“Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade” is a surprisingly sedate anime feature which offers an emotion rarely found in Japanese animation: monotony. By the standards of the genre, the film is flirting with a DOA status, and it is hard to imagine the advertising claims that the creators of “Akira” and “Ghost in the Shell” were responsible for this work.
Perhaps something got lost in the translation from Japanese to English. Certainly the flavor of the performances are not here: the English version, which is soon opening in American theaters, drones with a careful low level that never strikes a chord or raises it voice. The artwork is quite fine, but the mismatch between some rather striking animation and some painfully dull mumbling vocal performances creates a lopsided film which, like the old lady in the famous cheesy TV commercial, falls down and can’t get up.
The press kit for “Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade” stresses a setting in an alternative past: Tokyo circa 1960, where violent anti-government sects are in constant battle with a special police unit which seems to have purchased its uniforms from Darth Vader’s tailor. If the film does take place in 1960, there is absolutely nothing on screen to suggest that era: fashion, music, automobiles and even the skyline of Tokyo looks suspiciously contemporary.
In any event, “Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade” focuses on Constable Kazuki Fuse, an officer in this special police unit who is part of a brigade flushing out rebels from the sewers. A teenage rebel girl carrying a bomb in a bag is cornered by Fuse in a section of the sewer. Inexplicably, Fuse does not follow police procedure and fire on the girl, and she takes advantage of his hesitation to blow herself up. Fuse’s superiors, not surprisingly, are displeased with his performance…but they cannot follow standard police procedure and sweep the matter under the proverbial carpet since the explosion wound up blacking-out all of Tokyo’s electrical power. While Fuse is reassigned to more police academy training, he uses his spare time to find out the identity of this teenage terrorist and (surprise!) he winds up learning more about himself than he really needed to know.
While it does not help matter to have the central character of Fuse as something of a bore (he is probably the least efficient animated policeman since Officer Dibble chased Top Cat and his feline gang), “Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade” makes the curious mistake of filling the entire cast with characters which are either ciphers or snooze-inducers. Anime fans who can’t get enough of the over-the-top characters which run amok in this genre will find themselves frowning in disbelief at the colorless line-up here. The good guys are no fun, but neither are the bad guys. The only possible fun here is trying to determine which side is less bland.
To its credit, “Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade” occasionally offers some beautifully detailed artwork, especially in the opening riot sequences where chemically spiked Molotov cocktails go flying through the air. The film also presents an intriguing pre-credit sequence which sets up the story in still pictures and ominous narration, a la “La Jetee,” but sadly it never maintains that level of artistry once the plot starts churning.
The press kit for “Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade” shamelessly declares the film to be “the best Japanese animated film since Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘Princes Mononoke’ or Hideaki Anno’s ‘The End of Evangelion.'” To quote an outdated “Saturday Night Live” catchphrase: NOT!!!
“Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade” is among the relatively few anime features to gain a U.S. theatrical release. It is a shame, however, that this film is getting into the theaters while the infinitely superior “Street Fighter Alpha” from earlier in the year was doomed to a straight-to-video release. “Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade” doesn’t deserve straight-to-video, though…it deserves straight-back-to-Tokyo instead.