Every so often, there comes an area where crime has run rampant, becoming a scourge on the innocent people who want nothing more than to live there peacefully. In places like Townsville, Gotham city, Metropolis, New York City, Tokyo and others seem to be under a curse that attracts the worst of the worst to their streets, where they build their empires, corrupt the political systems, or just rain general destruction down on the population. There are many of these locations, all of which are really better off being avoided, but one town stands out among all the others. There’s one town where the light of hope has all but flickered out, and the concentration of evil in the form of gangs, super villains and horrible monstrosities has almost become the majority. This is Jack Knife Edge Town, and yeah. with a name like that, it’s no wonder things have become so bleak. In a town like this one, the only entity that can stand in the way of the forces of evil to protect the innocent is one man… No. One cop.
That cop is none other than Inferno Cop, who is really more a mass of sentient muscles than a man in a police uniform. Oh, and did I mention that he has a flaming skull for a head? Yeah, despite looking every bit like a hellspawn himself, Inferno Cop is the one man the criminal population fears, and he’s dishing out the kind of hardcore, bloody justice that would make Sleepy Johnny Estes jealous. Having lost his family to the Southern Cross gang, Inferno Cop wants both justice and revenge, and will happily fire his inexplicably explosive bullets at any being that opposes him, even hostages on some occasions. Unfortunately for Inferno Cop, neither avenging his family nor cleaning up the streets of Jack Knife Edge Town will be as easy as shooting a bunch of gangbangers, because there’s a lot more going on here than just your average every day criminal behavior. He’s going to have to fight giant monsters, cyborgs, judges, robot dinosaurs and the forces of heaven and hell themselves to bring this story to a happy ending. It’s a mad world out there, but is he mad enough to survive it?
Well, guys, it’s Studio Trigger time again. I talked about this company a few years ago in what turned out to be one of my favorite reviews from my collection, Kill La Kill. That and Inferno Cop are their first two titles, and also regretfully the only works from them that I’ve actually seen. I’ll eventually see Darling in the Franxx when it’s finished airing, how could I resist with the amount of controversy surrounding it, but for now, all I really know about them is their origin. Studio Trigger was established by former Gainax employees, including director Hiroyuki Imaishi, and information about their first official title… Titled Inferno Cop, if you haven’t guessed by now… has been hard to come by. I read in an interview that they were hired by a youtube channel to create a short length anime series, and after a few concepts fell flat, they eventually settled on an idea they thought nobody has heard of before… A cop who’s on fire and slays evil. That explains the show’s low budget, but there was another detail mentioned that I’m a bit more curious about.
Further down in the interview, Hiromi Wakabayashi states that the basic idea behind Inferno Cop was to put in as little effort or time as possible, and that each episode had to be completed in under two hours. I’ve tried to find some explanation on who mandated this, what circumstances dictated it, or any kind of reason why this was the rule, but in lieu of an explanation, I’ll instead say that Trigger responded to these limitations in a surprisingly inspired way. The animation in this series is a strange combination of high-definition sprites and stock visual effects like fire, explosions and blood spurts. I know people like to say that shows like Robot Chicken are just guys playing with star wars toys, but stop motion animation of any kind is a lot of hard work compared to that image. Well, that same difference in effort exists in Inferno cop, with their on screen motions looking like someone cropped an image and is moving it with his cursor compared to actual frame-by-frame animation.
Does that mean it doesn’t look good? Hell no. As relatively easy as it probably was to animate, Inferno cop looks awesome. Kill La Kill would occasionally move a character like they did in this show, and it was usually pretty funny, but seeing it done non-stop throughout the series is kind of a unique experience. It’s especially ridiculous when you see just how gritty, detailed and edgy the designs are, from the run-down, crumbled aesthetic of Jack Knife Edge Town to the masculine, testosterone-laden character designs that look like they were taken out of a vintage western comic book, being used in such a rudimentary way, there’s something about it that just works. The time and budget restrictions also lead to a lot of the characters having repeated templates and poses, with simple artistic and fashion-related changes distinguishing between the characters. Yet, somehow, it never looks cheap. Yeah, the characters are just still images being moved around(which looks hilarious in the racing episode), but there’s so much happening on screen at any given time that the effect is lost.
