Title: Black Magic M-66
Lia Sergeant as Sybel
Melissa Fahn as Ferris
Doug Stone as the Major
Steve Blum as Professor Matthew
Simon Isaacson as Professor Slade
Mimi Woods as Nakamura
Beau Billingslea as Rico
Gary Dubin as Richard Leakey
Distributed by: Bandai Visual
Directed by: Hiroyuki Kitakubo and Masamune Shiro
Year of Release: 1987
Synopsis: On a dark stormy night, a military transport aircraft is flying to an undisclosed location with a top secret cargo – two powerful, heavily armed, military combat robots called the “M-66” units. When one of the turbines blow up, the aircraft loses control, and crashes in the woods. But the pods containing the robots are left intact even after being thrown from the wreckage. The two robots are inadvertently activated, and go on a killing spree in the woods. Their target for termination is a young girl named Ferris, who just so happens to be their creator's granddaughter. And it's up to a freelance journalist named Sybel to protect Ferris from the deadly malfunctioning robots.
Personal Comments: Black Magic M-66 is a short OVA movie that was based on a manga of the same name that came back in 1983. The manga was written and illustrated by Masamune Shiro, who most people may remember for his more popular and well-known works such as “Ghost in the Shell”, “Appleseed”, and “Dominion Tank Police”. But Ghost in the Shell remains one of his most credited and highly acclaimed works of all time. So anyway, Black Magic M-66 was definitely one of Masamune Shiro's earlier works. And as such, it was not very well received, and it remains in obscurity to this very day. Much like the anime MD Geist which I reviewed earlier. But before I go over this OVA, I want to talk about the manga which this is based on.
The first thing I want to state is that the manga is completely different from the anime. From the story, to the characters, and just about everything else, there seems to be almost no relation. In fact, the anime has almost nothing in common with the manga. So basically, it's a very loose adaptation of the source material it's based on. The only elements that the anime incorporated from the manga is the surviving M-66 robot, which has a rather feminine sort of appearance, and was featured in the cover art for the OVA's VHS and DVD releases. According to the manga, the story takes place in the past rather than in the future like most sci-fi films. And the setting was on Venus rather than on Earth. It was also said that Venus was controlled by a super computer called the “Nemesis”, which has an army of machines at its command. Similar to the story in the Terminator. In fact, the manga and the anime both have themes and elements that are very similar to the Terminator. However, since Black Magic M-66 came out as a manga back in 1983, that means that it predates the first Terminator film by a single year. Although it's not quite as remembered as the latter. So I guess depending on which franchise you've come to know first, you could say that Black Magic M-66 is an anime version of the Terminator, or the Terminator is a live action version of Black Magic M-66. However, since not many people seem to know about either the manga or the anime, it's only clear to say that the Terminator out does Black Magic in terms of popularity and praise. Because even back in the 80s, the Terminator was pretty popular and well-known. Even to this day, it remains one of James Cameron's most remembered and critically acclaimed films of all time.
In 1987, Black Magic M-66 was adapted into a short OVA film. Which of course is the subject that I'll be discussing for this review. The first thing I want to get out of the way is that this OVA is rather decent. Mind you, it's not the best ever made, but it's far from the worst. I saw this anime for the first time on the Action Channel back in 2004. And well, I enjoyed it for the most part although I didn't find it to be very spectacular. As I said before, this film is completely different from the manga. And unless you've read that first before watching this, you'd be surprised to know how much the two drastically differ from each other. The storyline in this anime is as simple as it gets. And it goes like this; the two M-66 robots malfunction and run rampant upon activation, and the military tries to get the whole situation under control. The first victims of these robots are a large bear and two hikers who were unfortunate to cross their path. And it's from this point in the film when things get serious and scary. Later that night, the army comes face to face with the robots, which kill great numbers of the soldiers. Out of sheer luck, the army manages to destroy one of the robots, but the surviving M-66 unit escapes to complete its mission to terminate Ferris. The plot revolves mostly around the exploits of Sybel as she races to protect Ferris from the malfunctioning M66 unit. In fact, the plot in this anime is very similar to the story from the first Terminator film. Ferris was pretty much the Sarah Connor of this anime, while Sybel pretty much took on the role of Kyle Reese in making it her sworn duty to protect the girl at all costs. And yes, the M-66 robot is the Terminator in this anime. Now, “The Terminator” came three years before this. So I guess anybody who has seen that movie first would probably think that this is ripping off or paying homage to The Terminator. But remember, the manga was first published in 1983. So Black Magic came first.
Back to the anime. The animation in this OVA is actually pretty good for its time. In fact, looking back at this now, it still looks nice today. Though, given it's rather low budget feel, it doesn't quite compare to the quality that was Ghost in the Shell, which came back in 1995, and featured incredible artwork and animation. Since this came out in 1987, the music is pretty much what you'd expect from an 80s anime cartoon. It's old-school 80s background music, which most people would find cheesy by today's standards. But for me, most of the music is actually pretty good overall, and it fits well with the atmosphere of the film. Particularly, the music that plays during suspenseful or frightening scenes like when Sybel and Ferris are running from the M-66 robot. In fact, this anime does a pretty good job with the suspenseful atmosphere, and it really makes you feel like you're actually there experiencing the horror. Now that I think of it, this is definitely on par with the first Terminator film. Though, the only song I didn't particularly like was the end theme “Finally Freed”. I don't hate this song, but it's cheerful beat and sound just doesn't seem to fit well with the story about a deadly killer robot on a rampage. But oh well, that was the 80s. So what do you expect?
