Black Magic M-66

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“Aliens meets The Terminator in a brisk, head-on collision.”

Shirow has certainly done his fair share of anime works that are regarded as classics – his best-known creation is probably Appleseed. This is from relatively early in his career; indeed, coming out in 1991 made it one of the first anime to be ‘properly’ distributed in the West [and, by that, I mean subtitled and not cut down for a child audience]. It centers on the titular pair of military androids, who are released after their transport craft goes down in the middle of a forest. The army cordon off the area, which draws the attention of Sybel (Sakakibara), a reporter, unwilling to let anything stand in the way of her story. She witnesses a hellacious fire-fight in which one ‘droid is destroyed, while the other escapes, and discovers the goal for the android is to kill the inventor’s young grand-daughter, Ferris. As the only person who knows the current location of the daughter, it’s up to her to save the child.

Barely half the length of an average movie, this fairly gallops along, towards an extended climax in a high-rise block, where Sybel is the only thing left standing between the relentless robot and its target. This is when the film is at is best, with action sequences that wouldn’t shame most Hollywood action movies. Less successful – in fact, basically absent (admittedly, no real surprise given the running time) – is any real effort at developing the characters. We know Sybel is focused, because she leaves her apartment with her camera, yet forgets to put on clothes. That’s about the extent of it, and she is the best-served of anyone in the film; Ferris, for instance, does little but squeal in an irritating manner. It’s also a product of its time: originally made in 1987, animation has changed radically in the more than two decades since, and the style now looks somewhat clunky, especially when it tries to simulate camera movement.

Still, the storyline holds up nicely, and given America’s fondness for remaking Japanese genre films, one wonders why they haven’t bothered to mine the animation vaults further [though Speed Racer probably acts as a good counter-argument!]. It’d certainly be very easy to see this as a James Cameron movie.

Dir: Masamune Shirow
Star (voice): Yoshiko Sakakibara, Shinji Ogawa, Yû Mizushima, Chisa Yokoyama

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