Well, that works just fine for the animation, but I’d like to think the music got a little more TLC from the producers, because it’s pretty awesome. There are several episodes that include commercials for the Inferno Cop soundtrack right in their run-time, and I would really like to snag a copy of it, because this show’s music is fucking tight. The music is a hard, fast blend of rock and techno, and I don’t air-guitar very often(or ever, really), but these tracks make it pretty tempting, especially with background tunes like Hell Dillinger and Chaser. There are some cool gimmick tracks like the Egypt-inspired Desert City, the ominous Theme of Southern Cross, and the swanky, swinging OZOMBIEDESUKA, but the real gems of the soundtrack are the vocal tracks. The song Die Hollen Polizei serves as both the intro and closing of the show, and it’s also used constantly as an insert song, which would be annoying if it wasn’t so awesome. My personal favorite, though, is Grue Elise von mir, a bona fide rock ballad that gets used for any ‘sad’ or ‘touching moment in the series, even though they’re kind of hard to take seriously.
Inferno cop never got picked up for an American release, which is a huge shame because I know that Funimation would knock it right out of the park, but they did manage to cast an actor for Inferno himself when his character made a cameo in another anime, Space Patrol Luluco. Christopher Sabat wound up being perfect for the role, as anybody could have predicted, but he hasn’t been able to touch the main series, unfortunately. The original Japanese voice actor was Junichi Goto, a newbie at the time who brought a tough and grisly-voiced performance that makes it sound like he was trying to channel Segata Sanshiro. He’s pretty damn good, as far as my English-speaking ears can tell. The rest of the cast was basically just a handful of guys doing hastily improvised voices, and they’re cast so repetitively that… I swear to God this is true… In the credits in the final episode, they actually fast forward through the cast listing, even though they still list every single character, important or not, meticulously crediting each role.
When I was first exposed to Inferno Cop, I really didn’t have any interest in it. I honestly didn’t even know it was anime… I thought it was Russian, or something. I knew made a brief appearance as an okay joke in an AMV Hell movie, and it made another brief appearance in a terrible reanimated clip in a Ponies the Anthology installment, but aside from those glimpses, I spent five years never having any reason to check it out… That is, until April of this year, when I volunteered at my local anime convention. They had me doing a bunch of odd jobs, but my last one was acting as host and head-counter for a couple of showings, the first among them being Inferno Cop(which got a two hour slot despite being an hour long with Fact Files). Having to watch it in a crowded room full of adults whose IDs I had to check, and being part of a group viewing experience, I’ll admit, I got sucked in. I was able to embrace the ridiculousness of it, warts and all, and it wound up being one of the highlights of the con for me.
Having said that, Inferno Cop is stupid. Like, it’s really stupid, a show full of randomness, logical inconsistencies, problematic elements, and an almost impressive number of cliches and deus ex machinas. If you’ve read my reviews up until this point, this would seriously not seem like something I’d ever be into. I mean, how can I have the gall to gush about this series when I very recently called Excel Saga lazy? And no, I’m not going to backpedal on anything I’ve said in the past, nor am I going to make up some bullshit about this show having depth, or some underappreciated metaphors or social commentary. Inferno Cop is exactly what it looks like from a cursory glance: It’s stupid nonsense full of bad writing and juvenile sensibilities. I’m not gonna deny the fact that just about every element that went into this series is something I’ve shat on other shows for doing in the past, so why am I being so much nicer to this one?
