D. Geist, blows Roots Search away is that it has excellent music, like this track from Death Force. Roots Search, unfortunately, has music that’s not just uninspiring but completely contrary to the intent of the action. They would have been better off just leaving it out entirely, but as it is, even
“scary” scenes are ruined by the inclusion of crappy, senseless synthesizer tunes that sound like they come from a cheap 80’s porno. Granted, there are many bad Alien ripoffs with equally bad soundtracks, but it’s one thing keeping Roots Search from being ‘passable.’ In fact, alas, the music is just bad, not so bad as to make it funny, which would at least make this worth something.
3: Senseless plot and direction. A lot of the scenes in Roots Search just make no sense. Moira talks with Scott about God for no particular reason, then the alien claims to be a messenger of God killing the unworthy humans, again, for no particular reason, and then there’s that bizarre scene of Moira and Buzz frolicking around naked and having a space baby ripped right from 2001. Not even the worst live-action Alien ripoffs had that kind of weird craziness in them. Who thought that trippy stuff was a good idea?!
That said, to be fair, Sevakis’ review isn’t entirely accurate. He says the OVA cuts off right after that trippy scene, but the version I watched on Youtube apparently has some extra stuff after that. After Moira and Buzz have their dream sequence, Buzz heads to the reactor room of the ship to blow it up and hopefully take the alien (which, by this time, has transformed from a hairy humanoid thing into an indistinct mass of flesh that has taken over the station) with it. He succeeds, but the alien blinds him and then traps him and Moira before they can escape, and the ship explodes, assumedly taking them along with it…
But, somehow, they survive, waking up in some bizarre alien landscape the creature apparently teleported them to. Not sure if they’re still alive or actually in hell, they advance towards a light in the distance, wondering if it represents an escape or a happy ending for them, and THEN the movie ends.
So…yeah, that’s a weird ending, and pretty close to a deus ex machina. It does tie in to one of the only good things about Roots Search, though–a concept that can be seen in other, better movies.
See, the alien in this anime can apparently read minds, and whenever it kills someone it shows them their regrets or their worst fears. The head scientist guy is killed after he sees a vision of his mentor whom he betrayed, the fat guy dies after following an apparition of his friend whom he abandoned out an airlock, and Moira’s exbf sees a ghost of his former lover before Moira, whom he drove to suicide. The alien says it wants to scourge humanity because of that sort of selfishness and venality, but Moira and Buzz are apparently comparatively pure-hearted and courageous, which is (at least in my theory) why the alien spared them at the end.
Now, IMO in a horror movie that’s kind of preachy and smarmy, but the concept of a mind-reading entity that preys on human fears and failings is an interesting one. In fact, that’s part of the premise of the far superior Event Horizon. Spoilers for that movie below:
The haunted ship in Event Horizon sees the secrets of the salvage crew sent to investigate it and reads their minds, showing, for instance, the captain a vision of a man he allowed to burn to death, or the head scientist an image of his wife whom he drove to suicide (under circumstances very similar to Scott’s in Roots Search). Still, as you can imagine, Event Horizon does a MUCH better job of making this scary, perhaps because it had 2 hours to build up characterizations rather than just 45 minutes. I’m not the first to notice this, a couple of other anime bloggers have said the same:
That’s pretty much the only positive characteristic of Roots Search in any case, though. The rest of it is just bad, bad, bad. Hell, I can’t even figure out why it’s called Roots Search; never have I seen an anime with a name that had as little to do with its content. So in conclusion, while, as I said above, I can acknowledge the existence of worse badimes (bad animes), I think this one is pretty close to the bottom of the pile.
I suppose that can be a major lesson to take from this: not everything from the 1980s was good. Though a lot of folks claim the 80s were the high point of anime, and it’s understandable why they’d think that (classic shows like Patlabor, incredibly well-animated movies and OVAs like Do You Remember Love and MADOX-01), that era also gave us a lot of crap, too, and Roots Search is an example.
That about does it for today, I think. Next week I might write on some of the horror novels on Kindle I’ve bought 😀 Stay tuned!