Animation, for me, has always been a difficult property largely because I’ve always been more of a story guy with visuals coming in somewhat less important. As I’ve found a lot of animation more centered on how its drawn – different styles, different colors, etc. – I’ve caught my mind drifting at times and losing focus of whatever affair I’m watching, and – I assure you – that’s never a good thing. Shows like Gunslinger Girl did tickle my fancy when I found out about them, though I’ve had an uphill battle in locating other programs as equally rich in story as it was its images. I don’t doubt that they’re out there; but if I have to look high and low for similar properties, I’m more inclined to move along and hope something finally drops in my lap.
Lo and behold, Venus Wars arrived in my mailbox the other day.
As one who reads about a lot of film and video, Venus Wars is an entry that’s dropped onto my radar quite a bit over the last ten years. I’ve seen this anime mentioned in a handful of U.S. stories, many times complimenting the feature’s visual style or suggesting it as an inspiration for some other work. Over the years, I’ve worked with a handful of DVD promotional outlets in my tenure reviewing film and home video, but no one’s been able to assist me in obtaining a copy. (I’m not a big fan of streaming; my house has some – argh – wiring issues that interferes with reception.) Thankfully, I overcame that hurdle a few weeks back and have been rewarded for my efforts.
I’ve finally seen Venus Wars … and I loved it …
Well … I loved most of it … but you know the drill …
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging:
“When an ice comet slammed into the planet Venus, terraforming its toxic atmosphere into one capable of sustaining life, mankind’s dream of colonizing other worlds became a reality. Unfortunately for the colonists, Venus isn’t the paradise they’d dreamed of …”
There’s an awful lot more because, essentially, the provided synopsis covers a wealth of backstory: suffice it to say, mankind has come to Venus, and we’ve brought with us the same emotional baggage that sooner or later leads to armed conflict. What it all boils down to is this Utopia on the second planet isn’t all it’s cracked up to be: resources are scarce, crops are failing, and this inevitably leads the two established colonies to all-out war, thus the ‘Venus Wars’ of the film’s title.
Based on a manga by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (published from 1986-1990), Venus Wars is clearly a product of its time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – having lived through the 80’s, I can assure you a lot of great things came out of the era – and I offer it as an observation only to underscore that I don’t see the film’s themes and messages as ‘timeless’ as other reviewers who’ve covered it in some detail. For what it’s worth, I saw the feature’s central player – Hiro – as a Tom Cruise ‘Maverick’ clone from the popular 80’s film Top Gun. Whereas Maverick is a hotshot pilot who bucks authority until he achieves maturity, our Hiro is a hotshot futuristic motorbike rider who bucks authority until … you get the idea. These brash young’uns all eventually have to grow up, and that’s largely what happens once war comes to their not-so-fertile homeland.
However, Venus Wars is largely a formulaic tale of disaffected youth stripped of their livelihood – high speed sports – and forced to take up arms to defend first their racetrack and then their city. Yuichi Sasamoto’s script never really cracks the surface to explore the obvious greater dramatic potential (as I said, this is all more Top Gun than it is Full Metal Jacket). Instead, he shifts gears effectively from entertainment to war once the invaders attack. Dare I suggest all of this was drawing a comparison between sports and conflict, that perhaps they’re distant relations spawned from the same cultural family tree? 1975’s Rollerball hinted at similar ideas, though the John Boorman property really aimed its sights more at capitalism and corporate greed. It’s clearly one possible message of Sasamoto’s, though I wouldn’t make too much of such symbolism as these Wars were likely meant to entertain and not educate.
As one who’s only casually consumed anime over the years, I’ve been told the single greatest attraction to much of it is the animation style; in that regard, I was thrilled with much of the flick. Creator Yasuhiko also served as director, and he’s gifted his tale with some big action sequences all delivered with admirable kinetic effect. The racing and the combat segments have similarly gritty appeal, though some of it could’ve been a tad more effective had the animators dialed back the smoke and flames. Still, if both Hiro and Maverick share anything in common, then their ‘need for speed’ elevates their respective pictures, properly dialing it all up to eleven.
Much like Top Gun was about the male infatuation with fighter jets, Venus Wars has its battle bikes … and they’re decidedly inspired. I’m not sure how a person could literally sit on and operate one of these clever monocycles, but they’re animated as if entirely plausible. Their evolution from recreation to combat vehicle is the picture’s Golden Goose, putting into images (instead of words) how well-suited Hiro is the hero of the story: the youth who ruled on the racetrack begrudgingly answers the call to do the same on the battlefield. Though he steps down from his service to be reunited with the woman he loves, it’s pretty clear to those watching that he’ll gladly be back behind the wheel if a sequel calls.
To my knowledge, none did; but I think fans of this late 80’s entry would’ve been happy to tag along for a second installment. Venus Wars is effective (though formulaic) adventure: it delivers exactly what it promised, and anime fans should rejoice at the opportunity for a return visit to the past.
Venus Wars (1989) is produced by Bandai Visual Company, Gakkan Co. Ltd., and a few other partners. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being handled by Sentai Filmworks. As for the technical specifications? Wow. This property looks just fabulous: I’ve watched some other anime from a slightly earlier era and not been all that impressed with transfers, but this one is dynamite. It’s full of crisp, clear lines from start-to-finish. There is a weird stylistic choice that Yasuhiko employed in the second half: some battle sequences are backdropped with real video footage that’s been colored over to give it an animated look. I could probably go on about what it meant, and we could all debate its effectiveness; but the bottom line is that it worked fine about ninety percent of the time (for me), and I’ll leave it at that. As for special features? Alas, there were none.
Strongly recommended. Honestly, I’ve never been a big shopper of anime, but that could change if I discovered more films like Venus Wars. While I found a lot of its characters and situations a bit derivative, this tidy little war feature delivered a solid premise, reasonable world-building, and functional characters. I’ve often found anime’s attempts at humor a bit pubescent, and Venus Wars is really no different in that regard. Still, when it soars it soars; and these Wars were a solid 100+ minutes of visual entertainment for the young-at-heart.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Sentai Filmworks provided me with a Blu-ray of Venus Wars by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.