Under the Dog's ambition to be great is evident in moments in this OVA, which is a shame it feels like it left a lot on the table.
Title: Under the Dog
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Studio: Kinema Citrus
Director: Masahiro Ando
Original Creator: Jirou Ishii
Music: Kevin Penkin
Release Date: August 1, 2016
You’d be forgiven if you forgot that you had backed an anime kickstarter from 2014, even if it was one that promised as much ambition as the one done by Creative Intelligence Arts. Since then, the scope of Under the Dog changed due to creative differences, even leaving the work to Kinema Citrus.
So when I was sent an update last week on Under the Dog’s impending release, I did start to look forward to seeing it. Now that I have, honestly, I’m still unsure if this is how the original vision was meant it to be.
Under the Dog is an adaptation of a 90’s proposed work, brought to life with the help of thousands of anime fans and brings forth a mostly 30 minute OVA that dazzles and qlooks fantastic. However, it doesn’t feel complete in a sense, and also brings with it bad subtitles and way too many questions that’ll probably go unanswered.
The story takes place in 2025, where Hana Togetsu, a high school student who is part of an assassination group called Flowers, is in search of “the last hope.” When the military group ECM raids her school, she’s tasked by Colonel Amagata to bring in the one they suspect is that “last hope,” Shunichi Narase, and become the catalyst for saving the world from Pandoras. …At least, that’s what I guess? It’s pretty vague as to what they need him for. In fact, most things are vague in Under the Dog.
The good news is that in some cases it works. One of the big goals of the kickstarter was to create a Sci-Fi work that explores “what it means to live and die well,” and the very start of Under the Dog asserts how for some, life is fair, but for others it’s unfair — probably 3 or 4 minutes into this anime, a sniper kills some unknown person. Who was that person? Was this person good or bad? We don’t know because life was unfair to them.
The main character, Hana Togetsu, is part of that unfair life. She’s normal in all the ways someone her age should be, but lives with “an awkward family,” as she termed it. Oh, and she’s an assassin as well, and very skilled at killing things. But what’s her reason for doing this? Does her family know about this? This gets explained, and yet, at the same time it doesn’t, but I won’t spoil the reasons why since it’s revealed a bit at the end.
Another good thing about the story being vague is that I’m forced to put hints together on my own. It’s revealed that there is a menace called Pandora, that is “the nemesis of hope,” and it appears seemingly out of nowhere to destroy anything in its path. But then you realize, no it didn’t just randomly appear, it actually appeared before, but you have to notice the hints the anime gives you in order to figure it out.
Under the Dog’s biggest strength is making those little connections in small spots where you think nothing’s there. When that connection is made, you speculate on what else makes this scenario or character or organization significant. For instance, there’s a scene between Hana and Shunichi that possibly could be foreshadowing? Once you realize, wait, you have Hana, hana means flower in Japanese, the assassination group is named Flowers…it makes some sense.
But then there are some aspects that being vague doesn’t work, which first begins with what I mentioned earlier — the “last hope.” Ok, what’s the “last hope” supposed to do? I can only imagine save the world from this threat, but what qualities are they looking for to determine this? How can you know who that is? Obviously with only 30 minutes you can’t tell the whole story. But it’d be nice to know something about that last hope, Shunichi, that makes him capable of being such a thing.
There was a conversation with an officer and I believe a politician that talked about Flowers at the school, with the politician lamenting, “Colonel Amagata, don’t bring the kids into this,” or along those lines. This is good speculation — was Amagata a former military man? Why did he leave? Why did he start Flowers? And why with kids in school?
Here’s bad speculation: Flowers is intended to find “that ray of hope.” There’s context I have to leave out so as not to spoil, but throughout the OVA, I felt like there was no explanation of what Flowers actually do as a group. Assassination group, sure, but why are they in this position? How do they have these powers? How did they get chosen?
Maybe this is unnecessary information, but without some of this background and the fact that the only character they gave a full arc to was Hana, it just makes me wonder if they would’ve been better off leaving out additional information on what they’re searching for, as it’s mostly undefined.
Since we’re onto characters, there were two characters that were highlighted: Hana and Shunichi. Anthea, a character identified in the early days of the kickstarter, is not developed one bit. I guess you can assert this wasn’t her story, but in this case, it mostly feels like she’s shoehorned in just to keep things moving. Everyone else exists, but aside from some character designs that look good (including one high school guy who looks like he should have graduated already), they’re mostly forgettable.
Speaking of forgettable, it’s a shame that a company that’s able to release this to a ton of people could not have done any better with how it’s subtitled. From words shrinking in a sentence to lines blending in with each other (Example 1–Example 2), this is definitely not close to professional work.
Under the Dog’s ambition to be great is evident in moments in this OVA, which is a shame it feels like it left a lot on the table. It does some cool things, like having English voice actors voice the military. I can’t say it’s all good (the guy speaking through speakers was super annoying), but the Japanese/English moments is something I’d love to see in more anime. But then it only leaves you with a reminder that this is it, that you have these underdeveloped characters with powers we don’t know how they received, and that leads to disappointment.
If Under the Dog ever gets streamed legally at some point, you wouldn’t be wrong for checking it out. Just be aware that this represents half of the initial creative vision, and what it could’ve become.