Review of Blazing Transfer Student (1991)
Seen in 2017.
A rough kid transfers to a high school where the students are allowed to settle their disputes, including romantic rivalries, by fighting.
A two-part OVA parody of Japanese 1970s boys’ comics, set in school. For instance, it is here possible for one fighter’s trademark move to defeat another by having a shorter name. The reason for this intense formalism is explored in Blue Blazes (2014): author Shimamoto’s love of mass-market schlock manga is combined with a general technical incompetence, eschewing virtually everything except the rudimentary personal drama and the fight scenes because he wasn’t confident drawing anything else so early in his career. This creates a sort of solipsism that is mildly entertaining in itself, right down to the intentionally heavy, dirty line work and the lazy pans over a repeating crowd of goofy faces. However, the snappy comic dialogue is barely dense enough to sustain it as a comedy, and there is no entertainment value in the long action scenes; in both of these aspects it is unlike director Nishijima and writer Moriyama’s superior Project A-Ko (1986).
Some of the entertainment value stems from the title. The phrase Honō no tenkōsei is neatly symbolic of school drama as a closed semiotic system where the brash transfer student is as much an archetypal feature as Aristophanes’s alazṓn and passions flame high. Episode 4 of Mai-Otome (2005), a remake of Mai-Hime (2004), has the exact same title. Actual schlock productions sometimes employ the pattern unironically, e.g. Nazo no tenkōsei (1998).
Another reason to check out Blazing Transfer Student is the way it exemplifies the artistry of the first generation that grew up in Horkheimer and Adorno’s dystopia of cultural commodification. The earlier Gainax show Gunbuster: Aim for the Top! (1988) celebrates both commodified predecessors and a kind of prolonged adolescence, representing a desire to blithely remain a target audience of mass production. Blazing Transfer Student, though written earlier, would be even less meaningful than Gunbuster to an audience that has never experienced the pressurized commercialism of Japanese comics. As a parody it is self-conscious but loving. Far from pointing out problems of credibility as genuine flaws, it openly toys with tropes. This activity, this toying, is itself meant to be a form of entertainment on par with the 1970s “originals”, which imitate still earlier works. In this way the show has a good deal more flesh on its bones than “Bosko in Person” (1933) or “Bambi Meets Godzilla” (1974).