I love the fact that Legend of Kentauros exists. Not because I love the film itself, but more that it’s such a strangely specific work that’s even around in the first place.
An anime film from the mid-80s, it follows the trials and tribulations of motorcycling enthusiast Kenny as he attempts to impress the mysterious Lady, along with the bike gang she rides with – the titular Kentauros. Along the way, he strikes up a rivalry with one of the members, an AWOL American soldier called Crazy Arthur, and starts to follow in the footsteps of his brother in the world of bike racing.
The movie’s an adaptation of the manga Kentauros no Densetsu (written by Osamu Ohtake and drawn by Satomi Mikuriya), which is based on the real-life biking gang Kentauros. In fact, most of the characters from the film are taken directly from real people, including Crazy Arthur, Lady, and the distinctively dressed boss!
There’s something of a real-world mystique from that adaptation of this actual gang which filters into the film, giving them a presence that’s compelling if you’re watching the film and incredibly cool if you did know about Kentauros or just have a passion for motorcycle gangs. If nothing else, it makes for a fascinating anecdote about a movie that’s just as specific in its intentions as its inspirations.
Kentauros is a motorcycle drama, where the characters’ conflicts are brought up and resolved through racing across city streets, highways and circuits. There are scenes dedicated to racing technique, to Kenny’s struggles in pulling off tricky manoeuvres and not wiping out. Everything in the movie builds up to a climax at the local race track, where his brother perished years ago.
On some level, a good deal of personal enjoyment will come from how compelling you find all this. At first, I wasn’t terribly interested and even had a hard time making it halfway through. But for whatever reason, it soon started to click with me. There’s a quiet deliberate pace to the film between the races and duels, letting the atmosphere sink in and characters just breathe for a while. Seeing regular haunts like the café and the local mechanic’s became rather comforting, making me feel at home as much as the characters do.
The finale in particular is backed by this excellently atmospheric build up, as everyone gets ready amidst the rain and has to wait until it subsides enough before they can get going. Those softer scenes make the more dramatic moments hit appropriately harder, with those like Kenny’s near-death dream and the concluding race being especially memorable. The direction is overall quite solid, utilizing contrasts to effectively pace the movie. This is backed up by the sound design: calmer parts are scored with ambient nature and city noise, while most races and emotional scenes are respectively punctuated with insert songs and variations of Lady’s beautifully melancholic theme.
Where the film shines for me is in its visuals. It may not look it at first glance, and I’m not that keen on the character designs, but there’s a lot to admire with some great shot compositions and its nicely coloured if cold background art. The background animation is particularly impressive, both in its execution of having the camera move around the cyclists as they weave past vehicles and each other, and how regularly it’s used despite their inherently time-consuming nature.
In fact, there’s a shot in the finale that is just over a minute of continuous motorcycle and background animation, with the camera following the racers and shifting perspectives seamlessly. It really sells how dangerous yet freeing it is to ride a motorcycle, with the world whizzing past you in a very tangible way. There’s a real passion on display, all in the name of some people riding around on bikes. But for motorcycle enthusiasts, this is serious business: tuning your bike, learning to get better at riding, and the connections you make from that underlying passion.
What Kentauros is doing is to try and present these races and these characters with all the dramatic weight that those enthusiasts already see in it, to convince anyone else of what makes this hobby – this way of life, even – so compelling in the first place. For something so strangely specific as a motorcycle film based on a real Japanese bike gang, where only a few people will end up deeply loving it because of that specificity and commitment, I can’t help but admire Legend of Kentauros.
Back in late 2021, a 4K scan of Kentauros was released, scanned from a 16mm film reel and uploaded thanks to the fine folks at Kineko Video (who have been making headlines recently with their high quality restorations, most notably for the 1986 film “Super Mario Bros. The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach!”).
A lot of fine people worked together from disparate sources to put this release together, and I was fortunate enough to interview two of them for this article:
MartyMcflies/Lonely Chaser Fansubs: Project Manager, acquired the 16mm film reel and edited the audio using the VHS release by Orphan Fansubs
Windii Gitlord: Translator for the film, also transcribed the lyrics for the insert songs and took care of the subtitle timing
MartyMcflies/LonelyChaser Fansubs (@MMcflies)
Can you tell us about yourself?
Marty: 23-year old—retro anime interest began in late middle school years and interest for fansubbing began in high school with an attempt to sub the Lensman movie (of which TSHS and /m/subs helped improve it massively after I finished a considerable amount of progress). I don’t think I was able to really progress much with fansubbing until after I got my first job.
How’d you end up getting the Kentauros film reel used for the restoration?
Marty: Purchased from Yahoo Auctions JP in 2019. I sent the reels over to a guy who shall not be named just for privacy reasons. Had him take care of them since he has a little bit more experience with film than I do.
Had you heard of Kentauros before the auction? What made you purchase the reels?
Marty: I had not heard of it. I have a knack for wanting to create/upload better versions of stuff than what’s available online (you can already see that with the music rips I post), and after seeing that the anime only had a VHS rip online…well, I wanted to take my chances and bought it.
