The Guyver -- Bio-Booster Armor, Vols. 1 & 2 (1989/1991)

Chris Elliot

There is a kind of biological dread at work in this ambivalence, a fear of viral contamination and uncontrollable, anarchic cellular proliferation.

The Guyver -- Bio-booster Armor, Vols. 1 & 2

Director: Koichi Ishiguro
Cast: Tom Charles, Steve Blum, Victor Garcia, Melissa Charles, Steve Areno
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Manga Entertainment
First date: Inc., 1989/1991
US Release Date: 2003-02-25
Aren't we supposed to be normal high school students?
-- Mizuky to Sho, The Guyver

It's no secret that the anime world has been influenced by cyborg imagery. The imaginative power of this human-machine interface is clear in the fact that marketers have accorded it official subgeneric status. Mecha, as the subgenre is known, offers a range of images, from armored exoskeletons (characters running around in militaristic metal suits) to fully integrated cybernetic organisms. It's concerned with the status of the human body and human identity, their limits and potentialities, in a world where technological development allows radical reconfigurations of both.

The best of mecha asks sophisticated questions: at what point is the prosthetic no longer a prosthetic? How does this redefine borders of the human body? What does a reconfiguration of the body mean in terms of how we identify an entity as human, or not?

The Guyver -- Bio-Booster Armor, Vols. 1 & 2 pursues this mecha "problematic" with some rigor. On the surface, it's a fairly straightforward story about a boy who, having been altered through no choice of his own, is forced to protect those he loves from the forces of a cruel and conniving corporate enterprise. But the subtext explores the various ramifications, psychological and social, of bodily invasion and transformation.

The series begins when Sho (Tom Charles), a shy high school student living in a seemingly "normal" suburban neighborhood, discovers a mysterious device, a "Guyver unit," while walking in the woods with his friend Tetsuro (Victor Garcia). The device is mechanical, but appears somehow invested with a life of its own. While attempting to decipher its origin and function, the two friends are attacked by a group of paramilitary soldiers who have been dispatched by the shadowy Chronos Company to recover the device and eliminate any hapless bystanders.

In the ensuing confrontation, the soldiers one by one transform themselves into grotesque monsters called Zoanoids, a process rendered in graphic detail. Horrified by these transformations, and seeing his friend in imminent danger, Sho somehow activates the Guyver unit. The device explodes into a mass of swirling metallic tentacles that wrap around Sho, transforming him into a kind of armored half-robot/half-human. Thus transformed, Sho/Guyver attacks and annihilates the Zoanoids in a spectacular series of confrontations. The biological quality of the Guyver armor is dramatically foregrounded in this early conflict. Near the end of the battle, Sho rips his chest open in order to expose two potent bio-lasers that he uses to kill his final opponent in an excessive display of violence. Having accomplished this, Sho falls to the ground in exhaustion and the Guyver unit slowly unfolds itself from his body.

While an important sequence for defining the film's figures for good (Sho and company) and evil (Zoanoids and Chronos Company), it's most interesting for the manner in which the transformations are represented. They are neither glorious nor pleasurable, but, to the contrary, overwhelmingly violent and horrible. Sho's transformation in particular is represented as an invasion and violation of his body. The Guyver unit literally consumes him, and it's clear from Sho's tormented screams and the terror on his face that the event is not especially positive or pleasant.

He isn't changing into something "better" than or "beyond" human. He's mutating into a hybrid of human and "other" than human. The result is a subject who is estranged from himself. Neither entirely in control nor out of control, Sho balances between the two alternate, but intimately connected, selves. After each transformation, Sho struggles to resolve this duality with varying degrees of success, and when he sleeps, his dreams are filled with horrific fantasies of destruction.

It's not surprising, then, that in subsequent scenes, Sho experiences intense personal disorientation and self-loathing over the creature he has become. Such forced and difficult metamorphosis is a key trope throughout the two-DVD series. As Sho and his friends Mizuky (Melissa Charles) and Tetsuro attempt to defeat the agents of Chronos Company, they are confronted with an endless succession of humans who have been altered against their will to further Chronos' ambitions.

This creates dilemmas for the ostensible heroes, as they're forced to kill individuals who are blameless and unwilling tools more than they are humans (or some other creatures) making choices. This translates into a deep sense of ambivalence within the characters, bordering on paranoia, regarding the body itself, ambivalence as to what it conceals and what it might, at any second, become. As Sho finds out, much to his horror, midway through the series, the enemy is as likely to be your unwitting father as some malevolent thug.

There is a kind of biological dread at work in this ambivalence, a fear of viral contamination and uncontrollable, anarchic cellular proliferation. Unlike the more typical, cool metallic mecha visions (for example, Gundam), Guyver is distinctly warm and sticky. It's viral mecha. In this sense, the Guyver unit is not a machine per se; it's a biological entity that attacks the borders of the human body and seeks to inject its code into its host.

The dread the Guyver inspires is mirrored in the social environment in which the characters operate. Like Sho's body, the social organization around the characters is not what it at first seems. Under the seemingly calm and uncomplicated surface of schools, friends, and home life, hidden forces are manipulating and deforming the social apparatus. What was supposed to be natural and real turns out to be a mere façade. The school's student-body president turns out to be an agent of Chronos; as Sho and his friends wander through a seemingly placid town, it's citizens suddenly transform into Zoanoids. At almost every turn, the world flips on its head.

The second volume of episodes on Manga Entertainment's DVD set ends with very little resolved in terms of these biological and social crises. While he has succeeded in his latest struggle with Chronos Company, Sho's body is apparently still irreversibly linked to that of the Guyver. The social network, having been exploded in the course of the series, remains distinctly non-cohesive -- the characters have no social institutions to run to.

In fact, there's little in terms of resolution by the end of the series. This may be the effect of a sloppy failure of imagination on the part of the series' creators. It is nonetheless appropriate, even if accidental. Closing all the gaps in the narrative means you've resolved the story, restored some sense of order, completed the circle. Guyver's failure to provide such conventional closure means that the narrative is at least still partially contested, open to future mutations or tangential developments: in short, only provisionally circumscribed. For a story driven by fantasies of polymorphous mutation, this seems fitting.





A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.