In the first of a new running series, resident Anime fanboy Matt takes a nostalgic look back at the golden era of Anime – circa late 1980’s to mid 1990’s – beginning this week with the first Anime he ever purchased.
by Matt Lambourne (@Matt_Labourne)
Here at Failed Critics, we love a good animated movie. The team have declared their love and admiration for the likes of DreamWorks and Studio Ghibli on numerous occasions and rightly so. Some of the greatest movies of all time have been animated feature films. The only downside is that many of these are either aimed at children, or appeal to the more gentle side of our nature as viewers. However, Japanese Anime unlocks a proverbial Pandora’s box into sides of the human psyche that few directors and script writers dare to explore.
The repressed darkness, ultra violent and downright too far-out imaginings of a select few animators all got their rallying cry during the golden age of adult anime in the late 80’s-early 90’s and we’ll be celebrating as many as we can, revisiting the halcyon days of Adultimation.
The first film to go under the microscope is Venus Wars, originally released in 1989. The film takes place in the late 21st century as Earth has terraformed and emigrated to Venus in the hope of a better life. However, the new frontier is dominated by 2 warring nations, Aphrodia and Ishtar, and all hopes for a better tomorrow are sunk into all-out war.
The film’s central protagonist, Hiro, is a hot-shot biker who captains the Killer Commandos in a Rollerball-esque deathrace team motorcycle sport. The film opens to a spectacular crash & burn race whereby the Killer Commandos of Aphrodia are about to seal victory in their latest race just as the aid raid sirens sound and the Ishtarian invasion begins.
It seemed rather apt to choose to review this movie now given the WWI centenary and the current struggles in Gaza. Venus Wars isn’t an all-out action blaster following skirmishes in global war, it’s actually about the psychological effect of occupation on a distrusting and enraged youth. It’s this theme that stops the film from slipping into being just another run of the mill War film.
Hiro, who feels betrayed by his own government and refuses to accept dominion by the occupying Ishtar forces, rallies his fellow Killer Commandos to strike against an Ishtar outpost that has made home in their racing stadium. With all the pent up rage and zealous youthful enthusiasm they attack a Tank via their Mono-bikes with some light weaponry. Naturally disaster strikes as members of the team are slaughtered as their ill-conceived plans go awry.
Hiro is able to take down the tank in spectacular fashion using a crane to smash it almost like the fist of a giant robot. However, he and his team are captured by a legitimate rebel force (The Hounds) that also had plans to attack the Ishtar outpost at the Stadium. Hiro is recruited into the Hounds reluctantly in exchange for the release of his comrades and eventually pilots a heavily armed mono-bike into the crucial end of movie battle.
The action is satisfying and it has one of the better soundtracks in an Anime I’ve ever listened to with a good balance of dramatic orchestra and exhilarating J-Rock riffs that keep tempo with the on-screen action. The best aspect of Venus Wars isn’t the action, it’s the focus on the relationships between the idealistic youth and the corrupt adults and how people exploit war for their own benefit.
Aphrodia is portrayed as a weak and measly country with no backbone (almost akin to WWII France by stereotype) and Ishtar is very much the all conquering Nazi Germany; even their general has a German name (Gerhard Donner)! It’s a film that can be casually enjoyed by anyone at face value, but might stir emotion in anyone who has endured occupation of their homeland and the desire to resist is a powerful one.
Venus Wars is a very ambitious movie that had a lot to live up to, coming out on the back of the release of the mighty Akira. Whilst not quite being on the monumental level of the former, it ultimately succeeds in keeping up the momentum of the genre as it broke strongly into a Western audience.
Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s adaptation of his own manga series is probably a more relevant story today than it was when it was first released. Its similarity to the current Israel/Palestine conflict cannot be ignored and whatever side of the fence you choose to throw your metaphorical hat onto in that dilemma, you’ll find some admiration for the immeasurable human spirit to continue to fight against all odds, as is so entertainingly portrayed in this movie.