What are things you liked and disliked about the project? [Asked by Beano, a fellow member of Marty’s discord]
Marty: Things I liked: This was the first release I ever did with a film scan, and an interesting project to say the least. Paved the way for future film scan projects.
Things I disliked: Stitching the VHS audio to the film scan. Was a pain in the ass.
Why was stitching the VHS audio to the film scan such a pain?
Marty: To make a long story short, disorganization was to blame for this.
I had already taken the task of attempting to stitch audio from one source to another separate video source many years ago, with the very same Lensman project I mentioned earlier—this was my first ever attempt at this sort of stuff. Was tasked with stitching both the US and JP audio tracks to a (now outdated) earlier version of the project that consisted of a mix between the JP & US LDs for the video sources.
The next time I had to do this again was with my fansub of the Toei Frankenstein TV anime special (“Kyoufu Densetsu – Kaiki! Frankenstein”). Like Lensman, it took some time for me to properly stitch the JP audio to the video source due to me using not one, not two, but THREE different video sources. That one took a lot of work but it was admittedly a bit easier due to my previous experience with the Lensman project.
Was expecting Kentauros to be the same. Nope! Some scenes were astonishingly frustrating to fix, with one scene in particular that wouldn’t match the VHS audio despite the scene being the same length as the VHS version. (Maybe I should have done a video comparison to spot the source of the issue, but alas, I didn’t do that…)
My memory is a bit off on this next one, but I think I was also trying to simultaneously edit multiple vinyl records for a November/December 2021 release on top of doing the audio stitching, hence the “disorganization” I mentioned earlier.
Anyways. After finishing v1 of the audio track, I realized there were scenes that still didn’t match up. Only… I had deleted the OG files, so I had to use v1 as the main base for editing v2. Think I rendered a total of 5 versions (I forgot, but it was def more than 3)
I had to fix the audio track in time for Christmas, and this was after everything was subbed & presumably finished. By updating the audio once more, I had to fix the timing as well.
Is there anything you learned from doing this project that you’d like to take going forward?
[Marty couldn’t think of an answer, but Windii said that he learned he should always ask her for translations]
Windii Gitlord (@girlbossuran)
Can you tell us about yourself?
Windii: Well, I’m known by most as Windii Gitlord. I come from Russia and I first started off in the field of AMV/GMV making. I decided to learn Japanese in 2015 as a way to kill time at a school that I hated and began practicing translating in 2016. I discovered that I’m not so bad at it, so I kept going ever since.
I guess I’m most well-known for translating Japanese cutscenes and dialogue from Sonic games, as it’s something very few people really attempted to do and I wanted more people to learn about the Japanese voice acting and different scripts in those games.
How did you end up becoming the translator? Had you worked with Kineko before this?
Windii: Marty asked me about it and I previously translated an OVA for Kineko (High School Jingi, a 1992 OVA based on the manga by Shuushi Mizuho).
What was it about Kentauros that made you wanna translate it?
Windii: Marty commissioned me. It also looked kind of cool and had an interesting staff and cast. Plus the fact that it was based on a manga which was semi-based on real people and events.
Was there anything particularly difficult that occurred during either the translation or the timing process?
Windii: Only a couple movie-original lines. Most of the manga had the same lines but I had to jump around a lot to find lines I needed because the movie considerably restructures most of the scenes.
When it came to the songs, did you transcribe the lyrics from the album booklet (that one single which came out), or did you have to translate them by ear?
Windii: Marty gave me booklet scans to look at. Timing wasn’t hard either, after doing it for long enough it kinda becomes second nature.
Was there anything you learned or took from the project when you were done?
Windii: I learned that Kentauros is a real group that still exists today. I wonder if any of them saw our remaster. I also learned that I heavily underestimate how long subbing anime movies tends to take.
As an adaptation of the manga, how does the film compare? Apart from the aforementioned reshuffling of events?
Windii: Well, your mileage may vary on the movie’s character designs but it does streamline things and does away with some horniness so that the story flows a little better as a film. It would’ve been nice to get Arthur’s backstory scenes from the manga, but I guess they couldn’t find a way to fit those in without it feeling all clunky and expositional.
EXTRA READING AND VIEWING
Kineko Video’s release of the film, viewable from YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVlpcA8RaNw
A bonus feature from the VHS release of the film, where the boss of the Kentauros gang talks about the gang and the members featured in the film – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O6OnTd8e9r8
A Twitter thread by Marty discussing the film’s release, along with details or facts referenced in this article – https://twitter.com/mmcflies/status/1474852430428852224?lang=en
An endless amount thanks to MartyMcflies and Windii Gitlord for letting me interview them as part of this article.
Special thanks to Beano from Marty’s discord for asking one of the questions in the interview with Marty when I was stuck for ideas.
Special thanks to Windii, Nikorasuuuu, and WOWmd for helping me figure out how to improve the subtitles for the bonus feature linked above.
FrDougal9000 writes for hardcoregaming101.net as Apollo Chungus. When he isn’t writing about video games, he is cultivating his love of animation that’s only increased over the last few years as he’s explored the wide, weird and wonderful world of the medium.