Riding Bean, what an odd name for an anime. Like Bubblegum Crisis you have no clue as to what the cartoon is about going on the name alone. Is it the story of a plant seed who likes to travel on horseback? No. This short OVA is set in 1980s Chicago and stars a transporter who goes by the name of Bean Bandit. Bean is a badass who makes Frank Martin look like a pussy. Aside from having insane driving skills, which he uses to complete his shady courier jobs, he is a beast of a man who can get crushed by a car and get up as if nothing happened. He’s so manly that he can even chew on walnuts by cracking the shells with his teeth!
When the show starts we get to see Bean showcase his skills by aiding a couple of robbers to getaway from a heist they have just pulled off. This DVD comes with an eighteen certificate and in the opening minutes you are left in no doubt that this animated film is for mature audiences and not for kids. The robbers take a naked lass as hostage and when some poor cop tries to apprehend them his brains get splattered courtesy of a shotgun shell. From that point on we see the crooks flee from the police aboard Bean’s Roadbuster which is outfitted with some snazzy gizmos that wouldn’t look out of place in a Bond car.
After that the introductory scene is done and dusted we get into the main story that has Bean transporting a girl, who has apparently got away from some kidnappers, back to her home. What looks like a straight forward job takes a turn for the worse when Bean learns that the girl was actually dumped on him by the kidnappers. The fiends took the ransom money they demanded for releasing the cutie and made a quick getaway hoping that the authorities would be distracted in trying to rescue the child from Bean who they framed. Needless to say Bean is not amused. He sets off to track down the guys responsible to exact his revenge and take the two million dollar ransom as compensation for the inconvenience.
I have to say that I loved Riding Bean, but that should come as no surprise as it was made by Kenichi Sonoda who is the man behind Gunsmith Cats, which I also rate highly. You could say that this anime was a prequel to the Gunsmith Cats series as Bean does appear in the Gunsmith Cats manga. Sharpshooter Rally Vincent, the heroine of Gunsmith Cats, also appears in this short as Bean’s partner in crime. You may not recognise her though as this early version of the character is a blonde Caucasian as opposed to an Indian (wow that’s a transformation that rivals anything the late Michael Jackson could pull off.)
Like with Gunsmith Cats the appeal of this anime has to be the combination of action and humour. Bean is an ace driver so expect most of the film to involve some crazy car chases were Bean alternates from being pursued (by the police) to becoming the pursuer (when he finds the kidnappers who double crossed him.) Aside from vehicular antics we do get some off the road fights near the end when Bean, armed with a knife, steps out of his Roadbuster to confront the hostage takers in a parking lot. To balance out the graphic violence we get some laughs via banter between the characters. One funny scene for example has Rally struggling to wake a dozing Bean. When she fails to lift him from his slumber via conventional means she tries to zap him with a tazer and when that doesn’t work she plants a hot frying pan on his face (ouchie.)
As I have mentioned in other reviews, good action alone cannot carry a movie if the characters are flat. Thankfully the cast in Riding Bean are all likeable. Bean isn’t a typical hero as he does take jobs from criminals, but he does have a soft spot for kids that proves that he isn’t a heartless monster. He is normally laid back as he is confident his skills can get him out of any sticky situation. Bean can however turn into a scary individual when he loses his temper (such as one scene when a guard calls his sports car a piece of junk.) Rally is a good partner for him as she is more business like and level headed. Out of the two she comes across as the brains of the outifit with Bean being the brawn.
The villains of the piece are surprisingly competent and only get tracked down by Bean due to sheer bad luck. Semmerling a ruthless and cunning master of disguise is the main antagonist aided by her lesbian lover Carrie. It’s actually the police who fill the role of buffoons that the hero outsmarts. The old bill is led by detective Percy who has recently acquired a flashy Cobra GT 500 which he hopes can keep up with Bean who he is obsessed with catching. Percy doesn’t pose much of a threat and is there mostly as comic relief in the form of angry outbursts when his prey eludes him yet again.
Although I love Riding Bean, the DVD release isn’t perfect. The whole thing only lasts forty minutes so it’s poor value for money if you get it for full price. I’m a fan of the OVA, but only added it to my collection because I found it for cheap on an online site that was having a sale to clearout stock. The DVD is a barebones release with no extras. You get the feature, a still picture for a menu, scene selections and nothing else. In terms of visuals the artwork and animation are good, but look a little dirty compared to modern shows (which is understandable as this was made in the late eighties.) Be aware that you only get the English dub, which could be a deal breaker for some hardcore anime pursuits. I don’t mind watching anime in English so it wasn’t a issue for me, but be warned that the voice actors they got aren’t great and the dubbing doesn’t always synch properly with the characters’ lips.
Due to those faults I cannot award Riding Bean full marks, but I still give it a high four stars. Like with Gunsmith Cats, when it ended I was left wanting more. I wish they would have made this a little longer, but I understand that it was originally intended to be a pilot for a series not a movie. Due to creative differences with Sonoda and the studio that idea never took off, which is a crying shame. Based on what we have here there was potential for Riding Bean to become a great anime series. It makes me so angry that I could crush some walnuts with my teeth… but I think I will pass as I lack Bean’s muscular jaw line.