Venus Wars, The
Well, this is nice. I was beginning to worry, with the number of negative or "it wasn't as bad I feared" reviews, that people were going to think I simply hated anime in general. And then along comes something like this; a clunky, simplistic, faded anime that has the redeeming feature of actually being pretty damn fine.
The setting is Venus, which is convenient for the title, in the year 2093 (ish). This planet was going to be the glorious new home of mankind, a new frontier and a land of endless opportunity. Sadly a collision with an ice planet has left a battered atmosphere, deserts and acid seas. And in such an environment people have become tough, harsh and bitter. And the two surviving states keep a wary and hostile eye on the resources and military power of the other. It's a rough, rusty and violent environment...although there are still some who dream of better days.
We enter the story as a reporter from earth, on Venus to get the real scoop, watches the most popular sport on Venus. The heroes being the killer commando's (I know, sucks eh?) and the sport being a sort of combat motorcycle racing. There's no weapons as such, but interference with other riders is expected and crashes and fatalities simply part of the spectacle. However both the reporters drink and the teams game are interrupted when enemy tanks start falling from the sky. It's war, and the city our motorcycle gang calls home is easily defeated. The reporter's delighted and intrigued, the motorcycle gang are young and pissed off. Given their natures it's pretty clear that they're going to get involved in the conflict, on one side or another, or perhaps even just as part of looking after themselves.
In other words it's a full on war movie, a genre not terribly well represented in anime. The invading forces have huge and powerful tanks, the government and bureaucracy have surrendered and now work with the invaders, while guerrilla forces and the leaders in exile plan their counter-strike. It's violent, it's deadly serious and heavy casualties are expected. And young people like the racing team we follow are likely to be out on the front line.
However it is both more simple and more complex than that. Simple because the story is sort of simplistic and ambiguous. And clever for exactly the same reason. The biker group, especially the main character Hiro, don't particularly like their own government anymore than they like the invaders. And while they're brave enough in their own way they're also smart enough (in general) to know that keeping their heads down is a good move. After all, it's not like their own government valued them much or expects anything of them. But in the end, like it or not, the restrictions on their freedom lead them to become involved.
Another nice touch is that, even at this point, there is a nice maintenance of reality. They don't suddenly become national loyalists, they don't become hero's of the people, they don't gain super-powers or phenomenal luck and they do take losses. It's nice in many ways, and it leads to some quite dramatic scenes and a really `grungy' feel to the whole war. Likewise the two sides are not particularly `good' or `evil', sure the invaders started the war and expected victory, but there is really the feeling that the situations could easily have been reversed. Meanwhile the `human' element of war is represented but not over-done as it so often is (although some might find some elements a bit too glossed over).
There is, admittedly, one questionable `nudge' in the leads favor. It just so happens that one of the `rebel' weapons look an awful lot like the bikes they used to race, barring the addition of some unreasonably potent weaponry (there are reasons why the real military prefers tanks over bikes). Still, for a `guerrilla' army it sort of makes sense and it does allow Hiro to play a part in the war. Then again, all the military vehicles have a strange feel to them. They're all very different in their design and very detailed appearance. There's an awful lot of cool design work with a great deal of attention paid to the fine details. And while the weapons are unusual they generally look cool, believable and deadly serious.
In fact the animation is surprisingly good. The opening bike race neatly prepared me to expect the worse. It had blocky coloring, jumpy motion and fairly archaic looking character designs. However once it settles down, and moves into the military stuff there's some lovely animation. It's dramatic, interestingly staged and using the environment as part of the action. It's high tech and cool while at the same time being grungy and low-tech. This is a pretty long film, but there was enough action to keep me entertained, and the attention to detail, even in motion, is impressive. On the down side I saw the film subbed, and while it's not bad there are a couple of actors (most seriously the two lead females) who let the side down. And since they get some of the more dramatic lines it's quite a shame. There was some music which had aged, but it was still alright and not over-used. Interestingly there was also some use of `live' backgrounds at two points in the film. Like a lot of computer graphics it completely failed to `merge' with the cell animation and looked awful.