DVD Review: GOLGO 13 Always Hits Its Tiny Mark
Meet Duke Togo aka. Golgo 13. A man so macho, it fucking took both Ken Katakura and Sonny Chiba to portray him in the live-action movies. He is James Bond without a conscience, without a boss, and without witty repartee. The only man in fiction able to stare down Chuck Norris, allegedly. A private assassin whose sole hobbies concern guns and hookers, and who really doesn't give a shit what you think about that. He's no hero, not even an anti-hero. Golgo 13 just is, and the world doesn't seem to be the better for it. Give him a target and three million dollars, and you need to look for another target. Just pray someone else doesn't hire him to target you.
Golgo 13 was conceived by artist Takao Saito, and his stories have been published as manga comics since 1969. The series' unique mix of pulp fiction and technical fetishism, combined with a just-ever-so impossible protagonist have made the series eternally popular it seems.
Even though two live-action films were made in the seventies and two animated movies were made in the eighties, it took until 2008 before someone made an anime television series of the character. This series now consists of four seasons with 12-13 episodes each, and the first of these has been released on DVD in Australia by Siren Visual.
Twitch colleague Hugo Ozman liked it. So what did I think of it? Read on...
Normally I start a review with a plot overview, but in this case there basically is no plot. In every episode "Golgo 13" takes on an assignment and finishes it. And that's all there is.
In the 43 years of its existence the manga has always been vague about Golgo 13's past or motivation. His alias is "Duke Togo" but it is never explained if that is his real name or just something he uses because a number looks weird in a passport. He is stone-cold ruthless, the best sniper in the world and that's it. His logo, name and ridiculous level of ability hint at a possibly supernatural background, like he might be the Antichrist, or maybe a horserider of the apocalypse biding his time. But nothing is ever done with that though, although nearly everyone who comes into contact with him describes him as a monster. His facial expression never shifts from his half-squint half-scowl, not even during sex. The character is not on some journey, does not undergo any development, and is not changed in ANY way by what happens around him.
So while most stories concern itself with "WHAT", "WHO" and especially "WHY", the "Golgo 13" anime only concerns itself with "HOW". It is the most single-minded, single-purpose series I have ever seen outside of hentai.
What is impressive is that this lack of any sort of arc does not harm the series one bit. A situation is shown, Golgo 13 is introduced as a stone thrown in a pond and you're invited to watch the ripples. The very fact that you know Duke will walk away unscathed and untouchable is used as a given, and the excitement mostly comes from the bystanders. Episodes will follow once-off characters around. Will they make it to the end? Does Golgo 13's appearance help them or doom them? You can almost imagine a similar series called "Earthquake", in which you'd know there was an earthquake every episode, and you're only left with figuring out how it will fit in each time.
As for Golgo 13's mastery of assassination, the series deftly walks a tightrope, keeping things deep in the implausible realm while never seeming to topple into outright impossibility. You can imagine a sniper having a lucky day and performing a "Golgo 13" shot once in his/her career. What is impossible about Duke Togo's exploits is that he does those kind of shots EVERY SINGLE TIME. But as each individual shot... just... might... happen, you're never pulled out of the action too much.
Also, while sometimes the audience is forced to take Golgo 13's abilities for granted, there are times where he seems to have found his match. And then he turns into a total bastard, playing dirty to tip the scales in his favor. These are probably the funniest episodes to watch as the dirty tricks are really quite clever.
"Golgo 13" keeps its atmosphere deadly serious, with the only jokes being in the constant exaggeration of Duke Togo's prowess, sexually or otherwise. So while the first episode had me groaning about all the cliches and impossibilities, from the second episode onward I saw what the series was trying to achieve and I really started to enjoy myself.
Although I do wonder if a series which works within such a tight set of limitations can stay interesting for 50 episodes straight, the 13 presented here in "Golgo 13: Series 1" are definitely entertaining enough to warrant a look. Its total fixation on detail (and detail ONLY) in its morally defunct universe is unique but gives this anime a distinct flavor all of its own. Recommended!
About the DVDs:
Siren Visual has released the first season of the "Golgo 13" anime as a two-disc DVD set, PAL encoded for Region 4 only.
The video is murky, desaturated and dark on purpose, fitting the pulpy style of animation.
For sound there is both a Japanese soundtrack and an English one, but as this is a Siren Visual release it defaults to the Japanese with English subtitles.
As for extras, this version is almost barebones. You get some trailers for other Siren Visual releases and textless versions of the opening- and closing credits. Mind you though: you get ALL of them. While the episodes in this set all feature the same opening credits and the same closing credits (bar episode 13), the textless versions are comprised of two openings and four closing credits. Especially the closing credits are interesting as together they tell a story, and a damn lurid one. In the third part Golgo is boning some female assassin to orgasm and this is depicted in a very explicit way, far more so than in most of the episodes (then again, I have to admit that's a guess as this particular sequence is attached to episode 26 - 38 and I haven't seen those yet...).
All in all this is a pretty decent release of an at times pretty indecent series.
You can order this release through Siren Visual's webpage (link here).