Now here’s an anime feature that’s full of intriguing ideas.
First Squad takes the investigations into the supernatural made by the Nazis during World War II and extrapolates. Set in Russia a month after the war officially began, it concerns a group of teenagers recruited and trained by the Russian army in an attempt to combat the Nazi’s attempt to harness the powers of the undead. If that doesn’t sound crazy enough, then the film is peppered with live action mockumentary interviews with supposed ex-soldiers, psychoanalysts and historians.
On the surface, the film is rather unique, though once you get past the fantastically creative backstory and the presentation – one which combines traditional animation with both CG animation and live action segments – then all you really have is an excuse for a teenage Russian girl to leap through the air with a samurai sword, and evil sexy identical twin SS soldiers to chase after her. Which is fine, really.
I do like me a bit of alternate history, and the extrapolation of Nazi research into the paranormal has been used irregularly before (from Raiders of the Lost Ark to The Keep to Hellboy), and it’s always fascinating. The film is quite sombre at times, however, so one needn’t worry too much that this is a case of an action film exploiting World War II with little respect. The film does get across the futility of war, and the opening scene, featuring a young Russian soldier asking a psychic how soon before he will die, is a moment that cleverly balances the science fiction with real life tragedy.
The film’s ultra short, and feels much more like a pilot than a true feature. I had pretty much the same feeling I had when I saw Blood: The Last Vampire – lots of fun but simply not long enough.
Having characters speak Russian, even though the animation is clearly Japanese, is a bit of a rare treat, and it is interesting to see a film concerning World War II from a Russian perspective, even if it spends very little time grounded in reality. There isn’t much to distinguish our young action heroes. Nadya is the alpha wolf, but her pals are only really distinguishable by their build and hairstyle, rather than any other diverse attributes.
First Squad manages to stay interesting because of its outlandish plot. The animation does the job without being brilliant, and the action is decent if nothing special.Rating: