The Vault of Error - Prefectural Earth Defense Force
A release gone and mostly forgotten
by Paul Thomas Chapman
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Orbital battle stations! Improbable, insectoid mecha! C-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate! Dangers, drama, explosions!
None of these will be appearing in today’s Vault of Error offering: Prefectural Earth Defense Force.
Well, none except for the explosions. Can’t have an anime without explosions, after all.
Flashback to the year 2006: The Texas-based anime distributor A.D. Vision has not yet splintered into a handful of smaller, rogue licensing houses such as Section23, Sentai Filmworks, and Switchblade Pictures. Known for their pioneering work in creating stables of local voice actors and their salacious advertising, ADV Films at one time sat crouched in the proverbial catbird seat at the peak of the American anime industry, a spot now occupied by FUNimation. ADV used to release perennially popular programs such as Neon Genesis Evangelion and Full Metal Panic. Heck, they even had their own cable television station in The Anime Network, so what better way to cash in on this momentum than to release a subtitled-only DVD of a twenty-year-old OVA based on a humorous manga that no one in America had ever heard of?
Wait, there seems to be a flaw in this plan…
Prefectural Earth Defense Force is the story of three enthusiastic students of Inazuma High School in a fictional section of Kyushu who take on the task of thwarting the villainous machinations of the evil Telephone Pole Group. The students are aided in their righteous quest by Mr. Roberi, their lecherous homeroom teacher, and Karmi Santin, a transfer student from India who is transformed into an unstoppable cybernetic killing machine after a minor traffic accident. Their opponents include the goggle-sporting Scope Tsurusaki, Lady Baradagi and her legions of underpaid, faceless minions, and Lord Chilthonia, a gentleman who dedicates less time to conquering and more time to drinking tea while snuggled underneath the warming coils of the kotatsu table. It’s lovingly animated, bureaucratically obtuse, and overall about as subtle as a boxing glove on a spring.
The humor of the show consists of slapstick, pratfalls, untranslatable puns, and references that even hardcore otaku might find obscure. I’ve never met anyone who has actually seen Star of the Giants, for example. And even with the recent home video revival of such shows as Ultra Seven or modern television remakes of the Bionic Woman, I’m guessing the average viewer is going to think of a certain beer-swilling professional wrestler rather than an astronaut-turned-tragic-cyborg when they hear the name ‘Steve Austin’. The closest modern comparison I can make to the style of Prefectural Earth Defense Force is Excel Saga, but even Excel Saga is thirteen years old at this point, and it at least had the benefit of an English language release of the original manga.
I’ll admit, Japanese comedy rarely tickles my funny bone, partly because I’m a soulless automaton incapable of experiencing Hu-Man emotions, and partly because the delivery of the jokes simply doesn’t translate. For example, I watched and loved Project: A-ko for years without recognizing even one-half of the references. Although I am older and wiser now, and I get more of the jokes, Prefectural Earth Defense Force may make me smile, but I can’t say it makes me laugh.
The release of Prefectural Earth Defense Force was clearly a labor of love on ADV’s part. During the era of tape-trading, when anime fandom in the United States was largely the purview of a dedicated cadre of fans armed with daisy-chained VCRs and fan-translated scripts, I understand that this show was something of a legend. Owing to its comparative rarity, fans would go to great lengths to pursue it, chasing after fuzzy, seventh-generation VHS copies like a pack of cryptozoologists in search of the elusive Sasquatch or perhaps the Chupacabras. And now the DVDs are apparently rare as hen’s teeth. Originally offered exclusively through ADV’s website, I snagged my copy for approximately twelve dollars some six odd years ago. At the time of this writing, this release is listed as ‘Unavailable’ on Amazon and no copies are currently listed for sale on eBay. I’d previously heard that Prefectural Earth Defense Force DVDs were fetching usurious prices, but for now they seem to have vanished without a trace.
Vanished, that is, with the exception of copies such as mine. This DVD shall remain indefinitely in the Vault of Error, a testament to what twelve dollars could purchase six years ago, a constant reminder of the age-old question of: “Did you get what you paid for?”
The answer to which is a resounding: “Maybe?”
Distributor: ADV Films
Originally Released: 1986
Running Time: 50 minutes