Hirameki International was a company that only could have even existed during the too-optimistic anime boom of the early oughts: these folks’ main business was publishing visual novels, those religious texts (with pictures!) of the hardest otaku. Video gamers don’t buy VNs-- there’s not much game there, in the traditional sense-- and anime fans involved enough to even know what they are just pirate them like they do with everything else. Even at the time, visual novels were never really viable, particularly the weird “game-on-DVD” format that Hirameki tried to bridge the gap with.
So Hirameki gave anime distribution a shot with just about the only thing less marketable than a visual novel: Idol Fight Suchie Pai II, a one-shot OVA based on a Japanese strip mahjong arcade game. At least Kenichi Sonoda’s name was on the box!
Suchie Pai was never really about mahjong, so there isn’t any to be seen in the anime except as a MacGuffin: the heroines are all magical girls who are after magic Dragon Ball mahjong tiles that grant wishes or something. But they can’t stop fighting each other long enough to fight Dragon Ball tile monsters, ah-hahaha! Get it? No, seriously, that’s it. The show is complete fluff. Girls chase each other around, there’s a bunch of stock, laugh-free anime gags, the girls almost get naked, some stuff blows up, there’s quite a bit of out-of-character bloody violence. The show actually has the audacity to imply that this is the first of ten episodes: thankfully it never went down.
The localization is a complete disaster: the subtitles are mistimed and opt more often than not to slap entire paragraphs up on the screen at once. The dub is even worse than this material deserved, sounding like the same two women reading the subtitle script off cue cards in varying degrees of Awful Anime Voice (and one horrific accent that I’m going to say was supposed to be a Brooklyn). This is a line: "I’LL TEACH YOU HOW A TRUE MADAM DOES IT-- ON YOUR BODY".
Speaking of “they almost get naked”, all of the nude scenes (usually magical girl transformation scenes) are removed from the show with some of the most unabashedly conspicuous editing you’ve ever seen. This isn’t a case where you go look around on the Internet after the show and learn that somebody cut something out: the jump cuts are clear, and the scenes surrounding them no longer make any sense. At one point a character pulls out a magic wand-- and then just disappears.
The really weird part of Hirameki’s DVD is the extras section. Here we have a bonus video for the diehard Suchie fan (of which perhaps ten exist in the entire English-speaking world; at the very least I have to count one of my own mahjong buddies): the main feature consists of a small documentary which covers a tiny otaku event and some behind-the-scenes with an animation staff that knows the show is bad and is being very polite about that fact. Very, very polite. Even when pressed, absolutely nobody can single out a point in their own work for praise. In the words of the character designer, “It’s all good!”
The otaku event is awkward and depressing: the voice actresses field some vapid questions (“Was Suchie Pai a tough role?” “Nope, not at all.” “Was there anything challenging about it?” “Nope.”) and the image girl gets dragged out.
This is Miss Suchie Pai. She was seventeen at the time. I felt a little sad for her. Almost immediately after she’s introduced, the video goes to some audition footage (she was sixteen at the time) where the future Miss Suchie Pai is asked even more vapid questions than the ones that came before (“Uh... I like yogurt.”). From here, the video goes straight to her coronation after the swimsuit part of the audition: there’s another really conspicuous jump cut between the interview and this bit that makes me feel like Hirameki (wisely) cut the part with 16-year-old girls getting trotted around in bikinis.
For reasons we will never understand unless somebody at the former Hirameki specifically tells us why (are you guys out there?), all of these segments were dubbed with the same voice actors as were used in the anime. This was already a really bad dub, and forcing the same cast to act like they’re actual people, not anime characters, makes the dub track doubly awkward.
(ANISON FAN QUICKNOTE: Rica Matsumoto sings on stage, accompanied by 1988’s finest video effects. Epileptics should probably skip this part, especially the strobes.)
According to the bubbly narration, the video is supposed to feature clips from the Suchie Pai videogames, but something very different actually happens.
A five-minute monologue explains that the “Clear the Suchie Pai!” feature is a collection of the “stage clear” scenes: we understand those as the treasured scenes in which a player finally-- after a long mahjong battle and a lifetime of disappointment-- sees a topless girl. These full-screen animated scenes were what sold the game: being able to see them all in one shot (and in Japan, this video was sold separately!) is like a brownie with four toasty corners, or a pack of Starburst candies with only reds.
So of course, the narrator talks them up.... and then it cuts to the otaku event. At the end, when she introduces the trailer for Suchie Pai II (this very anime), we hear the sound of tape warping, and see this screen:
That’s right. The rest were omitted due to the obscene matters. This brings us to something. Here, look at the box. Doesn’t this whole thing, from the incorrect title to the barely-English copy, feel like something a clueless Japanese licensor cooked up? Because it does to me. The DVD (the only DVD ever produced of this anime, Japan didn’t want it after the first VHS/LD release) was released in ‘03, in the thick of the anime DVD boom, and the OVA was made in ‘96: it’s a bargain basement release of a property that, even then, no longer had any pull. Why not dump it out there in English and see what happens? Sometimes that strategy works. Other times... this.