A lot like MD Geist, which came a year before this, Black Magic M-66 has its strengths and its weaknesses. Most of its strengths lie in the animation, the music, and the action scenes. In fact, Black Magic M-66 has some of the coolest action scenes in any anime that I've seen. Caution should be taken though, for there are some gory scenes here and there. The story however is nothing special. Not because it's been done before, but because it's not quite as memorable or that well-excecuted. Most of the characters are pretty shallow for the most part. Ferris is basically your generic helpless female lead. And well, nothing about her really stood out for me except that I feared for her safety and hoped that she'd survive. However, the one character who I actually liked in this anime was Sybel, the main protagonist. Out of all the characters featured in this OVA, she seemed to be the most developed in terms of her personality and strengths. In fact, even though her main occupation was a journalist, that's not all she was. She was brave, tough, competent, independent, and she had some serious balls putting her life on the line to stop the remaining M-66 robot. And she played her role quite well considering. In fact, her performance was on par with that of Kyle Reese. One thing I really liked was the fact that the killer robots were simply soulless machines just following their programming. They didn't display any menacing emotion or villainy, which I think enhanced their overall scariness and their aptitude to induce fear. And on top of that, the robots had no spoken lines of dialogue. They remained completely silent throughout the anime, never uttering a sound, and never saying a word. Which again, adds to how terrifying they are. Though, since the surviving M-66 robot had more attention and screen time than her fallen partner, I will be talking about her for the remainder of this part of the review. As I said before, the M-66 has a somewhat feminine design. Though she essentially looks more robotic than some other humanoid robots I know of. Her design resembles that of a mechanical marionette. In fact, I forgot to mention that the "M" in M-66 stands for "marionette". But in the opening sequence, the title says "Black Magic Mario 66". I was like "Is this a reference to Super Mario Bros?" Aside from being incredibly strong and agile, the M-66 has sharp claws on both hands which can spring out on wires and return back in place. She also has a laser which shoots from her left eye, and her outer skin is equip with 20,000 darts which fire when the self-destruct mechanism is triggered. This was meant to prevent the robots from falling into the wrong hands. I have to say though, the M-66 robot was pretty badass. And she definitely left me with quite an impression on how tough and lethal she was. And mind you, this was 15 years before the release of "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines", which introduced the first female robot in the series, the T-X.
As you would imagine, this anime does have a few annoying characters here and there. One of the characters who I found the most annoying and unlikable is this guy named Richard Leaky, Sybel's so-called partner and cameraman. What really made this guy unlikable as a character aside from his totally selfish and obnoxious attitude is that he was a bit of a greedy backstabber. Which means he'd do anything to capture the story on film and take all the credit for it even though Sybel was the one doing all the work, and putting her life at risk. And by God in heaven I found this character annoying. He spends a great deal of his screen time complaining. On top of that, he was also a bit of a coward. Thankfully, he doesn't get much attention and screen time. Thank God for that. In fact, he doesn't really serve much purpose in this film except for being a complete and utter annoyance. Thankfully, he gets his justly deserved humiliation at the very end of the film. I won't spoil it for those of you who haven't seen this before. But yeah. That's about as far as I go with spoiling it for those who are curious enough to see this with their own two eyes. So far, my only complaint is that this OVA is pretty short, being only 48 minutes long. Now, that's exceeding the average running time of your usual Saturday morning cartoon. But it's still pretty short. You know, like how 10 years is a long time, but it's short compared to how long people are expected to last. But oh well. I can't say that I was expecting something absolutely groundbreaking like Akira or Ghost in the Shell. Besides, this anime was released in 1987. And since this was one of Masamune Shiro's older works, I can't really complain. In 1997, a game simply titled "Black Magic" was released for the PC, and was created by WIZ. But like many other Japanese games, it was never released in America.
Overall: In conclusion, Black Magic M-66 is a pretty decent anime. While it's nothing epic or ground breaking like some other anime cartoons I know of, it's actually quite enjoyable in its own right. But what really stood out for me is the animation, the robots, the action scenes, and the tension and suspense that builds up in certain scenes. Particularly in the chase scenes. And also, I have to give credit to Sybel for how much of a badass she was. Sure, she may have been a journalist. But she really proved her mantle and her valor. Heck, if she was sent back in time to protect Sarah or John from any of the Terminators, I bet she'd do an excellent job. It wouldn’t surprise me. Bottom line, Black Magic M-66 is not the best I've seen. But it's pretty good as a one shot and a stand alone in itself. But if you're expecting something more out of this, then you will be disappointed. Take my word for it. But, if you enjoy watching anime cartoons simply for the animation quality and the action, then this is your title. It especially helps if you're into sci-fi like myself. You might be able to find this OVA from either amazon.com or ebay for real cheap given the age of this title. I'll give Black Magic M-66 3 ½ stars.