- Alt. Name
- Youjuu Toshi
- Release Date
- April 25, 1987
- 1 hr. 22 min.
With blockbuster movies like It, Halloween, The Purge, and countless others, it’s hard to imagine that older horror films are still relevant. While they may not have the best special effects or even possess any cheap jump scares. But what they do have is the ability to showcase the artistic talent and appreciation towards anime and the art of storytelling. Although not everything from the past is worth rediscovering, and as time passes, can it sustain itself against the modern age?
Wicked City is a 1987 Sci-fi Horror film from Japanese anime studio Madhouse. Many longtime anime fans will immediately recognize this powerhouse studio, but most anime fans outside of Japan probably wouldn’t know this studio during its original release. This lack of knowledge is mainly due to lack of knowledge and the studio only creating two series throughout the eighties’ decade. However, sometimes their backlog of films and television series is timeless and just waiting to be rediscovered with any animation company. Besides, with a name like Wicked City, it must be good.
In the near future, the “Black World” exists – an alternate dimension parallel to a world of demons and dark magic. Most humans don’t know about this supernatural world, and for the unlucky, few who do know their lives are in constant danger. For centuries, a peace treaty between the Black World and the world of humans has been maintained to ensure relative harmony. An organization of secret agents protects both sides of the continuum called the Black Guard, specifically from a group of radicalized Black World members. Now two agents – a top human agent and a beautiful assassin from the Black World – must protect the only man who can seal the treaty from the dark world renegades or die trying!
While the story’s synopsis may seem a bit basic and perhaps a little generic within the science fiction genre, which is a fair assessment, but I wouldn’t downgrade this film based on that alone. Even the most famous movies have been basic genre premise when boiled down to it – titanic. Wicked City does remarkably well because it takes elements from Science Fiction, Action, and even the horror genre and can weave the three seamlessly together. Though one of the biggest positives for this film is that the viewer must take the story as is, meaning when the genres shift, that’s what the movie is at the time and nothing else. The viewer should understand that there is no middle ground within this film, which could be refreshing for some viewers.
As with most stories narrated, there are going to negatives that come attached to them. The negatives within Wicked City are rampant within this film, and that’s being very forgiving. The biggest and most predominant problem within this film is the use of sex and rape repeatedly, and most of the time, having nothing to do with the story. A story can have sex or even use rape as a plot device if used correctly, but when it comes to Madhouse during this time, more sexual images are good, right? Though that may not be the biggest threat to the story, depending on some viewers’ taste could ultimately be an automatic dismissal.
Another negative one potentially will have with this story is that the pacing shifts way too much when the best portions of the narrative pacing come from the horror elements, albeit not perfect but decently done, only a third of the entire film. That’s when the film has a problem! When a viewer begins to watch this film, they’ll potentially enjoy it and fall off somewhere near the middle and never regain enjoyment. The other will be turned off by the overuse of sex and tentacles that they almost feel like they’re watching hentai. Either way, be warned before watching.
While the story was pretty basic, this film’s art style appeals to the eyes even after so many years. The imagery within this film is remarkable and easily recognizable, especially when it comes to the psychological themes that are abundant throughout the entirety of Youjuu Toshi. The most prominent metaphor being the Oedipus complex, where a male child wants to have sex with their mother and kill his father (rival). With that theory, the Eros and Thanos are deeply routed within this very delightful art style. Though if one is solely watching this film for its art style, they’ll be disappointed; it’s a typically hand-drawn eighties anime.
The production team behind this film was spot on! It’s no surprise when the director of this film would later direct and write Vampire Hunter D, ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka, and The Animatrix. The music was an excellent choice for the film and didn’t give off any questionable moments. The animation quality flows out of this film, and that’s a real tragedy given how basic of a story it was paired with. Though if one is looking to have the best eye-candy experience with a perfect Film Noir atmosphere, this will fill one plate, and maybe even they’ll go for seconds.
The characters within this film are going to be a roll-of-the-dice to potential viewers, meaning by the end of the movie, you’ll either like the characters or not. While upon first viewing, I enjoyed the characters, at least the main and secondary ones. But after watching Youjuu Toshi a few times, the problem areas start showing. While no character is perfect, the best is Makie; she has the most significant character arc – almost three hundred sixty degrees. She despises her partner and isn’t afraid to show it, she is a demon yet cares for humans, and most importantly, she happens to be voiced by the late, great Toshiko Fujita.
Outside of Maki, there aren’t a lot of likable characters that have aged well. However, her partner, Renzaburo Taki, does have some redeeming qualities that are wonderful throughout the film. He’s simply the playboy bachelor agent that is generic throughout any secret organization type movie. Though he seems to not care about the rules, he cares more for others’ safety more than anything, even if it ends with him losing everything. Though at the end of the day, he’s after whatever catches his fancy. These two characters are a pleasant duo that genuinely works well together, which was unexpected throughout the film.
Throughout this entire film’s multiple viewings, I felt a mix between content and indifference, with the latter being a terrible area to come out of after watching a movie. The action scenes were great and felt timeless at times. The science fiction is acceptable to even the newest Sci-fi novice. The best section was the horror elements that would make any viewer draw similarities towards Stephen King’s It. However, Wicked City does seem to have something for everyone, and I think that’s the most enjoyable part of this film. Is it perfect? Certainly not.
If someone wants to watch this film during October or enjoys Film noir type films, I can clearly understand why one would watch this. Though this film has not aged well, with the blatant rape scenes where the female appears to “enjoy,” the act and other forms of entertainment have done its fundamental premise numerous times, and some have even done it better. This film is just another $5 movie bin type movie that one could easily find on clearance. It’s enjoyable, but at the same time, it’s average beyond what one would expect. One can tell that even though Yoshiaki Kawajiri, who has created beautiful creations in his career, it’s clear that his freshness in directing, writing, character design seems too fresh.
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Cody Senpai is the creator of BakaNow, an anime review website that specializes in spoiler-free reviews for everyone. He is an avid anime watcher who has traveled to Japan numerous times to not only experience the culture and history but also to build friendships with people through a common interest. He is an avid animation fanatic from birth and even went on to major in communication to help share the importance of the stories we love to watch and listen to. Cody lives in Denver, Colorado and loves to do anything adventurous.