Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Kazumi is a high school girl tasked with protecting her brother Takumi from evil. Both are re-incarnations of ancient folk who lived through an apocalypse. There’s a prophecy about the boy. The girl has powers, which she uses to fend off a never-ending stream of hellspawn.
Sound familiar? Well, that’s the fun of the 1993 OVA Combustible Campus Guardress, which spends much of its 2-hour runtime parodying these clichés. Not only is Kazumi secretly protecting Takumi with her magical powers, so is her mother. And her friends. And everyone else at the school. Each protector has been secretly developing their own unique powers, from their mothers’ frying pan attacks to the cheerleaders’ baton attacks.
Kazumi uses a sword. A really big sword. With enough power, it can split buildings in half.
Worse, she has a temper.
Moreover, much fun is had with Kazumi’s infatuation with her Takumi. In a previous life, she was his attendant–and madly in love with him–which has bubbled over into her modern Japanese teen life. She’s very protective of him, to the point that their friends tease them about being lovers.
Fortunately, the show’s staff keep this from being creepy, and instead focus on actual melodrama as the main plot unfolds: hideous demonic creatures attack the characters’ school, precipitating some kind of apocalypse undoubtedly involving the oblivious Takumi. But will he have to be sacrificed to put off the apocalypse?
This is the real emotional meat of the show, as Kazumi wrestles with her strong feelings for her brother. She’s pledged to protect him no matter what happens, but is that really what’s best?
Hilarity actually ensues, as does some emotional angst. Sadly, Guardress explores little more of its characters, focusing almost entirely on Kazumi and Takumi. Granted, its limited running time prevents much depth, but I felt like I knew more characters in Akira than I did here.
The action/comedy vibe is bolstered by the animation: fluid and frame-heavy, never afraid to throw the viewer into an impromptu action sequence. The series’ animation director, Kazuchika Kise, served the same role in Blood: The Last Vampire, and Guardress has a similarly kinetic action feel. The animation and direction hew closely to anime clichés of exaggerated poses and movement, but that’s central to its parody.
The classic 1990′s art style features all the standard elements of its time: angular eyes, lots of dark colors, and highly expressive facial expressions. The art does much of the acting.
The voice acting falls below the quality average, though this is partly due to most characters’ one-dimensional personalities. Kazumi was a particular problem, as she spends most of the final two episodes screeching her brothers’ name in reaction to just about everything. Again, that’s part of the parody, but the raspy pitch of her voice grated on my ears after a while.
But that’s a quibble. Combustible Campus Guardress is one of those strange discoveries that make anime fandom so enjoyable. On one hand, it’s a wacky parody of anime clichés. On the other, I found myself emotionally drawn in to the protagonist’s dilemma. It’s not often that happens.