Metal Skin Panic MADOX-01 turned thirty earlier this month. Known for excessively detailed animation, power suits running amok through Shinjuku, and highlighting the difficulty of using chopsticks with mechanical manipulators, MADOX-01 hailed from the early era of OVAs where money was thrown as up-and-coming creators to create content for increasingly sophisticated home video equipment.
Viewed as a way to get otaku into home video and become early adopters for VHS, laserdisc, and other video formats, early OVAs were a mixed back of direct-to-video cartoons that ran the gamut of good taste and artistic endeavors. Animator-driven showcases, adaptions of popular manga series, and pornography all shared shelf space in the early OVA marketplace as producers experimented with new ways to get fans to drop upwards of 10,000 yen on a videotape. Money often trickled down from hardware manufacturers to subsidiary companies like record labels and then to animation studios to produce the videos.
The “Wild West” mentality of early OVA production afforded a degree of creativity and opportunity for new creators — even if the resulting videos weren’t particularly good, they were often interesting. Within that context, MADOX-01 stands out not just as a showcase for the design sensibility of its first-time director, but because of its success as a self-contained story.
Lead mechanical designer Shinji Aramaki was best known for creating transforming motorcycles for Genesis Climber MOSPEADA, Megazone 23, and Bubblegum Crisis, but MADOX-01 was his directorial debut. Produced by ARTMIC, planning was handled by studio founder Toshimichi Suzuki (Bubblegum Crisis, Technopolice 21C) with additional mechanical designs by another ARTMIC regular, Kimitoshi Yamane (Cowboy Bebop, Gundam SEED). In 1987 ARTMIC was an ascending force in the OVA market, creating original sci-fi projects with an overwhelming emphasis on design. Like the later Dragon’s Heaven, helmed by Makoto Kobayashi and released the following year, MADOX-01 has an almost overwhelming focus on a single artist’s creative style, in this case, director and mechanical designer Aramaki.
In the 45-minute OVA, a military prototype powered suit falls off a truck —literally— and ends up in the hands of Kouji. He’s got a date with his girlfriend later that evening, but his curiosity gets the better of him and he soon finds himself locked inside the MADOX-01 and unable to get out. Realizing that the prototype weapon has disappeared, the military sends out tanks and helicopters to retrieve it, forcing Kouji to figure out how to survive and meet his girlfriend in time for their date.
Sure, it’s not high art, but as a succinct, charming, self-contained story, MADOX-01 delivers where plenty of contemporary OVAs failed. Top-notch animation didn’t hurt, either. Key animation was handled by Gainax, as one of their many contract gigs to pay the bills between their own projects, and featured animation by Hideaki Anno and Masami Obari. In-between animation was handled by the workhorse Anime R, amusingly mistranslated as “Anime All” in AnimEigo’s English-language credits for the OVA. The result was lavishly detailed animation with mechanical scenes that approached cinematic quality and easily outclassed most OVAs released in 1987.
But it wasn’t all just robots; MADOX-01’s goofy story and contemporary setting made it accessible for non-gearheads, too. Three decades later it still holds up.
Two years after its release in Japan, MADOX-01 helped spearhead anime in English as the first release by AnimEigo and one of the first unedited and subtitled videos in English. The release of MADOX-01, arranged in part by Gainax co-founder Toshio Okada, opened doors for AnimEigo and allowed the company to pursue other titles, including other ARTMIC OVAs like Bubblegum Crisis and Riding Bean.