“The String Cheese Incident”
Rarely has the phrase, “Only in Japan,” ever been more appropriate. It’s not just the notion of a delinquent schoolgirl, taken in by the government and turned into a secret-agent of sorts. That, alone, is odd, but not particularly memorable. No, it’s that her weapon of choice is a yo-yo, which lifts this into the realm of the call-sign, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. [Contrary to popular belief, the toy was not inspired by a Phillipino weapon, as has often been claimed – the yo-yo appears on Greek vases dating from well before the birth of Christ. Never say this site is not educational.] Combine that fairly ridiculous aspect with an absolutely straight-faced approach to the subject matter, and you’ve got something which has definite potential to be a trash classic, and was obviously the inspiration for GoGo Yubari in Kill Bill.
The title, Sukeban Deka, roughly translates as “Delinquent girl detective”, and was created by manga author Shinji Wada, running in 22 volumes from January 1976 through to December 1982. It was, to some extent, a fortuitous accident: the publisher was expecting a detective tale, Wada was working on a high-school story, and the two concepts ended up getting welded together. The heroine is more or less the same in all incarnations: Saki Asamiya, the trouble-making schoolgirl who ends up in prison, and eventually becomes an undercover spy for the government, though in the manga, it seems this only takes place after a fair amount of babes-behind-bars shenanigans. For the purposes of this piece, I’ll largely be glossing over both the manga and the TV show, and concentrating on the three feature films. The first two of these were spin-offs from the TV series, and appeared in 1987 and 1988, while the third reached cinemas almost twenty years later.
However, let’s start with some discussion of the TV series, albeit only because I somehow ended up with three episodes of the second series on laserdisc, about fifteen years ago. This ran for 108 half-hour episodes over three series between April 1985 and October 1987, which starred Yuki Saito, Yoko Minamino and Yui Asaka respectively. These appear to be different characters, albeit with the same name, suggesting that “sukeban deka” is a label perhaps more akin to the “Double-0” tag, with Saki Asamiya being the equivalent of James Bond. There was apparently also a TV movie, with the catchy title of Sukeban Deka III: shôjo ninpô-chô denki: san-shimai mottomo kiken na tabi: yattsu no shi no wana, which was screened in April 1987.
This appears to be episodes 34-36 of the second series, and having watched them, I feel I can convincingly state, with little fear of contradiction, that I have little or no idea what is going on. #34 takes place mostly in the woods, with Saki apparently possessed by something that causes her to attack her friends. Also roaming the woods is a samurai, and another schoolgirl, who possesses fangs, and leaps to the attack accompanied by cat noises. There is a fair amount of largely-unconvincing fighting, ending when Saki has her memory jogged by a small trinket, apparently breaking the curse placed upon her. To say any more would probably be…unwise.
It is, however, a masterpiece of comprehensibility compared to parts #35 and #36, though I was distracted by the arrival of a family friend, and so I must admit, my attention was largely diverted. If I had to hazard a guess – and you would probably need to use pliers and a blowtorch to get this out of me – it appears to be something to do with an after-school justice club, whose activities somehow land Saki in jail by the end of the episode. There is also a metal mask of some sort, whose eyes occasionally glow red. Please note, I am simply reporting these things.
The final episode has Saki’s two friends wondering what happened to her, while Saki sits in jail and stares at the metal mask on her bed. This does not exactly make for enthralling television, in any language, but things do perk up towards the end. There’s a roof-top battle in which Saki wears the mask and, along with her two colleagues, fights the bad guys until one of them shoots hooks from his sleeves, which attach to the mask and rip if off her head, to the ground below where someone then runs off with it. I imagine it probably has some kind of power, but what it is, I’ll probably never know.
[Below, you’ll find links to further reviews, covering the first series, both the contemporary feature films, and the 2006 revival. Thankfully, these did at least come with subtitles.]