Cool Devices Operation 7: Yellow Star

Also, Kite

A bound and gagged assassin named Sawa is taken by the huge goon Kanie in this over-the-top image of female helplessness from "Kite."

Copyrght 2005 by Pat Powers

The Yellow Star ep of Cool Devices is the precursor to the well-regarded anime Kite. Both feature stories and character designed by Yasuoma Umetsu, also known for his work on the anime Mezzoforte and they're similar, so similar that there's very little point in reviewing both anime separately, as there would be a lot of duplication in both reviews as I compared one to the other. Therefore I'll be reviewing both at the same.

One important point though -- Kite is not part of the Cool Devices series. It's a separate anime. You won't find it anywhere in Cool Devices, unlike Yellow Star which IS part of the series.

Some points of similarity: The male lead of Yellow Star, Mr. Fujisawa, looks weirdly like a cross between the male lead of Kite (Akai) and his chief goon Kanie. Fujisawa has the formerly handsome but now wasted and dissolute face of Akai combined with the thick, blocky physique of Kanie.

Both Yellow Star and Kite are the stories of nice young college age girls who become the sex slaves of dissolute middle-aged police detectives.

In Yellow Star, Fujisawa, who's a famous detective, romances a middle-aged widowed woman who is overwhelmed by his attentions and consents to marry him. Little does she know that her famous husband is actually just as much of a scumbag as the perps he busts, and his eyes are really not for her, but for her sexy college-age daughter, Ayana.

Fujisawa uses an underground drug called "Yellow Star" to control Ayana, Yellow Star being a drug that temporarily renders its user a total sex slave. He gives it to her when mom is called away from home for a week by work, rapes the shit out of Ayana, then does that Japanese thing of making her feel guilty about being a rape victim to transform her into a serial rape victim. In combination with the Yellow Star, this treatment is so effective that he uses it to more or less pimp Ayana out to his buddies in a three-on-one orgy.

Kite is clearly a more mature work that dispenses with the cliched sex-zombie-drug plot device and gives us Sawa as the daughter of a couple who were killed as innocent bystanders in a drug-related shooting. Akai, a drug-ring busting police detective whose role in the shootout is problematical, takes Sawa in and trains her to be an assassin, assisting him in vigilante actions against various drug peddlers, child molesters and whatnot. Sawa uses her youthful appearance and waiflike face to get close to unsuspecting victims before killing them, and even though she is college-age when Kite starts up and she has a nice rack and a rounded ass, her face is waiflike enough that she can still pull the waif act off if she dresses right.

And although we never see it onscreen, it's obvious that the detective also has trained Sawa in the sexual arts for years, and pimped her out to his minions and goons while he was at it. He has undoubtedly used a powerful mix of sex, violence and fatherly authority to control her and mold her, with the same complete amorality that Fujisawa used Yellow Star on Ayana in Yellow Star.

Speaking of Yellow Star, Ayana is pretty upset about all the raping and so forth, not the least because her boyfriend is hot to make love to her, but she's been fobbing him off with a line about holding off until after final exams are over. Now every time stepdad slips her a Yellow Star she becomes the lead in their own little pornographic movie. And it makes her feel a little bit like a hypocrite when she's denying boyfriend access to everything while stepdad and his buddies are having their way with each and every orifice she has, sometimes all at the same time, while she can do nothing but writhe and moan in ecstasy.

Well, this creates quite a conflict, and it's resolved violently in the true anime tradition, which is rather why I think anime fans like Yellow Star and Kite. I won't tell you how it's resolved, but I will say it's got the same dark tones that Kite has.

The conflict in Kite also involves a romance between the middle-aged male lead, the young female lead and a young boy her own age, and it's also resolved violently and in the same dark way Yellow Star ends. Sawa falls for another young assassin controlled by Akai, a young male assassin. The two of them make an attempt to break away from Akai and his gang, and I won't give away any plot specifics, except, yeesh.

Although many reviewers in the U.S. accept a heavily censored (i.e., no sex scenes at all) version of "Kite" as a respectable anime, I've never liked Kite and I didn't like Yellow Star.

I dislike both for the same reason -- their downer endings and dark tones combine with the explicit sex and violence of the anime to create a really ugly vision.

What they remind me of most strongly is some of the "roughie" porn created by U.S. filmmakers in the 70s. Back then, the standard for porn/not porn was that the work had to be considered "socially redeeming" in some way, so the pornographers, being the kind of people they were, took that to mean they could have any kind of sleazy, disgusting sex they liked (or for that matter, whatever wholesome, uplifting sex they liked) so long as anybody who had sex died horribly or was otherwise killed, mutilated or imprisoned by the end of the film. Wholesome or disgusting, they reasoned, sex was sin to the mainstream, so anybody who engages in it must die and/or suffer terribly.

To be fair, Umetsu's work is highly regarded for the quality of its animation and the imaginativeness of its violence I found Umetsu's animation style to be original and unique, but not all that easy on the eyes. Frankly, the style of animation that's become standard in hentai strikes me as being much more flexible for general storytelling purposes. Umetsu's seedy, walleyed goons and doe-eyed waifs done in flat earth tones and pastels are great for the darkness of noir, but not at all useful elsewhere.

And Yellow Star drastically overuses the old "holding on to still images for long seconds" dodge to decrease the number of frames needed, most notably in the rape scenes, which really decreases their dramatic effectiveness.

However well done, Umetsu's work is morally bankrupt. Both Kite and Yellow Star, while clearly not taking the side of the bad guys, have the effect of taking a prolonged, slavering pleasure in the degradation of the young girls who are its protagonists, without offering the audience anything to make up for it.

