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Crypt of Curiosities: The Cinematic Carnage of the M.D. Geist Anime Duology

You know what doesn’t get enough love in the horror community? Weird, gory anime. Sure, everyone digs Akira, and it’s possible to find a few discussions about the brilliant dark fantasy series Berserk in some circles, but I’ve always been interested in the little guys, the weird, unloved Ova (original video animation) schlock of the ’80s and ’90s—the Future War 198Xs and Black Magic M-66s of the world, unsung and unloved pieces of vibrant genre fiction that never get their dues. Naturally, I plan to fix that on the Crypt of Curiosities, starting with an off-the-wall duology of cinematic carnage that I adore and despise in equal measure: M.D. Geist.

M.D. Geist is the story of, well, M.D. Geist (voiced by the legendary Norio Wakamoto), a maverick M.D.S. (Most Dangerous Soldier) who was literally launched into space after his superior officers found it impossible to control his violent nature. Years later, he finally crash lands on the planet Jerra, a devastated wasteland plagued by violent marauders and warring armies. Now, back on the ground and with a lust for blood, he has one mission and one mission only: kill as much as he can, as violently as he can, until there’s nothing left to fight, living or otherwise.

As you can probably guess, M.D. Geist isn’t exactly what one would call a ‘nuanced’ story. Geist himself doesn’t have a single semblance of personality outside of his love of violence, and in a way, this single-minded nature creates a very distinct character in and of itself. Even when Vaiya (Fumi Hirano, voice of the iconic Lum from Urusei Yatsura), the lovely queen of a wasteland-roaming mercenary company names him their leader and throws herself at him in bed, Geist does little more than swat her body away. He isn’t looking for romance, or forging a relationship of any sort with anybody alive. He is one hundred percent devoted to killing and nothing else, making him less man and more of a flesh and blood avatar of death—destruction taking the form of a six-foot-something with golden hair and cool shades.

Of course, Geist’s one-track rage wouldn’t be notable if the rest of the cast were equally as driven by animalistic ID. While none of them are very well fleshed out, most of the supporting cast is at least recognizably human and sympathetic in their own ways, and all of them pay the price for it. While plenty of action films love killing off a good chunk of their cast, M.D. Geist turns it into a spectacle, inviting audiences to cheer rather than cry as every mildly sympathetic character around gets shot, stabbed, or mutilated at every turn. It almost feels like particularly cruel irony at times, with Vaiya falling madly in love with Geist and soldiers throwing themselves to die on the front lines.

As if the violence wasn’t brutal enough on paper, it appears the entire animation budget went into making the carnage as horrifying as possible, creating some of the most beautiful, absurd gore in anime history. However, when people aren’t bursting into various shades of reds and pinks, the animation is more than a little rough, with character movements lacking the fluidity found in the likes of contemporaries such as Angel’s Egg, Riding Bean, or Dominion: Tank Police, and every character design sans Geist’s magnificent suit of pitch-black power armor does look a bit like rejected Fist of the North Star characters, but the look of the characters clearly isn’t what M.D. Geist’s art is focused on.

No, that’s all devoted to the future tech: the tanks, the aircraft, the towering mecha, the big-ass guns. It’s clear that series co-director and mechanical designer Kôichi Ôhata prefers designer robots to human characters, and nowhere is that more apparent than the finale, when Geist briefly teams up with his former supporting officer, Colonel Krutes (Unshô Ishizuka), and his young, naïve troops to go raid the Brain Palace, a massive structure containing a ticking doomsday device known as the Death Force. The Death Force is, for lack of a better comparison, Skynet on steroids, indiscriminate hunter-killer bots that don’t think and don’t feel—their only purpose is to kill and kill and kill until there’s nothing left living on Jerra. Sound familiar?

This link between Geist and the apocalypse is particularly prevalent in the last five minutes—and yes, I will be discussing the ending of M.D. Geist, because to be honest, it’s the ending that really makes the whole movie such a fascinating example of pessimistic genre films. Colonel Krutes leaves Geist for dead at the hands of an ultra-powerful security robot, and uses this opportunity to shut off the Death Force once and for all. Unfortunately for him, Geist isn’t as dead as he hoped—the M.D.S. strides into the room, grabs him by his head, and squeezes until it explodes, sending red goop and stray eyeballs flying across the room. And then Geist does the unthinkable. He turns the Death Force back on.

This is, without a doubt, the single most defining moment of M.D. Geist. Not only does it solidify every monstrous take the viewer may have had of the anti-hero, it solidifies where the film’s priorities lie. Not with humanity. Not with the people of Jerra. Not with concepts like “taste” or “satisfying narratives.” M.D. Geist is the sort of film that exists for one reason and one reason only: to give you as much wanton death, violence, and desolation as you can stand and then some—standards be damned. Naturally, this sort of film got a sequel.

