Saturday, 14 December 2019

Wicked City (1987)

























Or 'Supernatural Beast City' as it's known in Japan was another creation by Hideyuki Kikuchi (of Vampire Hunter D fame). This anime is based on Kikuchi's six novel series called 'Black Guard'. Funnily enough this anime movie was also directed by 'Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust' director Yoshiaki Kawajiri and animated by Japanese animation studio Madhouse. The team works, if it ain't broke don't fix it.

So what's it all about? Well I kinda think of this as an early adult version of 'Men In Black' (possibly a strong influence of said movie). Basically towards the end of the 20th-century humans coexist with another dimension that is inhabited by supernatural demons called 'Black World'. This other dimension is only known to the select few, it's a top-secret kept from the general public and is policed by a secret organisation of special agents (on both sides) called Black Watch.

The two worlds coexist via a peace treaty which is due to be renewed between the two sides. Unfortunately a militant group of demon radicals from Black World want to stop the treaty for their own nefarious purposes. So on the human side, agent Renzaburõ Taki, and on the demon side, agent Makie, are both assigned to protect the treaty signatory in Tokyo.

Now to say this movie has a sexual element combined with an element of body horror would be an understatement. This was one of the first anime movies I remember seeing as a young teen purely for one thing, the first sex scene between the protagonist and a Black World radical in human form. Sounds normal, allow me to explain. For starters this sex scene is pretty in-depth all things considered, certainly an eye-opener for newbies to the genre. Anywho the real shocker comes from the girl who transforms into a spider-like humanoid with spider-like limbs (no hands) and a tooth laden vagina...yup. But wait, I'm not done. Not only that, but she walks on all fours like some kind of quadrupedal posessed horror movie nightmare and she shoots webbing out from said tooth laden vagina...yeah. She then proceeds to try and bite off Taki's junk with her vagina (for fecks sake!).

So there's that character. Throughout the movie there are various other Black World demons we come across which also serve up some rather gruesome visuals. Two radicals again attack Taki at the airport. One appears to have tentacles growing from his torso. He gets his head shot off which then proceeds to grow smaller tentacles and walk on its own in a spider-like fashion. Yes I too immediately thought of 'John Carpenter's The Thing'. The other radical seemed to have a huge tooth laden maw in his chest. Later on we see the treaty signatory almost absorbed into another female radical body in yet another sex sequence. Another female radical with mind control powers and a huge vagina-like opening in her chest (talk about subtext!). And the main antagonist of the story turns out to be your typical tentacle sprouting demon with a rock-like humanoid skin which he/it eventually sheds to reveal a more terrifying toothy monster.

Remember when I mentioned a sexual element? Yep well get ready because there is also two (yes two) full-blown animated rape sequences in here too. Firstly Makie is captured by a huge slimy snake-like slug demon which coils around her (she's also naked), and then proceeds to literally f*ck her mouth with its rather phallic-looking tongue...ahem! Then later on poor old Makie is captured, restrained and strung up by the wrists, and then thoroughly gang-raped by two Black World radicals. It does tend to come across as if the character of Makie is more of a fetish implement than anything. I know about the Japanese and their love of tentacles, schoolgirl uniforms and whatnot.

I think one thing that does stand out to me is the fact that no one is ever around in this movie. Tokyo is often empty. Narita airport was empty. Every battle never seems to raise any alarm from anyone or alert any police no matter where it takes place. One action sequence takes place inside a long tunnel for cars yet there are no other cars to be seen, no other humans, no traffic nothing. I know its a minor silly gripe but it did stand to me. The same can be said about the often seen 'frozen face' thing with anime movies. By that I mean the fact that you get loads (and I mean loads) of close-up shots of characters faces that are almost frozen, no movement.

I should also point out another often seen trope in anime movies, and that's the wise old man character. In many anime movies I've seen there is often an aged wise old man character (sometimes a bad guy) who is usually very small, sometimes fat but usually skinny, ugly, troll-like almost, and usually the comedic relief. Often these characters also tend to look more cartoony in appearance than the other main characters. In 'Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust' there was the Dungeon Master-like character who led the Barbarois. In 'Ninja Scroll' there was the character of Dakuan. And here in 'Wicked City' there is the treaty signatory Giuseppe Mayart. A Yoda-like character who, like Dakuan from 'Ninja Scroll', harbours secret powers and skills.

