Salamander is a three-part OVA miniseries based on the Gradius series, created by PonyCanyon and Konami in 1988 on VHS and Laserdisc formats. The series focuses on the adventures of Gradius military pilots Stephanie, Dan and Eddy as they team up with the prince of Planet Latis, Lord British, to combat a mysterious but deadly bioform known as Bacterion, which threatens both of their worlds.
Unfortunately, the OVA never found its way outside of Japan, and actual hard copies of it are very hard to come by. Also, despite the name, the miniseries is actually an adaptation of all three Gradius games at the time, not just Salamander alone.
Basic summaries of each episode are as follows:
'Part 1 - Salamander' (an adaptation of Salamander / Lifeforce)
Shortly after being told about an ancient statue in orbit above Latis, Lord British discovers an identical statue on the surface, directly where he plans to build a temple. Disregarding all warnings to leave it alone, he inadvertently invites a deadly lifeform known as Bacterion to attack the planet and wreak havoc with its weather. Reluctantly, he is forced to seek assistance from rival planet Gradius in the form of three pilots - Dan, Stephanie, and Eddy - who have dealt with the threat before and suggest that a large dragon in the center of a planetary fortress controls the invaders. In order to save Latis, however, Lord British must find within himself to humility to cooperate with the pilots and not ignore their advice.
'Part 2 - Salamander: Meditating Paola' (an adaptation of Gradius and SARAMANDA-: Meisou no PAORA)
A prequel to part 1, explaining how Gradius first came into contact with Bacterion. After the elected leader of the planet goes missing, his daughter Stephanie investigates a strange space wreck alongside Dan and Eddy. Inside they find a beautiful woman named Paola, who claims to be the ship's sole survivor and warns the Gradian military about the Bacterion threat. Although Eddie trusts her and believes her psychic meditation to be of great help, Dan and Stephanie are less trustworthy of the woman, whose home planet has transformed into a bizarre, nightmarish landscape of what appear to be flesh and organs, aggressively steering itself toward Gradius.
'Part 3 - Salamander: Gofer's Ambition' (an adaptation of arcade's Gradius II)
Some time after Part 1, Lord British visits Gradius to sign a historic peace treaty, as well as hopefully confess his love to Stephanie and marry her. However, events take a dark turn when a dragon made of flames appears to kidnap her and take her to a strange star. When investigations reveal that the star appears to be housing Bacterion ships, Gradian brass correctly hypothesize that the star is a disguised fortress, akin to a planet turned inside out. Inside the star, Stephanie recalls the truth behind Bacterion biology and discovers that they intend to process her mind into a behemoth known as Gofer and wipe out all other life in the universe. Lord British is convinced that he must be the one to save her, and pleads to accompany Dan on a rescue mission... if they can just find a way to safely enter the star.
While the arcade games did not have much of a plot, the anime adaptation still manages to steer wildly away from them, incorporating signature elements from each game in strange, amalgamated, yet refreshing ways which focus on actual characters in addition to tense space battles. Also, notably, this was among Konami's first ventures into the OVA format (and not the last to feature Vic Viper, either.) They are completely different from the stories of the MSX games Gradius 2 (1987), Salamander (1987) and Gradius - Gofer no Yabou - Episode II (1988), a sequel to arcade's Gradius II - Gofer no Yabou (Gofer's Ambition, 1988).
The star fighters are also different from the games. For example, the Vic Viper model has a single fin design in the games, while the ships sport double fins on the OVA. Lord British has single fin and single front edge, just like in the games. The double fin design of the Vic Vipers on the OVA is from the Alpine model, which appears much later on arcade's 3D game Solar Assault Gradius (1997). MSX's Gradius 2 starfighter Metalion had two fins, but single front edges instead.
The Salamander OVA contains examples of:
- Adaptation Distillation - An extremely loose and abridged adaptation of Salamander, Gradius, and Gradius II. Salamander in particular seems to be somewhat more influenced by the Famicom Salamander/NES Lifeforce than by the original arcade.
- Animated Adaptation - of not just Salamander itself, but Gradius and Gradius II as well.
- Armor-Piercing Slap - Stephanie delivers a well-deserved one to Lord British in part 1. Not only is it just the thing to get his head out of his ass, but since he'd never been struck before, he actually falls in love with her for it.
- Cannot Spit It Out - Despite all of Dan's preparations in Part 3, Lord British is still too shy to actually propose to Stephanie. He was in the middle of trying to tell her though, right before she got captured.
- Changed My Mind, Kid - Eddie bitterly turns his back on the plight of Latis about halfway through part 1, but then flies into the Salamander fortress at the last minute to come and save his comrades.
- Did Not Get the Girl - A bittersweet ending to part 3. Lord British gives up on proposing to Stephanie, convinced that she and Dan form a much better couple. He's not too sad over it though, as he laughs and tells his attendants he is confident he'll find someone else.
- The Exile - Eddie is revealed late into part 1 to have descended from Latis's original royal family. Due to some sort of misunderstanding, there was a coup and his family was exiled away. Eddie deeply resents the current royal house for that decision and carries a bitter grudge against it. To give him credit, he was willing to put that aside and come to Latis to help Lord British, but refuses after he sees both the ruins of his old home and the prince's behavior, stating that he is, after all, technically banned from the planet.
- In the end, however, his Heroic Sacrifice convinces Lord British to declare him a hero, restore his family's good name, and allow any remaining family members to return.
- Heroic Sacrifice - The only way to destroy the dragon inside the Salamander Fortress, as it turns out, is from within its own stomach, even though this is guaranteed death. Eddy volunteers to do the deed, saving their companions and all of Latis in the process.
- No Export for You - The series never saw the light of day outside of Japan, and there are no known english dubs. However, subtitled versions of all three episodes can be found on Youtube.
- Original Video Animation - One of Konami's first.
- Redemption Equals Death - Presented in an odd way with Eddy. Only in the prequel part 2 are they seen to have foolishly ignored the orders of their superiors on a hunch, illegally removing a person authorities knew little about from quarantine and allowing the bacterion to invade Gradius. Thus, retroactively, their sacrifice in part 1 can be seen as an attempt to make amends.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something - The prince of Latis, Lord British. He owns and is not afraid to use his personal starfighter to assist the Gradius pilots, although it takes some doing at first to get his cooperation and friendship.
- What an Idiot! - Lord British throughout part 1. Even after the superstitious prophecy he refuses to believe in comes true, he still considers his high priest to be just a bumbling old fool and throws a fit when the man contacts Gradius for help. Also, when the Gradius pilots urge him to run his pilots through training simulations based on the imagery and specifications they collect on Salamander, he completely ignores them and sends his pilots straight to the fortress. After showing the pilots get mercilessly skewered by the first level of the game, the anime immediately cuts to Stephanie slapping him across the face for being such a moron.