The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

First Squad: The Moment of Truth

Title: First Squad: The Moment of Truth
Genre: Action
Company: Studio 4°C
Format: Movie; 59 minutes.
Dates: 13 May 2009

Synopsis: In the midst of World War II, Nadya and four others have been recruited into the First Squad, a special division of the Russian army focused on paranormal warfare. After her new friends are killed in a raid, Nadya narrowly escapes an attack, surviving but losing her memories. She has a dream of a medieval knight killing a Russian soldier during a Moment of Truth, a moment where the course of history depends on one individual. The knight is the leader of the 13th century army that the Germans are planning to revive with a magic sword and only Nadya, with the support of her dead comrades, can stop the coming zombie army.

The Highlights
Characters: Bland.
Action: Count the clichés!
Plot: More convenient than the Kwik-E-Mart.
Animation: The only thing done well.

It’s obvious from the beginning that this is no historical drama. Perhaps it was the twin blond female German agents in tight leather jackets that gave it away. Or perhaps it was the Russian soldier being beheaded by a knight on horseback. The backdrop of World War II here is more of an excuse to build an action oriented narrative on a foundation people are already familiar with, so that it needn’t be explained. That in itself would be fine, if it was indeed a tale worth telling. Unfortunately it isn’t.

The film is a collaboration between Russian writers and Japanese animators and features voice acting in Russian. It seems in their enthusiasm to work together, the two groups forgot they needed a good story. Setting aside the ridiculousness of the premise, it could still be enjoyable if it was well written, but it seems that the writers simply tried to squeeze in every action movie cliché they could think of. Trying to get over a drawbridge before it’s raised? Check. Attack that causes the main character to develop amnesia? Check. Being surrounded on a bridge and jumping onto a passing train? Check. In between the predictable action sequences are blocks of exposition where characters who know everything explain to Nadya exactly what she has to do. This plot reeks of convenience, as characters show up right on queue and Nadya suddenly appears exactly where she needs to be.

The characters themselves are less than bland, with absolutely none of them having any kind of personality. The movie tries to give us peeks at Nadya’s missing past, but it’s not enough to establish relationships beyond a rudimentary level. I simply couldn’t care less about these characters. They seemed to be doing things mechanically, without motivation. Up against them is a villain whose objective is simply “revenge” in a world containing magic that is never properly established. Flat voice acting performances don’t help and this lack of connection to the characters makes the actions scenes feel hollow.

The one thing this film does have going for it is the animation. It’s obvious a lot of effort went into it and it looks great. The colours and sharp lines suit the Russian winter setting and the computer effects are well blended with the traditional animation. The film begins with an awesome opening sequence paired with excellent music, but that is the only part of the film worth seeing. I am left wondering why the creators chose to squeeze everything into just an hour, which seems exceptionally short for a movie with a theatrical release. This story would have benefited immensely from more time to establish the characters and world it centres around. While the ending is left open, I hope there won’t be any magic sword to revive this for a sequel.

The Rating: 3

Reviewed by: Kaikyaku

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