Anyway whilst the overall plot is very simple I did find the ending somewhat baffling. Taki and Makie both face off against Shadow the villain but are finding it tough going. Even the wise old Mayart is having trouble. But low and behold Makie is able to land the final blow because...she is pregnant? Yep by this point Makie is expecting a (half-human) child with Taki and that has increased her powers (remember she is a demon from the Black World). Not sure why but there you go. Apparently this was the crafty plan all along by both parties of Black Watch and all overseen by undercover Black World agent Mayart. Taki and Makie are perfect for each other. To create the perfect half-human half-demon...person...who will ensure everlasting peace between the two dimensions, somehow. So I guess its a John Connor scenario?

This is definitely one of the more surreal anime movies I've seen, but it wasn't unpleasant (apart from the spider-woman). If anything the movie draws you in with morbid curiosity to see what crops up next. The sexual undercurrent throughout is both disturbing and again engaging I can't deny. Watching a huge wet slimy slippery snake-like creature have its wicked way with the highly attractive female lead is something you can't look away from even though you know it's not supposed to be good (I think, can't tell with these anime/manga franchises as we all know the original lure way back was the animated sex and violence).

Again the animation is top banana. Slick and smooth as butter with, I think, the odd touch of CGI? Yes the story is cliched, the main characters aren't too original, and many of the Black World demons are, by today's standards, a bit derivative (obviously so in some cases). But the sheer explicitness of the movie is admittedly a draw. This is one of those animes that does live up to the adult rating hype that you might recall from back in the day. Oh and yes it does have yet another one of those crappy Japanese songs over the end credits that sounds like a karaoke recording.

7/10

Monday, 9 December 2019

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000)



Due to the popularity of the original 1985 anime movie the fans wanted another D flick, a sequel. So with that in mind, over then years later, director Yoshiaki Kawajiri went about planning a follow-up that would be based on the third book in original creator Hideyuki Kikuchi's book series.

So what's happening this time? Well nothing much has changed actually. The year is 12,090 AD and vampires still rule the Earth with their technology and supernatural powers. Nonetheless our good-looking fearless half-breed vampire hunter D is still at it, still tracking down and killing the undead. But would you Adam and Eve it! Another silly girl has gotten herself kidnapped by one of these pesky bloodsuckers. A vampire nobleman named Meier Link has, supposedly, run off with Charlotte. Her father Elbourne hires D to find her and bring her home, or, if she is turned...kill her. So it's another stereotypical plotline again, only this time D has competition from a team of vampire hunters called the Marcus Brothers. Whilst Link hires a team of mutants called the Barbarois.

Now the biggest change here when you see this anime is obviously the visuals. Not that there is anything wrong with the original 1985 look (I personally prefer it), but this 2000 movie is by far a more spectacular offering. The animation was helmed by Japanese animation studio Madhouse Inc. and boy do they nail this. Now I'm no anime expert, in fact I know nothing and have only seen around five anime movies, but for me this was the best-looking anime movie I've seen...bar 'Ninja Scroll'. It's virtually common knowledge that anime looks and moves beautifully and if you ever wanna prove that to someone then show them this movie.



The animation is incredible in this movie. Every shot, every frame, every sequence is like a work of art with loads of details. But apart from the main characters its really everything else that stands out, from major to minor. For example, the animation on D's horse as it gallops looks completely accurate to a real horse. The way D's cape billows and flaps in the wind is perfect. The details on smaller simple bits of scenery like playing cards, mechanics, interior and exterior decoration, garments, weapons etc...are sharp. The composition of Every shot is awe-inspiring, it all looks so good, so epic. And of course the locations/backdrops are far more lavish than before. The dark and gloomy village at the start and the sumptuously gothic looking castle at the end are prime examples of the amounts of detail and design that went into this movie. My simple words do it no justice truth be told but believe when I say there isn't a single part of this movie that doesn't look eye-poppingly good.

As already stated another change this time is the inclusion of a few more characters, mainly the Marcus Brothers. Now these vampire hunters felt a bit cliched to me, your typical anime-type looking characters really. On the other hand they also gave me strong 'Blade II' vibes (although this movie came out before 'Blade II'). But yeah you have the huge hulking male Nolt with a huge hulking axe weapon. The feisty female Leila. Skinny guy Kyle who is good at throwing blades. A malnourished looking disabled psychic called Grove. And their leader Borgoff who looks like a typical samurai type bloke chompin' on a cigar. They also drive around in this armoured tank thing that looks like it's been borrowed from 'Mad Max 2'.

