The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade

Title: Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade
Genre: Drama
Company: Production I.G
Format: Movie, 101 minutes.
Date: 6 Oct 1998

Synopsis: Ten years after its defeat to Germany in World War II, Japan began to pull itself together through aggressive economic growth policies. However, it resulted in severe destitution, unemployment and violent crime outbreak, and it also led to the formation of anti-government groups and a terrorist body known as “The Sect”, all aiming to reform the country by force. In response, the government formed a paramilitary force named Capital Police to restore peace through extreme means. Fuse Kazuki is one of the Capital Police officers who hesitated to kill a young girl carrying a satchel charge, botching the mission when she committed suicide by detonating it. Remorsed and confused, his life changed when a girl named Kei came into his life, claiming to be the victim’s older sister.

The Highlights
Aesthetics: Consistent quality and fluid animation for an old movie.
Ambiance: Subdued and tense; suits the story like a glove.
Story: Intricate and politically driven; characters only serve as drivers to propel plot.
Characters: Chess pieces of the story; emotionally mute.
Theme: Creative use of the “Little Red Riding Hood” story, but the references are overkill.

Shows like Ghost in the Shell(1,2) and Angel’s Egg are testaments to Oshii Mamoru‘s penchant for making intricate plot-driven stories. Jin-Roh, one of his earlier works, is another prime example of his trademark writing style that intensely focuses on story development and throwing curveballs. The slow pacing and thickening plot makes the movie engaging, and the 1950s social unrest backdrop renders it profound and plausible. Yet it also demonstrates shallow characterization, which is also synonymous with his works. It is usually hard to emotionally connect with his characters, since his works are set pieces that use characters merely as plot drivers to drive the story forward. Only protagonist Fuse is at the receiving end as far as building characters is concerned, since the story closely follows his journey of guilt and redemption after a traumatic incident.

Characterization may not be one of its strongest points, but the use of references is certainly one of them. It cleverly utilizes historical and political agendas as the dominant theme for its storyline, but the overarching material is about the metaphoric comparison of Fuse and Kei’s relationship to that of the Big Bad Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood in the timeless fairy tale of the same name. It cleverly defines its own version of a subjectively intepreted fable, and coherently ties it to the conflicting bond that binds Fuse and Kei together. The metaphoric reference puts the two characters under a unique perspective, viewing them as wolf and human not because of natural enmity, but more because of obligation to their respective sides and how sacrifice is imperative in light of loyalty. It would have been perfect if only there are less explicit signs to tell the viewers about the references.

What also makes the intrigue and plot development work is the overall ambience. It is deliberately mute and heavy to portray the intensity and seriousness of the show’s premises, and also to portray the sense of uneasiness in a time of turmoil. Furthermore, the occasional philharmonic orchestral music amplifies the effect during climatic scenes in timely fashion, and it involves none other than the brilliant Kanno Yoko, a staple name when it comes to composing memorable music in the anime industry. Finally, the movie boasts fluid rendering and consistent quality through painstaking hand-painting of every cel, a testament of superior animation even when it is produced more than a decade ago.

Jin-Roh is a bleak tale of deceit and loyalty, and it exploits a game of wit to render itself thought-provoking and absorbing. Oshii has once again shown why plot remains to be one of the essential components of a great anime by emphasizing deliberately slow development and building it up all the way to the climax. Emotionally inept characters and excessive fairy tale references pulls the movie down a notch, but there is no denying how this is still one unforgettable movie. For those who are looking for something dark, gritty and raw, this is one strongly recommended piece of work. Fairy tales normally have a good ending, but this is one instance that challenges that norm and shows why the real-world isn’t as pretty as you wish.

The Rating: 8

Reviewed by: AC

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