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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
Venus Wars is a 1989 feature animated film based off a manga of the same name by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. In addition to scripting the film (along with Yuichi Sasamoto), Yasuhiko also directed. Venus Wars is considered by most to be the third part of an unofficial Yasuhiko trilogy, which also includes Crusher Joe: The Movie and Arrion. The three are some of the most well known anime action titles of the 1980s, though Crusher Joe and Arrion both generally met with higher critical acclaim than Venus Wars. Venus Wars may well be the most popular of the three in America, however, because it aired on the Sci-Fi network in the late 1990s, where many impressionable young anime fans, myself included, saw the feature.
The plot of Venus Wars, if there is indeed a plot in Venus Wars, is typical anime fluff. In the far off year of 2003, a comet collides with Venus or something, which ends up making its atmosphere more prone to terraforming. Apparently the science behind this is sound, though it is a highly unlikely scenario nevertheless. After a certain amount of time, Venus is colonized and has a population in the millions. The planet is divided into two major colonies, the northern state of Ishtar and the southern state of Aphrodia. Meanwhile, young hotshot reporter Susan Sommers heads to Venus from earth in order to get the scoop on the controversial political happenings on Venus in order to make a name for herself. Not long after she lands on the planet, the entire place erupts into civil war.
One of the things Venus Wars attempts to do well is world building. World building is one of the harder things to get right and though the world of Venus Wars isn’t perfect by any stretch, at least an attempt is made to give the film some flavor. One of these is by introducing the viewer to a futuristic and violent racing game favored by the inhabitants of Venus. The racing match takes place between two teams on what looks like a unicycle meets a motorcycle. Citizens of Venus place wagers on the games, and the high budget of the film allows for extremely high quality animation during the actual races. The hand-drawn animation is striking even by today’s standards. This, too, helps with the world building.
The plot of the film, as noted earlier, essentially pits the northern colony against the southern colony. Though little distinction is made between the two, the main cast of characters in the film at least attempts to be colorful. I really the ditzy Susan Sommers, whose main objective is to further her career by getting the best story during the brutal civil war. Susan’s perspective changes, however, as she sees the chaos and horror around her. Venus Wars makes an attempt to be fairly lighthearted (this is mostly due to the extreme early 90s nature of the dub) but the film is actually kind of bleak in a lot of ways.
Though I never felt particularly attached to any of its characters (especially not protagonist Hiro, who is quite bland), people can and do die in Venus Wars, giving the film a fairly serious tone. Eventually, our heroes, who primarily consist of a racing team called the Killer Commandoes and several hangers-on who ally themselves with the Commandoes, are drafted by Lt. Kurtz (why anime keeps insisting on ripping off Apocalypse Now’s iconic Col. Kurtz is a mystery to me) to fight for Aphrodian freedom, even if that’s more complicated than it sounds. Hiro eventually comes to accept that he’s a damn fine soldier, and teams up with Kurtz to take down villainous Ishtar military leader General Donner.
What most stuck out to me on my initial viewing of Venus Wars was its beautiful animation. The story is totally cliché and boring in the worst way possible, but the beautiful animation kept me around. Of course, when I was 15 years old Venus Wars was cool simply because it was violent and different, much in the same way Ninja Scroll was cool (though Venus Wars lacks the horrifying rape and nudity of that film). Watching Venus Wars with adult eyes (I purchased the film on DVD from the Discotek Media booth at ACEN last month), I was still captured by the animation quality. The film looks fantastic, even some odd 25 years after release. It was obviously a lot harder for me to buy into the ridiculous story, but I enjoyed the film enough for what it was. I can’t possibly recommend this to non-fans, but anyone who cares at all about great 1980s hand-drawn animation should check it out if they already haven’t, or rediscover it if they saw it on Sci-Fi in 1998.