June 25, 2006
In my last entry, I somewhat derisively referred to most modern movie car chases as the "extended urban crashfests we're handed every summer at the multiplex." As it happens, my #1 car chase pick is, um, an extended urban crashfest. However, 1989's Riding Bean OAV outdoes all of the usual summer fare due to three simple facts: (a) it's actually quite funny and sometimes a little perplexing, (b) creator Kenichi Sonoda's love for cars is evident throughout, and (c) it's a really extended car chase.
Riding Bean stars the Bean Bandit and his partner Rally, two couriers who guarantee that they'll transport anything or anyone anywhere, no matter what the job. That means that some of their gigs put them on the wrong side of the law—like at the beginning of the story, when Bean is hired to be the getaway driver for a bank heist. Bean's consummate driving skill, plus the Roadbuster, his souped-up custom car, gets them out of there safely, but the audience learns early on that the bank job is the precursor to something bigger.
Chelsea, the eleven-year-old daughter of the wealthy George Grimwood, has been kidnapped. Bean finds himself embroiled in the case when a Grimwood employee named Morris shows up at his door with her, having rescued her from the kidnappers but fearing that their organization has infiltrated the police. Bean agrees to deliver Morris and Chelsea to the Grimwood mansion.
It's never that easy, of course. Morris is caught in a hail of bullets, and when Bean and Rally try to return Chelsea to the mansion, the guards have never heard of anyone named Morris. Bean immediately realizes that he's been set up, but has to figure out how to safely drop Chelsea off, get away from the police (including his nemesis, an obsessed detective named Percy), and find the people who set him up so he can get his revenge and his money.
The result? A half-hour car chase through the streets of Chicago involving the Roadbuster, Percy's souped-up Cobra GT-500, an eighteen-wheeler truck, a BMW sedan, a hell of a lot of police cars, a variety of guns and an incredible disregard for personal safety. There are more than a few nods to The Blues Brothers, of course, but Riding Bean has an energy and a style all its own.
If there are four things Riding Bean creator Kenichi Sonoda loves, they're girls, cars, guns and Chicago. Many of his earlier creations, like Bubblegum Crisis and Gall Force, featured the girls and the guns. For Sonoda, Riding Bean was near-perfect: It had the last three in spades, though only a couple of girls. (His later Gunsmith Cats, which co-starred Rally, had all four.)
Sonoda's passion for cars shines throughout Riding Bean, with characters lovingly talking about their cars' specs, often as they roar through (and, sometimes, over) the streets. The constant depiction of characters' hands shifting gears is almost fetishistic. And I'm sure the sound department worked overtime getting every last engine roar, screeching tire, and bit of twisting metal to sound just right. But for all that, Riding Bean gets the #1 spot because it channels the Looney Tunes sensibility of a constantly shifting predator/prey dynamic and manages to sustain that energy for 30 minutes. I'm sure that someday, someone will try to top Riding Bean for action, humour and automotive obsession, but they'll have to work pretty hard to do it.
Buy Riding Bean from Amazon.com or Amazon.ca