Well, there are two things Inferno Cop does right, and they’re both pretty important. For the first thing, let’s take a look at Magical Play, a show I was distinctly disappointed with, despite it being every bit as weird as Inferno. It was appropriately weird and full of batshit crazy ideas, and it created an unpredictable environment where anything could happen in it’s world of fluffy nonsense. Despite having all of this going for it, it got boring real fast due to a lack of direction and a tone that was always shifting in confusing ways. Are we here to see the girls getting into weird dream-like situations, or are we here to see a backstory, plot and earnest attempts at feels? Unlike Magical Play, Inferno Cop is whole-heartedly committed, making for a sense of consistency in the execution. It knows you’re just there to see what crazy thing it’s going to do next, so it never tries to be serious, it never tries to make you feel(it kind of makes fun of you for it, honestly), and it never loses focus of what it’s doing, tying it’s most entertaining element directly into it’s vague and highly forgiving plot threads.
And for the second thing it does right… I’ll be honest, this one feel like the more important one of the two, even though Magical Play actually did kind of nail it. There are several shows based on random lunacy that I just wasn’t able to stay interested in… I’m talking titles like Excel Saga, Hayate the Combat Butler, and Hare + Guu. Yeah, they were great at first, full of wild and exciting comedy that felt brazenly and defiantly weird, but as time went on, they just sort of lost their momentum. Once you’ve seen a little girl eating everything in sight, transporting them to an alternate Kirby-style stomach dimension, there’s really nowhere to go from there. Comedy styles can be overused, at which point they become predictable, after which they became dull. The worst part of Excel Saga was the part where you realized all it was doing was lazily parodying a bunch of genres with by-the-book observations and padding them out with weirdness. And Hayate jumped the shark so often that it just made people miss the manga.
But this leads me to the biggest thing Inferno Cop does right… It’s short. The biggest weakness of random nonsense comedy is that it has a shockingly poor shelf-life. The longer it goes on, the more exposed it gets, and the clearer people are able to see the method behind the madness. It’s not impossible to keep this kind of comedy effective for lengthy stretches, but you have to be working extra hard to keep the comedy fresh by reinventing it and taking it in new directions, like Baka and Test was so good at doing. This is why I’m not really on board with the new FLCL reboot… 6 episode FLCL was perfect FLCL. Inferno cop is only an hour long, and that’s WITH the fact files segments, which I actually feel are a necessary part of the experience. It’s because Inferno cop is so short that it never lags, and it’s able to jump from plot point to plot point like an anime speed-run without ever feeling overwhelming, and all the things it does that WOULD be ran into the ground by a longer run-time, like all the cliches, deus ex machinas and on-point Evangelion references, are able to leave a fond impression on us by only happening once or twice each. And on top of that, it actually manages to have a pretty satisfying conclusion.
Inferno Cop is available on Crunchyroll. It hasn’t been released on any form of physical media that I know of, not even a freaking Malaysian bootleg, but it damn well should. There’s also a series of in-between segments that I mentioned earlier, called Fact Files, which gives deliberately pointless information about what you just saw, and it’s totally worth your time. A second season has recently been announced, but hasn’t aired yet.
As much fun as it is to watch Inferno Cop, and as highly as I do recommend checking it out, it’s obviously going to run into a glass ceiling with me. It’s a good show that’s a blast to see, especially with other people, but there’s still so many more enriching anime titles out there, titles that a lot more time, effort and thought put into them, that I’ll always recommend first. I think the best way to describe the experience of watching this show would be that it’s like seeing two really close friends with similar tastes and interests just try to create a narrative on the fly, making constant attempts to one-up each other and make each other laugh, and even if you don’t get the story they’re coming up with, you feel like pointing out all of it’s problems would just be mean. Like, “why does a world-wide cruise have to be dirt cheap for Inferno Cop to ride it when he just won a million yen?” And the answer is “Shut up, we’re playing with giant robot dinosaurs now!” It’s no masterpiece, not even close, really, but it’s an experience I highly recommend having at least once. I give Inferno Cop a 7/10.