Daisuke Aurora’s a lanky blond-haired fellow with an easy smile and a knack for being able to fall asleep on any soft horizontal surface. His partner, J, is an android, a synthetic creation somewhere between John Connor’s hacked T-800 and the robot detective R. Daneel Olivaw in Isaac Asimov’s Robot stories. They’re detectives, sort of—partners in a new experimental law-enforcement program where human officers are paired with androids, each filling in where the other falls short.
Even if they were both human, they couldn’t be less alike. A good day for Daisuke means hanging out with the girls down in the sleazy part of town, slacking off on typing up his progress reports, and sleeping in as late as humanly possible. J, on the other hand, was programmed to be a dyed-blue-in-the-wool cop, something that just makes Daisuke roll his eyes at first. Then they go outside and pound the pavement (in J’s case, it’s quite literal), and the underworld of the city-state of Judeau trembles.
With a story summary like that, I’m actually rather surprised Guy J turned out to be as good as it was. Where it starts out—buddy cops, near-future quasi-dystopia, etc.—isn’t also where it ends up, because the folks who put it together ensured that everything unfolds in a strongly character-driven fashion. Motives are important. People and their personality quirks get the attention they deserve. I was actually reminded of another, more recent show, Darker than Black, where the premise was simply a springboard off which we were bounced to bigger and greater things.
Daisuke and J are kept on a tight leash—not just by Daisuke’s own brother, city administrator Shun, but by their own secretary, the all-business Kyoko. When Daisuke checks his gun out of the office safe, she doles out exactly three bullets for him like she’s rationing out medicine. Budget cuts, you know. Or maybe she’s just smart enough not to let a potential loose cannon like Daisuke run around with an arsenal in his pocket, even if most of the bad guys he collides with can only be taken down by that much firepower. Then again, that’s what the have J for: more than once, his steam-powered jackhammer punch puts bad guys through walls and trashes the furniture. (With J wreaking as much mayhem as he does in the service of the law, it’s no wonder androids are illegal.)
Judeau is a rough town all over. Everything from street-level commerce up to the gambling houses are run by the Leonelli family’s Company Vita. Claire, the newly-minted scion (or “Vampire”) of the clan, doesn’t seem from the outside like a Godfather-level goodfella. With his pierced lip and dyed hair, he seems like he’d be more comfortable knocking over the mike stand for a death-rock outfit. Then we see him shoving live grenades into the mouths of his competitors and cackling with glee, and realize he’s not just a garden-variety gangster. He’s a thrill-seeker who finds the workaday business of skimming casino profits and shaking down business owners for juice to be boring. He’s a daredevil at heart, and wants a challenge that’s more substantial than family business, or the bush-league players that keep coming his way.
Daisuke is that challenge. He’s got plenty of family issues of his own—his father was killed when they were both young, his relationship with his brother is touchy at best, and his mother walked out on all of them early on. This last at least partly explains why his dealings with women are generally so arm’s length—like the streetwalkers who flock to him and whom he pumps for the straight dope about what’s happening in their turf. He’s got an eye for Kyoko, to be sure, but with her over time he swaps his usual horn-dog attitude for real respect.
Claire’s hatred of Daisuke is personal: of all the people he’s met who stand in his way, he’s the only one who’s had the nerve to call him out on his Daddy issues. Claire responds by blowing J half to pieces, tying Daisuke to a chair, and shooting him up with drugs designed to reduce him to a blubbering crybaby. There’s a nice parallel here when Kyoko realizes she has to take the initiative in Daisuke’s absence; she sneaks into the Leonelli casino and pulls a 009-1 type spy maneuver that’s absurd as hell—but great fun to watch, and a nice way of underscoring how she takes her job very seriously indeed. Said incident makes Daisuke realizes Kyoko has the Right Stuff, and it’s a big part of why he taps her to continue in her previous capacity when he’s given a chance to get the team back together in a new capacity.
The more I think about it, the more I realize even the far corners of the show are character-driven. Consider another storyline. One of Daisuke’s street-level contacts is Monica, a girl who ekes out a living as a portrait photographer. Her mother’s a streetwalker and a lush, and one day she’s seduced by a man offering her promises of a better life abroad. It’s all a scam to steal her identity. Daisuke’s worried about them both, but decides he has a better chance of saving Monica than he does Mom, and gets some paperwork in motion to adopt her. Then he has to dive in and save them both from bigger dangers, and his reward is to have Monica hating his guts and Mom slapping him across the face. But as J says in one of his typically macho aphorisms, “A man should not expect thanks.” (Gee, some comfort you are, J.)
The biggest problems with the story emerge in the second half, where things become increasingly scattershot and episodic and the various factions vying for power in Judeau reveal their respective hands. It’s compelling stuff, but messily handled. Leonelli ends up in a completely passive role, out of the action for several episodes at a time. The way Daisuke turns his office into a kind of welfare shelter for his comrades (including Monica and her donkey) is a credibility-strainer. And the finale is also one big rush: a bunch of nascent plot threads are all kicked into high gear at once, when they could have been spread out through the storyline and deployed more effectively. It’s as if a different team of writers took over and were provided notes about how to wrap everything up, but didn’t have the same storytelling finesse as the first guys.
Flawed as that last half to last third may be, the show is worth the ride. We still care about what happens because the people in the middle of all of it matter to us, and we want to stick around and see what they do. The ending they get isn’t quite the one I hoped they would have—again, the entire second half of the show feels like another creative team picked up where the first one left off—but by that point we’ve built up enough empathy with the people that plot becomes almost secondary.
J was another of FUNimation’s license-rescue titles from Geneon, and so doesn’t feature anything that Geneon didn’t include on their release of the series. It’s been packed onto four discs—down from the original six—but without any noticeable loss of quality, although the video hasn’t been flagged for progressive playback. What few bonuses there are include a nice, extensive interview with the creators (most apropos quote: “My intention was to create something beyond borders”), but no actor’s commentary or anything like that.
It’s a shame, since this series sports a well-assembled voice cast in English. The standout performance is Bob Pappenbrook’s magnificently gravelly voice for J—sadly, one of his last, since he died in 2006 of a lung disorder. Also worthy of mention is the perennially wonderful Johnny Yong Bosch as Claire Leonelli, and listen for the voice of Neji Hyuga (Steve Staley, credited here as Steve Cannon) as Daisuke. The music, too, is terrific; I picked it up on CD back when I saw the series for the first time. (If you snap up the soundtrack as well, listen closely to the track “Interchange”. I dare you to tell me that’s not an homage to the Massive Attack song “Exchange”.)
This was another of FUNimation’s “license rescue” titles from Geneon, and it was worth the effort. It’s a pleasure to see this little gem back in print. Go pick it up if you’re looking for something with a bit more story and character meat to go with your anime meal.
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