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Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (1998)

January 26, 2011

7/10 Bad Dogs

Jam-packed with promise, but still too complex for its own good.

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade takes place in an alternate Tokyo that’s riddled with civil unrest, anti-government protesting and a rogue group of terrorists whose riot bombings forced the military to create a special police unit to eliminate them. So when a corporal in the special unit freezes up in the line of duty, he gets sent back to the training grounds and in turn jeopardizes the unit’s existence. As he works his way back to the top and builds an unlikely relationship with the twin sister of a terrorist he couldn’t bring himself to kill, he finds himself caught up in a web of double- and triple-crosses that are gunning to make him a scapegoat and wipe out his unit for good.

Folks, thank God for Wikipedia because it took me forever to come up with that synopsis. Gave this one my full, undivided attention, thought I’d be able to follow it like a pro since it’d been a good seven years or so since I was first introduced to Jin-Roh, but as I secretly expected, I was barely keeping my head above water. Then again, I probably shouldn’t be all too surprised by that since this is Mamoru Oshii we’re dealing with, and if there’s one thing anyone knows about Mamoru Oshii it’s that the dude never keeps things simple.

Over the course of some thirty-odd years, Oshii gained his reputation as an anime legend after writing and directing Ghost in the Shell, its outrageously confusing and awfully badass sequel, the Patlabor movies and a handful of other heavyweights that most people will probably never see because they’re not a 14-year-old Asian shut-in. Nothing against 14-year-old Asian shut-ins being that I more or less doubled as one during my studlier years in High School, but if for some reason you ever get the overwhelming urge to geek out on anime and throw your social reputation to the wind, you’ll quickly find your way to Oshii.

And a lot of what he’s always done well is very much on display here.

As an action movie, it’s definitely got its moments. Our protagonist comes in the form a military badass named Kazuki Fuse, and even though he might not have the balls to off grenade-toting little girls at point blank range (an admirable quality if there ever was one), he’s more or less the Japanese answer to John Rambo. Whether he’s unarmed and walking into a trap set by dozens of trigger-happy government agents who are all waiting around to train those crosshairs on his forehead, or if he’s hunting rebels in the sewers with his Helghast armor on and lugging around a machine gun the size of a 14-year-old Asian shut-in, the dude is a boss and he tears shit up. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of time devoted to him doing what he does best in this regard, but the few scenes we’re treated do are quite choice indeed.

So that’s all good, but the anchor here really is the story. Well, it’s actually more like two parallel stories being told at the same time, the first of which being that whole clustercuss of political and military backstabbing that kicks off with Fuse screwing the pooch and the girl he starts hanging out with, and the second is that of Little Red Riding Hood. The connection between the two comes in the form of a rumored military unit called The Wolf Brigade that’s said to be secretly connected to the good guys, the bad guys and everyone in between, and then there are those grenade-toting terrorist girls who carry their wares in satchels and dress the part of Red Riding Hood herself. As the plot progresses and things start to become clearer, Fuse continues to narrate the role of The Big Bad Wolf and his new main squeeze reads off Red’s lines until those teeth come out and someone gets eaten.

I hope I’ve done a decent job of explaining how it all plays out, but it’s very cool, it’s very original and it totally works. It’s actually the most helpful tool you’ve got to follow along since breaking down the main story line is like solving a Rubiks cube while blindfolded at certain points.

As for the characters, they’re fine and the relationships among them seem to exist at best, but it takes a long time for their true colors to finally come out. Although they do look good throughout and the animation here is awfully fluid to boot. And how about those military supersuits, huh? Creepy shit. No wonder the folks behind Killzone jumped on that bandwagon.

So it’s easy to admire what this movie is going for and a lot of what it lays on the table does in fact work really well, but it’s also not enough to warrant the handful of extra viewings that I’d need to fully understand all the ins and outs. Jin-Roh isn’t the most accessible anime movie out there, but for the challenge it presents, the payoff is ultimately pretty solid for those who can stay on the level. And even if you get lost along the way, it’s still awfully easy on the eyes and that whole Little Red Riding Hood dynamic is pretty effing sweet.

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