M.D. Geist II: Death Force may take place less than a year after the insane ending to M.D. Geist, but in the real world, fans(?) didn’t get M.D. Geist II until 1996, ten years after the release of the first film. As the title suggests, Death Force follows Jerra after the activation of the Death Force, and as promised, they’ve almost entirely exterminated the planet’s human population. The remnants of humanity live under the iron grip of Krauser (Takumi Yamazaki), who just so happens to be an M.D.S. himself. Geist, naturally, is still roaming the wastelands, but a choice encounter puts him on the warpath against Krauser, and, along with him, the remnants of humanity.

If you thought M.D. Geist was grim (it was), M.D. Geist II: Death Force is an apocalyptically bleak movie. While the first film was more of a gory rollercoaster ride, M.D. Geist II: Death Force tries to put more focus on its honestly terrible villain (he has all of the presence of a plastic bag), which really drags the whole thing down. Thankfully, Geist is even more imposing than ever, and he even picks up a killer set of metal wings for Death Force’s explosive finale.

Unfortunately, the combat in M.D. Geist II: Death Force is far more infrequent than the first title, with only the opening, ending, and a brief sequence in the middle delivering the same high-octane thrills seen in M.D. Geist. The lack of fun action isn’t helped by the new art style, which gives the cast a new angular design that doesn’t quite suit the world.

On the plus side, M.D. Geist II actually shows the titular death force in full, and as expected, all of the detail goes into making the killer robots look as equally awesome and creepy as possible. While it’s unfortunate that they get sidelined in favor of human conflict, all of their appearances are among the best-drawn sequences in the movie, only second to an amazing hallucination of a massive skeleton in Geist’s armor (which may as well be the single coolest image from anything ever).

While M.D. Geist II can’t quite stack up to the crazed majesty of its predecessor, it still has its fair share of highlights. While the aforementioned battle sequences are great, the final showdown with Krauser is among the best moments in the duology—it’s a chance for Geist to finally go toe to toe with someone on his level, and the results are as brutal and messy as possible. And, much like M.D. Geist, the movie ends on a real shocker, this time climaxing with Krauser’s downfall coming in the form of him murdering a kid, and Geist using his brief moment of hesitation to take him out.

It’s an utterly terrifying ending for multiple reasons, the most important being that the thing that brings the villain down is that he’s only a sliver more human than the “hero,” who by the end of M.D. Geist II: Death Force, has successfully exterminated the human race with his driven lust for blood. It’s a truly crude, monstrous ending for the series—but then again, how else could something like M.D. Geist end? In almost any other film, the crushing consequences of Geist’s rampage could be read as a critique of the “collateral damage be damned” attitude of many action films, but it’s clear that the Geist franchise isn’t condemning it at all. It’s the cinematic equivalent of an edgy 14-year-old’s violent drawings in notebook margins—carnage for the sake of fun.

And that brings us to the core of M.D. Geist as a whole. If there’s one thing anyone can take from the story (ha) of the M.D. Geist duology, it’s that, much like its villainous protagonist, it hates people. From the brutal set piece on an airship that kicks off M.D. Geist to the horrific child murder that punctuates M.D. Geist II: Death Force, both films show a blatant disregard and even dislike for human life, using everyone from the most fiendish of villains to the most innocent of children as another excuse to portray increasingly nasty violence. In many ways, the Geist films feel like a rough preview of things to come, a sneak peak at the hedonistic carnage seen in the films of Michael Bay and Robert Rodriguez (well, Machete-era Rodriguez), where the plot is little more than an excuse to show countless bodies meeting a grisly end. It is animated violence at its most exuberant, pumped with enough guts, gore, and gunfire to be constantly kinetic, to the point of overwhelming the average viewer within minutes of its unhinged combat sequences.

But the fact of the matter is that the M.D. Geist duology doesn’t care what viewers think. It doesn’t care what basic storytelling standards think. It’s an unhinged work of vulgar art that actively spits in the face of structure, consistency, character, and taste with an unbridled ferocity rarely seen this side of ’80s Italian schlock. Unrelentingly unpleasant from start to finish, it’s a duology that cannot decide between being off-the-wall fun or horrifically unwatchable, with only white-hot misanthropy tying it together. You’ll either love them or you’ll hate them (and to be honest, I often fluctuate between both at the drop of a hat), but either way, there’s no denying that they’re worth a watch.

[Note: Select images courtesy of aniSearch.]

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