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With: (voices) Michael Dobson, Moneca Stori, Doug Abrahams, Colin Murdock
Written by: Mamoru Oshii
Directed by: Hiroyuki Okiura
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 102
Date: 11/17/1999

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (2001)

3 Stars (out of 4)

How Will the Wolf Survive?

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade is beautiful but baffling, exciting but incoherent. Written by Mamoru Oshii and directed by Hiroyuki Okiura, both of Ghost in the Shell fame, Jin-Roh begins in an alternate-reality Tokyo in which the Nazis won World War II. As near as I can tell, the Germans have left the city teeming with active terrorist groups opposed by other, counter-terrorist groups. Though I was able to follow the straight-ahead events presented onscreen, I found the backstory confusing. I couldn't make out which agency was good and which was evil, not to mention that there seem to be more than two. Of course, as a colleague reminded me after the screening, all government agencies are evil. Maybe I tried too hard. In any case, it's a refreshing change from the paint-by-numbers story of Final Fantasy.

Our hero is the stoic Kazuki (voiced by Michael Dobson), a Capital Police officer and member of the Wolf Brigade, one of the counter-terrorist groups, who wears a frightening Darth Vader-like suit with glowing red eyes. During a patrol, Kazuki chases a young girl, a "red riding hood" who smuggles bombs to guerrilla fighters, and corners her in a dark, dank alley. Just before pulling the trigger, he hesitates, and she triggers her bomb, instantly killing herself and nearly taking out Kazuki as well. The event leaves Kazuki shaken, and his superiors remove him from duty and force him to re-take basic training. During a low moment he visits the girl's grave, only to find her sister Kei (voiced by Moneca Stori) there. The two form a kind of bond, though we find out later that Kei also works for a secret government organization.

Most of the anime I've seen does not adhere to the same standards as traditional Disney animation. Disney concerns itself with "stretch and squash," i.e. fluid, realistic movements. Anime forgoes that for a slightly clunky look, but makes up for it with awe-inspiring depth, detail, vision and atmosphere. Anime carries us away, takes us directly into these dark worlds without the pesky confines of "real life." Indeed, much anime is concerned with darkness, futuristic madness and unreal shenanigans, many of these as a reaction to the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings. This desperate, mad setting where survival, wits and strength come before materialism and escape must appeal to its worldwide cult following. Anime also allows for far more brutal acts of violence than live action does, and sex becomes more acceptable as well (though Jin-Roh doesn't offer much of that).

Jin-Roh sets itself apart by its use of the original, gruesome "Little Red Riding Hood" tale (Kazuki and Kei read the story to each other offscreen throughout the movie). Though it fails to connect completely, this blend of fairy tale and horrific post-war scenario makes Jin-Roh something of a landmark for anime fans, and a fascinating way in for first-timers.

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