DISCLAIMER: I have no familiarity with the live-action series or manga for Sukeban Deka. This is an anime-only review.
Sukeban Deka is a famous shōjo franchise that has cult status in the west. It has not only been adapted into an anime OVA, but also has a live-action counterpart. During its publication in the early ‘70s, it was unusual to have a main heroine who is an inmate at a juvenile detention center. The concept of a female delinquent portrayed as a hero has influenced later Japanese productions, such as Kill la Kill, the story of ‘a heroic delinquent bringing justice through gratuitous violence.’
This review contains spoilers for Sukeban Deka (1991)! You have been warned!
There’s not much to say about the story, it’s a straight-forward action series from the ‘90s with character drama interspersed throughout the episodes. The premise begins as a incarcerated delinquent is suddenly blackmailed into working for the cops. She then transfers to a high school and meets the malevolent Mizuchi sisters, who rule the school with their wealth and nastiness.
The heroine, Saki Asamiya, is an archetypal ‘lady prince’ character who is rough around the edges but fights to protect the weak. She was even the inspiration for certain ‘lady prince’ characters in later series, such as Utena Tenjō from Shōjo Kakumei Utena—while Saki herself was directly inspired by Lady Oscar from Berusaiyu no Bara. The similarities between her and Utena Tenjō are unmistakable: both have long (wavy) pink hair, both are protective over those who are weaker than them (with girls particularly), and both are skilled in combat—though Saki Asamiya fights with a yo-yo instead of a sword!
Saki Asamiya has a male admirer, named Sanpei Nowaki; he later becomes her sidekick when Saki rejects his advances. I can see how some people found him annoying because of his persistence to constantly tag along—but I found his presence rather refreshing—especially, when there are a lot of EXTREMELY dark things that happen in the short span of the OVA. He alleviated a lot of the heaviness in OVA 2, by being a genuine and fool-hearty.
Even though her death was sudden, I genuinely felt sad when Junko Yuina was murdered in OVA 2. The biggest heart-crusher was the fact that the story subverted my expectations. Junko is introduced with Saki saving her from getting sexually assaulted in an alleyway, so after she’s abducted by the Mizuchi sisters’ cohorts, I expected Saki to rescue her again. That doesn’t happen—Saki ends up discovering Junko’s corpse after she was raped, drugged, and killed. I was genuinely sad during that scene because I kept hoping that Saki would make it in time.
The Mizuchi sisters were not likable at all but their entire enterprise being built on the notion of greed and entitlement was an interesting dynamic, as opposed to Saki’s noble selflessness. Characters like Jin Kyōichirō and Kurayami Keishi weren’t explored as much in the anime but each character creates an air of gravitas, it’s an iconicism that’s similar to Osamu Dezaki’s works.
The technical aspect of the series was the weakest link, except for the character designs. They were beautiful—designed and drawn by Nobuteru Yūki, who happens to be my favorite character designer in industry, he did the designs for: Tenkū no Escaflowne, Five Star Stories, Heat Guy J, Lodoss-tō Senki, Royal Space Force, Uchū Senkan Yamato 2199, X/1999, Battle Angel Alita, Clover, Battle Royal High School, and Terra e…
NOTE: He’s one of the few industry professionals that I follow on Twitter, he can be found @nobuteruyuuki.
I watched the English dub of Sukeban Deka because I have nostalgia for ADV Films’ dubs, and I really enjoyed the performances of Amanda Winn Lee as Saki Asamiya, Aaron Krohn as Jin Kyōichirō, and Kurt Stoll as Sanpei Nowaki. Gee golly, it’s the Neon Genesis Evangelion dub cast: Asuka Langley Sōryū (Amanda Winn Lee), Kaworu Nagisa (Aaron Krohn), and Kensuke Aida (Kurt Stoll)! In my opinion, Aaron Krohn was the best Kaworu—out of the four existing dubs.
The animation was atrocious. It’s not Twinkle Nora Rock Me levels of bad… but very poor nonetheless. The animation frames glitch over each other and, the core appeal of the show—the action, was sparsely animated. The director, Toshifumi Akai, had a *comeback in the ‘00s but, man, did Sukeban Deka (1991) not look good!
*He animated Gosick and is now the chief director on Fate/Grand Order - Absolute Demon Battlefront: Babylonia.
For the next segment, I need to preface: I don’t usually call ‘racism,’ especially when it pertains to villains but I was really bothered that during Saki Asamiya’s showdown with a black bodyguard, working for the Mizuchi’s, the OVA plays a (xylophone) Congo beat in the background during the battle. Let me explain why THIS bothers me, while other ‘cultural’ exaggerations haven’t:
• Examples of caricaturization done right:
1. The Mad Hatter and The Red Queen in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland—The stylization of Hatter’s large teeth or the Queen’s manly face; she looks exactly like Fred Flintstone in the face. These features accentuate the dangers that these characters might present to Alice because they are irrational and not from our world—errant oddballs. Exaggerated features like these can create a sense of unease and uncanniness.
2. Karl Haushoffer (the central character from the ‘men in black’) and Masami Eiri (‘false god’) in Serial Experiments Lain—One of the main uncanny recollections that I have from this series is when Karl’s large blue eyes bear down upon Lain from the darkness. There’s also a sense of unease with how his facial features are exaggeratedly ‘warped,’ like his large eyes and nose don’t quite fit on his face. In Eiri’s case: he has thinning hair, wispy lips, and large jowls—which makes him uncomfortable to look at, even more so when he fuses with Lain’s computers and transforms into a monster.
3. Sister Krone in The Promised Neverland—She appears to help watch the children when Emma, Norman, and Ray begin to discuss a plan to escape the farm. Isabella was meant to be the ‘mother’ who coddled the sheep to sleep with her kindness, whereas Krone was meant to intimidate the children from ever leaving, by displaying her athletic prowess and being mentally unstable as all hell. There have been debates over whether Krone’s character is racist—I believe when someone makes the decision to groom children to be complacent about being harvested and eaten, you have forgone your humanity. Characters, no matter the race, who do inhuman things—should be drawn exaggeratedly, if the story calls for that kind of story-telling. Sure, Sister Krone has a change of heart right before her death but she has still done unspeakable things to children in the past.
4. Ishihara (one of the senior guards at Shōnan Special Reformatory) in Rainbow: Nisha Rokubō no Shichinin—he has slanted, beady eyes with grayish skin and jowls. His perverse appearance matches the horrible things he does to the young men who are imprisoned at the facility.
• Caricaturization of a villain can be a great way to emphasize their evil deeds. For example, look at photographs taken during the Vietnam War. The American soldiers are shown laughing and generally having a good time while they’re slaughtering innocent people. There are even pictures of them eating right next to the corpses. If you made a comic about the Vietnam War, would it be out-of-line to exaggerate the features of the American soldiers to indicate that those people had relinquished their humanity?
• To give more context to the situation with the black bodyguard in Sukeban Deka: him and a white bodyguard are the people who injected Junko Yuina with heroin, raped her, and then left her corpse in a train yard. So, the Congo beat during the battle between Junko’s avenger, Saki, and her murderer is trivialized by such silly music playing. Not only that, that OST choice dehumanizes the rotten murderer based on his race, and not his heinous crime.
Conclusively, the intrigue around Saki Asamiya, like her complex relationship with her mother and origin story, has motivated me to look into the manga; so I can know the whole story. I’m not going to base my entire opinion of Sukeban Deka off of a crappy OVA release that had distasteful aspects to its production. So, overall, I give Sukeban Deka (1991) a 5/10.