At some point, perhaps out of morbid curiosity or boredom, you might find yourself wondering what’s further down at MyAnimeList. What awaits is a cavalcade of works ranging from the laughably bad to outright atrocious, seemingly proving the old adage of Sturgeon’s Law, which states that 90% of everything sucks. Go far enough down the rabbit hole, however, and you’ll stumble on an OVA titled Tenjuu Danzato Skelter Heaven (2004): the worst-rated entries on the site, which given those ranked just above it, is no mean feat.
This 19-minute feature is the product of video game developer-publisher Idea Factory (of Cross Edge and Neptunia fame), with Yoshiteru Satou serving as director and screenwriter. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s not only known for being the representative director of studio Compile Heart, but also the person responsible for creating the almost as infamous Mars of Destruction (2005). While MyAnimeList ratings are undoubtedly subjective, and at times non-indicative of how good or bad an anime is, it still begs the question: why is this the only one on the entire database to have a score of 1.86 out of 10?
Surely, you might think, it’s hyperbole. As it becomes rather evident, however, that reputation didn’t come out of nowhere.
The OVA’s opening sequence not only uses assets from the PlayStation 2 game it’s based on, but comes across as rather cheap-looking. The theme song by Minori Chihara, however, is its only saving grace. (Source: YouTube)
Saving Whose Day?
An adaptation of a PlayStation 2 adventure game of the same name, Tenkuu Danzato Skelter Heaven ostensibly follows Otsuya Funagai (Kouji Miyoshi) and his all-female unit of pilots as they set forth to stop an unknown, squid-like alien attacking Tokyo. Though you don’t need to have played the Japan-only title to understand what’s going on, even a hardcore fan might be hard-pressed to really make sense of it.
It becomes clear almost immediately that the anime tries hard to invoke works like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and even Sakura Taisen, only to stumble at the first step. For one, there’s no real sense of pacing. The intro sequence alone, which lasts about a minute and a half before the actual opening, overstays its welcome more than it is ominous. The same could be said of the drawn-out shower scene where, despite the threat posed by the monster, has the pilots acting as though they’re prepping for school. Nor do the animators seem to make much of an effort to make their setting anything other than flagrantly derivative, be it the blatant NERV-esque organization the heroines work for, or the faux-allegories to human nature and love.
The characters themselves arn’t much to write home about, either. The lead commander, Hiroaki Mishima (Hideyuki Tanaka), seems to exist solely to click his ballpen and be a creepy Gendo Ikari knockoff. The pilots themselves, meanwhile, come across as absurdly inept and, for the most part, superfluous, with the deaths of many of them having no impact whatsoever. Not that the “protagonists” are any more of an improvement, given how much of an unlikable jerk Otsuya is and despite love interest Rin Ichikawa (Megumi Nasu) being a powerful artificial being, how she’s more annoying than anything resembling competent.
Indeed, much of that competence and the supposedly elite skills of the task force are largely conveyed through clumsy exposition that simultaneously remains vague and contradicts what’s on screen. The flashbacks that jarringly cut in throughout don’t do much to flesh either this or the plot out, not when these largely involve nonsensical snippets of training and cliched will-they-won’t-they hijinks. Coupled with underwhelming action scenes, a similarly fruitless, esoteric ending out of nowhere, and a badly-edited ending credits sequence, and you’re left wondering whose day was being saved at the end.
These alone would be enough for more than a few anime fans to rate Tenkuu Danzato Skelter Heaven low on sites like MyAnimeList. As bad as the show is, these are just part of the reason why it has gained such notoriety.
A Trainwreck Like No Other
If there’s one word that could describe Tenkuu Danzato Skelter Heaven’s visuals, it would be “cheap”, with “inept” coming a close second. Despite Idea Factory having already gained some experience with making video games and OVAs by the early 2000s, it’s clear these didn’t translate well into the creation of this anime. The art alone is generic at best. More often than not, this degrades in motion into a mess of pixelated lines and cut corners when there’s any actual movement. This isn’t helped at all by how the animators tried to mix in poorly rendered CGI, as seen with the largely static alien and mechs – the latter coming off as very fragile and conveniently leaving the pilots incredibly vulnerable. Coupled with the janky cuts and nigh-nonexistent pacing, it makes the end-result amateurish and would have looked dated even at the time it was released. Makoto Shinkai’s practically one-man Voices of a Distant Star (2002), this is not.
The audio isn’t much better. The musical track, which is largely a bland mix of synthesizer and faux-orchestral pieces, is poorly served by sub-par sound mixing, which can come off as tinny, if not grating to the ears. This extends to the voice acting, which suffers from a script that’s at once trite and poorly written, complete with needlessly repeating lines. While the actual performances alternate between serviceable and jarringly inconsistent, with the vocal songs by Minori Chihara being the only real highlight, no amount of effort by the voice actors could save this work from being anything other than a trainwreck.
All the same, Tenkuu Danzato Skelter Heaven’s a trainwreck like no other. It’s not for nothing that this has become something of a mocking rite of passage for otaku, with the likes of YouTuber akidearest further spreading the word of its infamy online. Alongside Mars of Destruction, this is also why Yoshiteru Satou is considered by some to be the Ed Wood of the anime industry. Though he’s shown himself to be much more competent as a producer than he ever was as a director, the sheer “talent” in his ineptitude with the OVA lends a certain charm that almost makes up for the cavalcade of failures.
The Worst of All Time?
Despite only being out since January, EX-ARM is quickly being seen by more than a few anime fans as being a contender “worthy” of challenging the OVA at the bottom tier. Circa 2021. (Source: YouTube)
Granted, the OVA’s reputation as the lowest on MyAnimeList may soon be challenged. With a score of 2.19, Visual Flight and Crunchyroll’s currently-airing EX-ARM (2021) has become notorious in its own right, rapidly plummeting down the site’s ratings as of this post. Whether or not this series succeeds in breaking that ignoble record, however, Idea Factory’s hilariously bad foray into anime has indelibly left an impact among fans, for better or worse.
With the work being readily available online, now’s as good a time as ever to see this marvelous blunder for yourself.