Wicked City
Horror/Action/Hentai elements

A Little Background: This is one of the earlier films from acclaimed director Yoshiaki Kawajiri, whose recent work includes shorts on The Animatrix as well as Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. Originally Kawajiri was hired to adapt a story from Hideyuki Kikuchi into a short (about 45 minutes) feature. Kawajiri went to work and towards the end of the process the studio told him they'd like to expand the film into a theatrical release, and asked him to write and design an additional 40 minutes of material for the film! Knowing this, the flow of the film (which seems uneven at times) becomes more forgivable.

The Movie: Many of Kawajiri's early films have a similar feel: lots of graphic violence, dark atmosphere, mature stories, and great demon designs. He's responsible for Goku: Midnight Eye, Demon City Shinjuku, and of course Ninja Scroll, as well as X and Bio-Hunter. Many of these films feel a little skimpy on the story or incomplete, but they nevertheless have an energetic style to them which is infectious, thanks in part to frequent animation collaborator Studio Madhouse. Well, Wicked City is no exception, due in part to the expectations of the executives as mentioned above.

The basic plot of Wicked City goes like this: unseen or unmentioned, a dimension of demons exists alongside ours, and travel occurs between the two realms. Some demons are by nature malicious and predatory and they desire to wreak vengeance on us lesser humans. But some demons are more benevolent and desire peaceful coexistence and trade. A pact was enacted centuries ago which has limited contact between the two dimensions and ensured peace, but it's coming up for renegotiation and many demons want to see it fail. There is a clandestine agency in the human dimension (as well as a counterpart organization in the demon dimension) which tries to police rogue demons and ensure peace. Each agency has sent one agent to guard an old man named Giuseppe Mayart, who is thought to be the only negotiator that can ensure a lasting new treaty, until the treaty is to be signed. These agents need to work together as demons besiege them on all sides attempting to foil the signing of the treaty.

Demons figure heavily into Japanese culture and mythology the way Angels figure into American mythology. So this story actually has a bit of cultural subtext, as well as a few twists and turns that make the plot more than you would expect it to be. The trimmings of the movie are basically demon horror, with the two human looking agents having to fight off many creatively demonic monstrosities. The violence is pretty graphic, and for those who like it, quite satisfying. The story has a very mature tone, as well as most of the dialogue. The human guard, Taki, is a somber guy with a dry sarcastic humor and a healthy sex drive. The demon guard is a Black Woman, achingly beautiful by human standards and known for their sweet lovin'. So you can see there's a lot of not so subtle sexual subtext in the film. Many of the additional sequences written to flesh out the story (no pun intended) would appear to be sexual in nature. While not actually showing close ups of sex or anything, the film is pretty explicit and has plenty of nudity. Mayart turns out to be a bit of a dirty old perv, and does what he can to inject crude sexual humor that's funnier than it should be.

On that note, the voice acting in the dubbed version is pretty excellent. This film was made in the 80s, so there's a certain style to it that's a bit cheesy; but once you buy into it, it's pretty dang cool. The sound and music is also pretty well done, though by the same token is a bit dated and sometimes cheesy.

The animation for this film, though older and a bit simplistic, is very good. There's a limited color palette, using mostly cool blues for the dark nighttime scenes that consume most of the movie; and splashes of red for some of the more action-packed bits with violence or dimensional rifts and such. The character designs are classic and Kawajiri always does very inventive and exciting demons in a genre that's loaded with more of the same.

All in all, this film is pretty dang cool, especially for being older. It feels very similar to if Tarantino were to make a whole anime (the bit in Kill Bill doesn't count.) It's dark, mature, stylish, excessively violent, a bit cheesy, and wholly enjoyable. Definitely worth watching, probably worth buying for most. Only gets points off because the material might not appeal to everyone.

Suitable For Kids?: Noooooooooooooooooooo. Bad violence. Much sex. Some harsh language. Adults only.

The DVD: Says 'Special Edition' on the box. That's not claiming much by anime standards, and indeed, there's not much on this disc. It is in 5.1, and has English and Japanese. It's got character bios and trailers and such, but the real treat is an interview with Kawajiri himself. He explains about the production, and recollects about his career at the time and since. It's rare to get an interview with the creator on an anime DVD, especially a really informative one. That alone earns the 'Special Edition' title for me. Go check this out.

- - Jeff Light

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