Initial Run: October 21st, 1993 to October 21st, 1994
No. of Episodes: 6 (26 mins each)
How do you solve a problem like a cyberpunk dystopia? If you were to ask most writers or film producers who have used such a setting, they’d probably give you a collective answer - leave it up to the harsh, final judgment of law enforcement. After all, plenty of great crime movies have dedicated themselves to the conundrum posed by Man’s impending assimilation with technology. For example, the seminally classic Blade Runner left the cleanup of rogue synthetic humans causing strife in 2019 Los Angeles up to the task of its police detectives.
The equally important Robocop meanwhile embraced the union of police officer and machine as the solution to taking down a sadistic Detroit drug gang. It’s not just American film that has been proposing antidotes for the existential dread of a cyber-ordained future either; 1995’s Ghost in the Shell, a Japanese animated movie that placed a provocative focus on the cybernetic age’s inevitable crisis of self-identity, is considered just as essential a commentary on the debate. Moreover, it suggests a far simpler course of action - just welcome your new A.I. overlords with a smile, because they’re coming whether you like it or not.
It’s also a subject matter that its creator, revered manga artist Masamune Shirow, has found tremendous success examining and furthering the ideas of. While the Ghost in the Shell franchise is largely considered his magnum opus, veteran anime viewers may also be familiar with his earlier titles, such as Black Magic M-66 and Appleseed. Both are complimentary titles that thoughtfully addressed contrasting themes within the cyberpunk genre, as well as being excellent stories in their own right. That’s not to suggest that all of Shirow’s works are exercises to high-brow philosophising of fear in a new world though - there is still plenty of room for straightforward, bombastically entertaining action as well. Such is the case with New Dominion Tank Police, a 1993 six-episode OVA series that serves primarily as a lighter-hearted cop drama nonetheless peppered with sprinklings of cyberpunk grit.
The setting of a state-of-the-art metropolis overrun by criminals still persists, but in this case, futurephobia is addressed with a much more transparent gameplan. Namely, just giving the police force lots and lots of tanks to obliterate any would-be felons with. Because really, who needs futurological musings when an AP shell can offer just as much spiritual satisfaction?
As its name might suggest, New Dominion Tank Police is a psuedo-sequel to a previous OVA series, Dominion Tank Police, which originally saw Japanese release in 1988. In typical anime fashion, New Dominion is essentially a reboot of its forerunner, with the same cast of tank-driving patrol officers being called upon to serve justice in the fictional city of Newport (yep, not that one in Wales), only this time with a much-improved art style and a far less abstract storyline. It bases its plot around Leona Ozaki, a young, hot-headed Tank Police officer working the Newport beat with her markedly calmer patrol partner Al, who serves as an ever-faithful sidekick and occasional target for her short fuse. Together in their custom miniature pursuit tank Bonaparte, they spend their days delivering justice by means of artillery to the various terrorist cells and other armed goons that threaten the city’s safety on a daily basis.
Unfortunately for them, their heavy-handed administration of the law has gotten their division in trouble with the general public. In-between being yelled at by their Chief for wanton damage of public property, and receiving ultimatums by the city’s Mayor to clean up their act or face disbandment, they’re also faced with the emergence of a new threat to Newport’s streets.
This new danger comes in the guise of a state-of-the-art, spider-like robot mech - a model that the Tank Police have never locked sights on before, but one that seems to have its own set primarily on them. After a tight, tense duel with the mysterious mobile weapon through an industrial compound, its origin is revealed to be a result of research and development by the Dai Nippon Geiken Corporation, an arms conglomerate rumoured to be deeply dissatisfied with the Mayor’s intention to ban certain weapons from the city. When the murder of Charon Ishira (a close friend of Leona’s from her motorcycle cop days) also winds up linked to the shadowy activities of this corporation, Leona decides to take due process into her own hands. Against the orders of her police superiors, she sets out to exact justice upon those responsible for Charon’s murder - but whether she’ll succeed in doing so, especially when another unexplained, unstoppable wave of terrorism begins to cripple the city, is another thing entirely.
New Dominion Tank Police is therefore ‘new’ in its name alone. Its story is merely the combination of numerous cyberpunk and crime story tropes. Underhanded business giants, urban chaos, maverick cops going outside of the law to deliver real justice - these are all angles which have been regurgitated tenfold before.
