I’ve wanted to watch Natsuki Crisis ever since Animerica magazine (R.I.P.) mentioned it in a two-paragraph blurb way back when (a.k.a., 1994). The reason I wanted to watch it is because Animerica included this illustration from the manga:
If you’re a Genesis fan, then that art style should look familiar. The Natsuki Crisis manga was illustrated by Hirohisa Tsuruta who, like El Viento’s Kaz Yamane, was once an assistant to the godly Kazushi Hagiwara. All those stylish details — the pronounced eyelashes and the renegade strands of hair — don’t quite carry over into animated form, but this two-episode OVA is still a visually appealing and distinctly ’90s product.
Animated by the awesome Madhouse — who also did the cinema scenes for Earnest Evans — and published by the poorly-named “BJ Video”, the Natsuki Crisis anime is limited to two 30-minute episodes. They didn’t even try to cover the source material’s full scope; the animators simply picked a few important manga chapters (8 through 12) and put them to motion for the fans, which was a pretty common tactic back in the late ’80s and early ’90s. We may not have gotten to see the entire plot put to film, but we did get relatively high-budget glimpses of coolness. In this case, the first episode introduces feisty Rina and the second introduces stoic Akira, both of whom would become major players in Natsuki’s manga life.
It’s too bad the animators stopped at chapter twelve, since the thirteenth included a saucy hot springs scene with Natsuki and Rina.
Episode one starts with an obligatory scene of female karate champ Natsuki whooping members of her school’s karate club. Natsuki Crisis features nice choreography — broad attacks are animated well, but you can also see the bending of wrists and ankles as characters land blows or shift to add weight to their kicks. In that sense, Natsuki is more expertly handled than some of its Fight! Fight! peers (such as the recently-reviewed Grappler Baki). That being said, the “plot” that fills the gap between battles is pretty lousy.
In the first part, a girl arrives to school on a motorcycle . . . this can’t be good news! Motorcycles are rebellious! The cycle-girl’s name is Rina Takaoka, and on her first day of school, a male student (who happens to be a member of Natsuki’s karate club) attempts to molest her. That doesn’t turn out well for the dude. Natsuki tries to make friends with Rina, but Rina won’t have any of that. You see, Rina was tsundere before the word tsundere even existed.
Rina also looks pretty hot in her skin-tight racing suit, although she spends most of her time in school uniform. Being a show from the 1990s, Natsuki Crisis comes from the anime era of “long skirt” school outfits. You won’t see any Absolute Zones here, and that’s oddly refreshing. But anyway! Natsuki and Rina attend classes in their long skirts, snipe at each other, and generally behave like people who will obviously become friends by the end of the episode.
AND THAT’S WHEN THE MASKED NINJAS ATTACK.
Natsuki’s the cute pony-tailed brunette clutching the pink bag. She’s a good fighter, but MASKED NINJAS aren’t part of her typical day. Nevertheless, the two girls cooperatively deliver a beatdown on the unscrupulous ninjas, and then they argue about the proper way to use martial arts. We have to set up a schoolgirl catfight somehow, right? Natsuki delivers a ridiculously exuberant pep talk in support of joining a sports club, glorifying the sweat and spirit of battle. She’s an incredibly optimistic girl, which is a nice departure from modern tortured soul protagonists. Rina, on the other hand, is the tortured soul — and when a villainous villain pulls off a ridiculous deception that shouldn’t fool anyone, Rina is fooled. She decides to fight Natsuki . . . not out of thrill of sports, but out of REVENGE.
And so the two girls fight, even though Natsuki was warned by the buff karate team captain that she can’t possibly defeat Rina’s “catch as catch can” wrestling style. It’s a full-on grapple battle that will please foot fetishists and disgust foot phobiacs. Personally, I’d be worried about getting splinters.
You might wonder how Natsuki Crisis could possibly get better than one girl giving another a figure-four leg lock. In the preview for the second (and final) episode, Natsuki declares that this is the first time she’s ever felt hatred! What could provoke such rage? I won’t spoil the anger-inducing act, but it all starts with Rina being kidnapped. Natsuki immediately dashes out into the rain to look for her new friend, sporting some damn cute tennies.
This time, instead of masked ninjas, Natsuki runs into Raidou Kuzunoha from the Devil Summoner series. Raidou turns out to actually be a girl named Akira, who just happens to be disguised as Raidou Kuzunoha from the Devil Summoner series. Akira promptly introduces herself and challenges Natsuki to a fight. Our naive heroine replies that there’s no reason to fight; Akira’s response is to stomp on Rina’s head, which pretty much establishes a good reason for Natsuki to fight.
After a brief scuffle, there are some more plot scenes, which lead up to . . .
First of all, Natsuki wears short shorts during this scene. I liked that. Secondly, Rina is scantily dressed for the warm summer night. I liked that, too. Natsuki Crisis is the opposite of those “exploding clothes” anime that are so popular nowadays, which makes this scene’s skimpy clothing feel more alluring. Shirts that burst into pieces when struck are cheap and tawdry. Strong-willed fighters wearing attire that shows off their curves are sexy. It’s a big difference!
During the midnight battle, Natsuki discovers she has the ability to shoot bolts of magical light out of her hands. This is called the “Natsuki Special”, and the buff karate team captain (Natsuki’s mentor and unrequited crush) is disturbingly calm about the fact that Natsuki has learned how to shoot bolts of magical light out of her hands. At this point, it’s obvious that Natsuki Crisis isn’t even trying to be a realistic Fight! Fight! anime, but that’s okay — it’s still a fun show anyway.
The next day, Akira arrives to the school with an army of goons who look suspiciously like Red Army soldiers. Their purpose is to encircle Akira’s foe and create a human Octagon.
When the climactic battle starts, the buff karate team captain shows up once again to play the role of narrator. He tells Natsuki to abandon her anger and return to her natural fighting style — a style that “defeats but keeps the opponent safe”. Natsuki takes this advice to heart, and proceeds to safely attack her opponent by blasting her in the stomach with an energy blast that sends her flying off the school’s roof. And just to give you an idea of how high up the roof was, Akira goes flying through the air and plunges through the ceiling of an adjacent building.
That doesn’t seem very safe to me.
In any case, Natsuki Crisis is a decently-animated show that basically serves as an excuse to watch some neat fights. My favorite is the first episode’s wrestling match between Natsuki and Rina (you know, the fight that doesn’t involve magical energy blasts or people crashing through ceilings), but even when the show turns silly, it’s still amusing. Another thing I really like about these old ’90s anime shows are their bizarrely-chosen money shots, such as a moment on the schoolhouse roof when Natsuki teases Rina. It’s the kind of thing you see twenty times per episode in a modern show like YuruYuri, but the scene’s higher-quality artwork and unusually fluid animation remind us that mimicking realistic interactions was once considered special.
Maybe that’s why I consider Natsuki Crisis to be special.