I can’t think of a cinematic genre that is as widely inconsistent to me as Japanese anime. Much of what I have seen from the wildly popular form of animation fails to impress me. On the other, the films of Hayao Miyazaki rank among the very best of the old Disney classics. I had two roommates in college who sort of introduced me to anime. When I say sort of introduced me, I mean that they would bring films home and watch them while I would grab something from the kitchen and glance at the screen for a few seconds to see what they were watching. It was the first time I was made aware of how popular the genre is and it seems to have gained in popularity over the years in the United States. Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade is one of the few films that has distinguished itself from the vast ocean of anime out there. Its a film that was well-regarded upon its initial release and it has attained a sort of cult following among anime fans. I finally got around to watching it and although its nowhere near the quality of a Miyazaki movie, its better than the majority of anime I have seen thus far. Still, the movie’s flaws overcome many of its qualities in the end, which is why I give it an average rating.

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade is set in an alternative past of Japanese history. After Japan has rebuilt itself from the effects of an atomic bomb, it falls into social strife with anti-government protestors taking on the government establishment and its police forces. Our main character (Kazuki) is a member of a special operations elite force thats specially trained to take on the anti-government forces. The movie opens with the protestors planning to bomb a densely populated area of Tokyo. They use a girl who’s referred to as a ‘Red Riding Hood’ to detonate the bomb (she’s basically a suicide bomber). The elite force, known as The Special Unit, knows about this and hunts down the protestors with the intention of stopping the bomb before it goes off. Kazuki finds the girl/suicide bomber, but he’s reluctant to shoot her so other members of his force shoot her down. The incident haunts Kazuki and we spend a large portion of the film watching him deal with the images of the girl being gunned down. Then one day he meets a girl (Kei) on the street who looks exactly like the girl he killed. The two develop a relationship, but its complicated by political events taking place in the background that involve Kazuki and Kei.

I was initially struck by how beautiful and intricate the world of alternate 1950s Japan looks here. You can tell the filmmakers took a lot of time and care creating this world which certainly adds to the realism of the story. However, I wish that more of the background history was incorporated into the story than what we get. The history provides a perfect setup for an epic showdown between government forces and anti-government protestors. We see this in the first 10 minutes of the movie, but unfortunately, instead of exploring this tension further the story scales down to Kazuki and Kei’s story for the remainder of the film.

I didn’t really have a problem with the plot. Its not the story I would have told given the background history, but it nonetheless offers an interesting narrative that contains cool surprises. The main issue I have with the story, which is also the issue I have with the overall film, is its pacing. I wasn’t able to sit through the movie in 1 sitting because I found myself constantly checking to see how much time was left before the movie ended. Every scene is long and drawn out and there are many moments where the characters just stand around and watch the sky or some far off object seemingly forever. Another problem with the film is its anti-climactic ending. We reach a surprise twist in the story that sets up the explosive finale. The ending is somewhat exciting, but it not only ends too soon, but it gets resolved too easily. By then we know Kazuki is supposed to be a pretty bad-ass elite agent, but his termination of the bad guys occurs without a hitch. The film takes awhile setting up Kazuki’s nemesis and I was expecting him to be a formidable opponent, but in the end he gets his ass kicked quickly. The film does redeem itself in the very end where Kazuki must decide what to do with Kei. Its an emotional moment whose resolution is not what you might expect or want.

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade stands apart from many anime films I have seen, but even that wasn’t enough to make me put in high regard. Its a beautiful looking movie that contains a very good music score and that sets up a nice premise and even a pretty decent plot. It falls apart in its execution, which can mostly be blamed on its extremely slow, languid pace. The first 10 minutes of the movie do a good job of drawing you into the film, but its unable to maintain that momentum. In the end I got something that wasn’t entirely bad, but it could and should have been something far better.

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