Still, the Marcus brothers are solid bunch of characters that offer more than the main antagonist or his wannabe bride. Alas Meier Link doesn't really give us much and merely comes across like a horny emo teen trying to have his way with a young girl (didn't really like his design either. What's with the hair beads?). He wants her but doesn't want to drag her into his undead world, kinda cliche. If you want the girl just bite her and be done with it. As for Link's obsession Charlotte Elbourne, she does nothing for the entire movie, virtually lifeless. She is merely a walking plot device for Link, D, and the brothers. It's not really surprising that D and Leila get the best plot narrative when discussing their lives in one recuperation scene.



Despite how good this feature looks and some brilliant action scenes (the first graveyard battle) there are still, for me, negative points that were either unexplained or just plain odd. For example, in an early desert set scene D comes across these gigantic manta-ray-like creatures that seemingly live under the desert dunes but can also fly. They don't do anything, they just emerge from the dunes and fly whilst D uses them like stepping stones across the desert. What was that about?  Then on the Marcus brothers team is Grove, the disabled psychic, but what is his power exactly? He can create a ghostly entity that can...shoot laser beams? There is also still a weird issue with technology in this franchise. People use horses (and carriages) even when vehicles are clearly available. There are also various types of guns around yet the main characters use old fashioned weapons like swords and axes.

Then of course there's the whole storyline of vampires using spaceships (spaceships??) to get to 'the city of the night'  which just felt a bit naff frankly. Is this city on another planet? Is it real or a metaphor for death? I must also mention the added plot twists involving the long-dead vampire ghost Carmilla who roams the castle of Chaythe (where Link is trying to get to and where the spaceship is). I felt she wasn't really needed. Her role and plot twist just seemed to be a twist for the sake of a twist. I felt like that was time that could have been used for D's battle with Link.

This leads me to the mutant Barbarois. Link hired the Barbarois to protect him, he paid them a hundred million Dollars, so Dollars are still a thing then? But this had me thinking, what would mutants living in some underground temple thing want with money? They didn't appear to use any technology, but surely they wouldn't need it with their mutant skills. And once again, as with the first movie, I question how life on Earth got to this point with mutants of such a wide variety of powers. Take Caroline for example, a female who can change into trees and vines etc...basically she's like an X-Men character. I also found the Barbarois leader looked just like a more evil version of the Dungeon Master from 'Dungeons & Dragons'.



The few negatives aside this gothic western fantasy is still one of the best animes I've come across. The quality in the visuals is second to none despite the fact I actually do kinda prefer the more simplistic look of the first movie. But the slicker visuals and animation really boost the action sequences this time; seeing mutant Benge backflip away from view as a string of silver arrows strike the ground. The highly detailed horse-drawn carriage of Link crossing a massive elaborate arch bridge leading to the even more intricately detailed castle Chaythe. Or the staggeringly atmospheric and excellent graveyard battle. Add to that a genuine orchestral score to set the mood and the obligatory graphic violence (with some nudity) which suits this franchise so well.

Call me crazy but I actually prefer the original anime movie over this. Why? I dunno really, I guess the original just has that simplistic charm which warms my cockles. It's like comparing slick modern-day videogame graphics to retro pixel graphics. For me retro pixel graphics win every time, even though I do admire and enjoy slick modern-day graphics. You don't need to have seen the original movie to enjoy this, but I recommend both.

8/10

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Vampire Hunter D (1988)

























Again I'm harking back to my teenage years in the 90's. Back then I had a passing interest in manga/anime which had slowly begun to rear its stylish head in the UK. Typically the slow progression was mainly down to its limited availability and in the UK that meant one place only, Forbidden Plane (and various independent comic stores). This would lead to the occasional discovery of certain anime movies which piqued my interest mainly down to the franchise in question or the often sexy looking box art (and by sexy I mean awesomely good...or sometimes actually kinky).

So me being a bit of a goth and having a love of all things vampiric (amongst other notable classic ghouls), 'Vampire Hunter D' really struck a chord with me. On the one hand, whilst I was intrigued I did find the look of the movie (going by the limited pictures on the case) to be a little off for my liking. Sure it was vampires and big creepy castles etc...but it obviously had that distinct Japanese vibe to it which kinda looked a bit odd. Even to this day it's still a strange combination to see a classic Universal monster mixed into the world of anime. This was also one reason (aside from it being solid) why the movie did so well as it was one of the first, if not the first, anime to cross science-fiction with classic gothic elements. 

