It seems to me, that even as I do my part to keep in the know about certain titles that are ejected into the ether like so many spores into the atmosphere, there have been many times when even anime based on stuff I like comes out, and I completely missed out on it. So this is a sort-of preview entry in what I hope will be a fun dive into some lesser-known titles that may or may not have fallen under the fan radar.
Several years back, when I was doing my part for the anime/manga industry, there was a shelf in the back warehouse dedicated to manga that either never sold, or had garnered something of a following between co-workers. And among them was (of all things), a burly & often wildly fun shonen title known as Megumi No Daigo. Also known as Firefighter! Daigo of Fire Company M. And among all the many great titles we carried on this shelf, this was among the most unexpectedly addictive series I had probably ever had the fortune to run across. It centers on 18-year-old Daigo Asahina, a classically romantic action hero who’s sheer enthusiasm for becoming an expert firefighter is only matched by his unerring ability to attract incredible danger wherever he seems to go. Inspired by the day he himself was rescued from a home fire as a young buy, Daigo has taken on this perilous path, with an at-times absurd manner of zeal perhaps only displayed by superheroes. Not unlike Go Mifune, he is simply driven toward improbable extremes. Asahina is virtually possessed when faced with life or death situations, which seem to happen with almost supernatural frequency. Almost immediately after completing his training, he is assigned to the unexpectedly quiet, and lax environs of the Medaka Ga-Hama fire station. But it isn’t long before his presence alone seems to bring about a whole planet of trouble for Asahina, and the veterans of this once sleepy area.
And a large part in what makes the manga so appealing, is simply that creator, Masahito Soda goes out of his way to continuously top the previous emergency with something even more dangerously over the top. Department store fire? Check. Hotel inferno? Got it. High-rise fire that endangers contruction crane dangling perilously over a full tanker truck below? What the. Trapped in a room in a burning building with a loose tiger!? YES. One of the devilish joys of this manga is that it never seems to let up in its attempts to trump previous volumes, often ending in some often clever, and at times 80s action picture rescue. And this is pretty much what Daigo is at its base; a fun, manly manga about the will to save others at the risk of regulations, wisdom, or even sanity.
Which leads us to my very own personal revelation – over a DECADE later, that a 45-minute film based on the manga was made without my knowledge, and that I had the dumb fortune to find it. Excited, I brought it home. And as excited as I was about the possibility of animated Daigo, I’m not sure that 45 minutes is anywhere near enough to satiate the need for more of this character & the people he works around.
The Megumi No Daigo is a film that is a definitively OVA affair, where little to nothing happens in regards to story, but offers a loud but all-too brief peek at a potential property that never really caught on beyond its native land.
In it, we are introduced in classic in-media res as the Medaka Ga-Hama team are shoulder-deep in assisting a number of regional precincts fighting a large blaze at a local marketplace in the dead center of town. And with a full building blaze in progress with a large number of citizens trapped on the roof, as fellow firefighters are dropping like flies from heat and smoke exposure, this leads to the animated introduction of our hopelessly bullheaded hero who’s first action sets the stage for the remaining 40-minutes. Unable to get people properly onto a rescue ladder, and as plumes of fire and debris continues to reach their floor, Daigo Asahina does the only thing he can sum up in a split-second; grabbing a nearby person in danger, and toss them over the edge- to the horror of all on the curb! Sure, airbags are in place, but the very unscientific & absurdly surreal image of a lone firefighter tossing office ladies, and oji-san over the edge of a building is the kind of spectacle that only Asahina can deliver. And as the ensuing media flap takes place, again placing an injured Asahina on suspension. All the while, the quiet sage in Medaka Ga-Hama chief Gomi takes in warning by local journalist, Okano that young Daigo’s luck can only go so far, let alone all the regulations he’s smashing in the process.(“A bull in a china shop” is a visual tailor-made for Daigo- just saying) And as part of his community work, Asahina is tasked with assisting other firefighters to do local safety presentations, which takes them to a large local auditorium which- is that the smell of smoke?
So for the remainder of the OVA-er film, we are witness to one of the manga’s most memorable sequences, as a fire wreaks unholy havoc on this massive structure, which is only compounded by bonus threats (broken water valves, and electric power the team has been unable to shut off, making the entire auditorium a watery death trap- with a fire surrounding them!). All the while, Asahina and his team are once again on hand for a battle, not only to save those remaining in other parts of the structure, but of other firefighting teams trapped within. Sadly though, the film itself is a lukewarm affair at best. While it does bear a strong resemblance to the 1995 manga that inspired it, there simply isn’t enough here to recommend to anyone but those who are already aware of Megumi No Daigo, and without that, it’s understandable why I had never even heard of this.
And in mentioning the manga here is perhaps most fitting since much of the animation art remains faithful to Soda’s original artwork, leaving this film to have a truly 90s feel. And this could also be seen as something to its detriment. Very often, we are at the mercy of an unusually high number of close-ups, and pan shots that imply movement rather than display it. Which feels at times more like a slightly above tv level production. About the only thing that delivers on the bombast that Daigo deserves is the Masamichi Amano-esque marches composed by . It does its best to cover up the very little that is actually happening on screen. Then again, watching this in anime form can also shine a heavy light on the often drippy, goofy nature of the manga by having Asahina’s lovely sensei, Ms. Ochiai constantly come up to Daigo to give him the all-too-cliched gooey eyes at the risks he seems so thoughtless in taking. She’s such a non-entity in this short, it’s hard to justify her being in such a short piece, save for the fans.
So yeah, this is something of a minor hit-and-miss. But it is also the kind of anime I truly miss seeing out there. A show that exists on a plane parallel to ours, peppered with just enough audacity, and pluck to make it fun. I’m also ware of the 2004 live-action dorama, Fireboys which was also based on Soda’s brawny creation, but have yet to see it, and not so sure how that could possibly work with a Japanese TV budget. There is a lot to recommend about the original manga, but this film is strictly a “fans-only” affair, and not much else.