This is a bleak species of honesty which places Yellow Star and Kite a notch above anime such as the "Kirei" ep of Cool Devices or the movie "Breaking the Waves," which try to scam their audience by offering nothing but cheap mystical baubles in return for putting their characters through pretty much the same thing.

To be fair, I have to give both these devils (Kite and Yellow Star) their due; Yellow Star and most especially Kite both have really strong graphic representations of rape that manage to convey its violence while retaining its pornographic elements.

This is a fairly neat trick when you think about it. Most of the time, when you ramp up the violence in a rape scene, you also decrease its pornographic appeal, at least, for normal viewers. (This is why rape scenes in mainstream porn were for a long time almost indistinguishable from consensual sex, with the "victim" clearly enjoying herself just as much as her "attacker" whose attack generally consists of nothing but a knife or gun waved around briefly prior to the sex.) And even though I can make scant claim to being a normal viewer, I generally am turned off by violent depictions of rape. Call it a slender bridge between the rest of humanity and me, if you will.

But I have to confess, I really LIKED the rape scene in Kite, and to a lesser extent the rape scenes in Yellow Star. And frankly I didn't WANT to confess that I liked the scene in Kite because I didn't want to be the kind of guy who likes such scenes on any level. But I DID like it, on a very primeval level, and to be honest I have to report that, and explain why, otherwise I'm no better than the legions of anime prudes who leave their appetite for violence unexamined and think that by dissing sexual anime that they are somehow made respectable.

So, I think I liked these rape scenes because they were presented in an entirely pornographic manner, We were invited to take long, lascivious looks at these two young women being raped repeatedly, and the emphasis was definitely on the sexual aspects of the rape, rather than the violence. In another context, they could easily have been seen as consensual if kinky sex.

The rapes in Yellow Star are a beginning but they don't really measure up to the ones in Kite. As has already been noted, overuse of freeze frames rendered Yellow Star's rape scenes more like a series of still photos viewed in succession than anything that could properly be called "animation." In the initial rape, we see the male lead as pure predator, manipulating the helpless, half-paralyzed (by Yellow Star) body of his much smaller prey as if she were a blow-up doll. And given the nature of her drug-induced stupor, she might as well be one. Her obvious physical powerlessness, especially in the scene where she's taken by three guys at once, effectively conveys the violence of the rape.

But Kite's rape scene is MUCH more powerful than Yellow Star's, an obvious evolutionary leap. In Kite, Sawa is raped by the Kanie, who is a gigantic walleyed redhead who is about twice as tall as Sawa and four times as heavy as she is. Sawa is not drugged, instead she's bound and gagged. She doesn't have any retreat from her reality that the drug offers, but she is if anything even more helpless to resist it.

Her wrists are taped together behind her back and there's a square of tape over her mouth. She's kneeling on a bed with her face and ample breasts jammed down into the bed with every thrust (because her hands are tied).

But the thing is, the goon isn't able to just thrust his cock into her with a single smooth motion. Because he's so huge and she's so small, he has to sort of ... work it in, inch by inch as it were, with her wriggling and writhing in pain or ecstasy or probably some weird combination of the two as he does so.

And we know just what's going on because we see explicit scenes of his cock working its way into her.

But things get even more intense a bit later, when the goon is sitting in a recliner with Sawa, still bound and gagged as before, but this time she's sitting astraddle him, facing away from him, with his cock still jammed between her legs, while the goon holds her legs wide apart with his knees and casually pumps her up and down on his cock like a human sex toy with one giant hand that clutches her side.

An intruder causes the goon to grab his gun, but it turns out to be Akai, so he casually continues to rape Sawa as they talk. Sawa gazes at her lover Akai, bound and gagged, writhing as the goon works his enormous cock into her distended pussy, her legs spread wide and her helpless to close them, unable to speak because of the gag and just sort of gazing hopelessly at the camera with her hands behind her back and her well-developed breasts jiggling, having become a pornographic display for her lover without having any choice in the matter.

It is a damned arresting image, a powerful image of helplessness, and it's really the subtle details in the imagery that make it powerful. Most especially, it's the way Sawa silently writhes while the giant phallus is slowly thrust into her pussy -- not the standard smooth thrust from tip to base that's pretty much the standard in hentai and in porn generally. Also, the business of having Sawa bound and gagged even though her rapist is physically much larger than she is, is strangely effective. In a sense it's ridiculously over the top, in another sense it works perfectly, because it's visually powerful, and that's what the scene NEEDS, visual power to convey its emotional power.

Sadly, there's nothing else worthwhile in either anime from my point of view. Some reviewers have described the violence in Kite as imaginative, and I suppose it is, but I could give a flip about big explosions and blown up bodies. (OK, there is one sequences in Kite that involves a long fall that's kinda funny, but it's not THAT great unless you're some kind of connoisseur of violence, which I'm not -- not that that makes me morally superior to others. It's my honesty about sexual imagery that makes me morally superior, OK?)

I'm glad I got a chance to see the "good" scenes from Kite, as it was by far the most inspired rape scene I've ever seen, but I didn't care for the anime itself due to it's amoral viciousness, and I could happily have taken a pass on all of Yellow Star. Now you can do the same, if you like. But at the same time, I found out something about myself that I didn't really want to know. Then I figured out why (the writhing) and now I'm a lot more comfortable with it. And to me, that's a recommendation for an anime.

To Next Cool Device

To Previous Cool Device