So what's it's about? Well its quite simple really. Set in a post-nuclear holocaust world, the year of 12,090 AD, A young attractive girl named Doris (Doris?) is attacked and bitten by a very old and powerful vampire named Count Magnus. A bit later Doris comes across a lone mysterious stranger called D who happens to be a dhampir (half human half vampire). She asks him for help in killing Count Magnus in order to prevent herself from turning into a vampire. What follows is your typical action-based adventure with D basically taking the vampire down and rescuing Doris who inevitably gets kidnapped by the Count.

This anime is based on a 1983 Japanese novel by Hideyuki Kikuchi and it does seemingly require you to read that book first. Why? Well the movie doesn't really explain anything. For example, it is not really explained what happened to Earth and how the nuclear holocaust occurred. This naturally leads to the question of how vampires arose, where did they come from? Are they a mutation of some kind? Turns out that these vampires are also incredibly skilled in science and technology (as well as the obligatory supernatural powers) which led to them ruling over humans so easily for so long. But how did all that happen? Apparently this science and technology (along with supernatural powers) helped the vampires fill this world with mutants, monsters, and of course the undead. But none of that is really delved into. Vampires have also essentially brainwashed humans over the decades into believing that the classic weapons that can be used against vampires, such as crosses, are ineffective. Again things like this are not delved into in the movie.

The same can be said about the protagonist D. We know he is a dhampir (interesting and curious use of Balkan folklore). A half-breed, a daywalker so to speak, but that is all. We aren't given any background information on D. Visually he is tall, slim, elegant, handsome with long flowing hair, dapper looking, seemingly a westerner (as are all anime characters often), and he is armed with a lovely long narrow sword. Oh and his horse is...a cyborg?? He is the archetype of the classic Hollywood lone cowboy who rides into town to clean up the place. In this case the town is a small old fashioned Eastern European styled village. But on top of that D has another unexplained oddity, his left hand seems to be possessed by a demon or symbiote of some kind. This is represented by a demonic-looking face in the palm of his hand that seems to have powers unto itself. In other words his hand can do things like vacuum up things into its mouth (D's palm). But presumably these things aren't going into D's body, or arm, they must be going into some other realm or dimension within the demon/symbiote.

So the plot is full of wild west tropes and cliches, it's essentially a western with vampires. Not a problem but it has to be pointed out, this isn't an original concept. That aside the main plus points obviously revolve around the animation which as you may expect with anime is top notch. Whilst it may not be as good as current anime it's still bloody (no pun intended) good and really gets you in the mood. A scene where vampires and their werewolf minions can be heard approaching the village from a distance is really brilliantly creepy. The generally dark misty ethereal visuals alongside classic gothic visuals are brilliantly conveyed, but admittedly at times typical Japanese anime styles and choices in designs do sit a tad uncomfortably alongside them. The vampire's castle interior isn't quite what I would have expected frankly.

Again being anime there will be blood and gore, hardly unprecedented levels to be honest but there are some great scenes. One scene where D loses his possessed hand and it takes on a life of its own to save D actually reminded me of Sam Riami's iconic horror franchise The Evil Dead. One thing I liked about the gore in this is that it actually felt warranted, for obvious reasons. It didn't feel gratuitous or over the top. That being said there are still some scenes of typical anime nudity which, when I was younger I thought was awesome, now I'm older feels kinda unnecessary. I should also point out that, in typical anime fashion, the soundtrack and score are also pretty dire. Most of it is ugly synthesized stuff that feels completely out of place set against the classically styled visuals. And at the end you get one of those typically horrible Japanese songs which sounds like a cheap tacky karaoke recording.

So yeah, overall this is definitely a very slick package. I mean what more could you want? An ice-cool half-vampire hunting protagonist in the realms of Neo before Neo was even a thing. Gorgeous animation and overall visuals. A solid English voiceover cast (dunno who they are though). And a curious yet fully engaging blend of ideas and themes. Sure it's cliched as hell and basically a western with a fantasy spin, but it works well and most probably helped spawn many other familiar franchises.

8/10