1990’s TV Anime – Future GPX Cyber Formula Episode 1

The best anime of 1991 according to Animage readers.

This Sunrise property is one of those shows I was vaguely aware of, even before I started to properly watch anime. I believe this was likely due to it being mentioned in Super Play, a UK SNES magazine that was probably the most otaku-y of the UK games magazines of the time. Alternatively, it might have been via Japanese games magazines, as classmates were importing them around this time. More recently I’d come across it in the resume of Mitsuo Fukuda, director of Gundam Seed (BOO!) and Gear Fighter Dendoh (YAY!).

Despite the acclaim poured on it by the Animage readers, it was initially a flop. Cancelled early, it only ran 37 episodes. Its success came in tapping into that fanatical base with OAV sequels that moved the action on roughly in real time. According to wikipedia, the fanbase was initially mainly female (80% for the early OAVs). I wish there was more in English about the franchise’s trajectory as it seems on the surface like a precursor to the “kept alive by otaku” franchises that exist today. Particularly those boosted by a fanatical female audience.

So, what about this first episode?

Well it’s a pretty clever set up that gets the main character into the position of being the show’s lead. Our hero, Kazami Hayato, is escorting a new Cyber Formula race car, Asurada, to a race qualifier, when it is set upon by villains trying to steal it. This forces him to drive the car to get away, inadvertantly making him the driver for at least the next seven days due to the genetic fingerprint ignition and its lengthy reset time. Meaning that in the next episode he will have to race, rather than the intended driver.

I probably should have mentioned that Asurada is also the car’s talking AI. You know, like KITT in Knight Rider. Except this AI is a little more realistic. While it can clearly help out with situations a racing car might be expected to deal with, it’s completely useless when faced with, say, a helicopter trying to pick it up with a giant mechanical grabber.

The designs from Takahiro Yoshimatsu scream 1991 more than the other two shows we’ve looked at from that year. Rampant spikey haircuts, glassy eyes and jaws you can cut glass with abound. It’s not the most angular show of the nineties, but combined with the flat colours the character design firmly dates it from there. Yoshimatsu has plenty of other tricks in his arsenal, most recently he directed and designed Nyanpire, but if you want to see a 2011 take on the 90s angular look, check out his designs on the Hunter X Hunter remake that just started.

The other notable name that I see on the ANN credits is Kazuki Akane (Escaflowne, Heat Guy J, Noein, Birdy Decode) as one of the unit directors. By the looks of things he’d been at Sunrise a while at this point, having worked on Ronin Warriors and Jushin Liger. Later on I should take a look at what talents were nutured by which studios in the 90s.