But perhaps the reason why they’ve been repeated so much is because, ultimately, they set the stage for some great action. In that regard, New Dominion Tank Police delivers with a real sense of satisfaction.
Six episodes of shell-propelling, crime-fighting action might feel paltry to some, but this is an anime that is able to take full advantage of its meagre length by keeping its exposition light without letting the flow become obtuse or unengaging. Viewers are then left to appreciate New Dominion’s more explosive moments - chase sequences, last-ditch save-the-day scenarios and pounding battles between mechanized weaponry. New Dominion Tank Police may well be derivative, but it certainly isn’t dull.
It also helps the anime’s cause that it is blessed with an excellent lead character. Simply put, Leona Ozaki is a badass heroine. And I don’t mean one of those awful trash-talking ‘alpha female’ types that usually come from a male writers’ need to placate their own misapplied ideas of feminism. A sign of a great protagonist is that they stand out for their personality, even if their gender, creed or colour are switched. It’s the same with New Dominion’s central figure - simply put, she’s a tough-as-nails, enthusiastic police officer who loves tanks, loves justice and loves kicking criminal arse. But she also looks out for her friends, going to great lengths to avenge Charon as well as protecting her tank partner Al when the need arises. She’s a female lead every bit as concise as the series she appears in, without the constant reminders that she’s a woman. Even though it comes from an early-90s straight-to-video Japanese animation series, it’s a take on central female characters that even contemporary fiction works would do well to take heed from.
Unfortunately, it’s a simpler approach to characterization that works to the detriment to a number of the series’ support cast. There are still a few that shine - Al’s weary temperance is a great foil to Leona’s snappish demeanour, while Lieutenant Brenten, Leona’s squad leader, is an amusingly gruff amalgamation of machismo and coolness that is betrayed by the comically awkward situations he winds up in. Meanwhile, the goofy android cat-girl twins, Anna and Uni, also bring in an additionally enjoyable humour element (not to mention mild fan service) as notorious criminals turned necessary allies as the plot reaches its climax. But the anime is also blessed with a number of individuals that don’t make the grade. The other featured officers of the Tank Police are largely one-dimensional, with no real memorable qualities (one guy wears glasses, one guy is a Christian preacher blah blah). Somehow, the corporate antagonists behind all the city’s trouble turn out to be even blander, being typical suit types hungry for power because, hey, that’s what capitalism is all about.
Because the villains of the piece don’t hold up to the charisma of the heroes pursuing them, New Dominion Tank Police’s pulsing action concludes in an ending that feels slightly flat. It’s a disappointing closure that frankly, does the lead characters and setting a bit of a disservice.
All the same, it’s a brilliantly-realized world that looks its techno-topian part, even for a series produced nigh-on 23 years ago. While segments of New Dominion Tank Police’s animation come across a little choppy and dated (though nowhere near as bad as it predecessor), its actual art still looks great, with some excellent shading and superb detail in some parts. It’s a style that is also classic Shirow, from the sprawling mushroom-like aesthetics of Newport’s clean-cut cityscape, to the rounded, irrepressibly sci-fi oddness of the tank designs. Urban jungles never looked quite so shapely, and fans of Shirow’s work will be pleased that his manga stylings have been reproduced with such faith.
Also, we couldn’t close the review without mentioning just how flippin’ brilliant the series’ opening sequence is. It’s got a fantastic, moodily thumping J-Rock theme tune. It’s got equally gritty montage shots of Tank Police officers getting ready for the daily offering of civil warfare. It’s got criminals being blown out of the sky by the righteous tank shells of law enforcement. It’s pretty much everything you’d want to see in a cartoon about police tanks, and it’s probably worth the price of the DVD alone.
Ultimately, New Dominion Tank Police is a cyberpunk-inspired tale of tank battalions and evil corporations with a refreshing preference for light action and brevity over philosophical meanderings. That means it’ll likely never be considered among the heavyweights of its genre, but it doesn’t need to be either. It’s perfectly happy just being an exciting, explosive six-episode ride that benefits from a few great characters, a love of tanks and mech, and importantly, a love for short-but-sweet storytelling. Chances are if you love all those things, you’ll be perfectly happy with it too.
Media utilized in article is property of: Bandai Visual / J.C Staff / Maiden Japan