This Week: Violence Jack: Harlem Bomber, Violence Jack: Evil Town, and Violence Jack: Hell’s Wind
As I have been already on a personal gore and horror backcatalogue theme for October, and the currently airing Kill la Kill has so much raw Go Nagai inspiration in its tank, Violence Jack seemed like a natural fit to spin back around to doing some light revisitng for this week.
While this is normally a space where I talk about any and all productions I watched that are not currently airing, and I did also view all of Gatchaman Crowds in the past seven days, it does not really fit with the theme I have been running with for these Friday writeups this month. That said, I did cover my thoughts on it earlier in the week if you are so inclined.
Violence Jack: Harlem Bomber
A problem with these OVA’s as a whole, and this entry in particular, is they do feel a little longer than what their runtime should be. In this case, a large chunk of the middle of Harlem Bomber does not really feature Jack at all, so we are just left with the supporting cast and their troubles. And while not to diminish their efforts and the trauma applied to them, Violence Jack really needs, well, more Jack than is on display here. He might not say much in this entry, but he is just more interesting than the secondary folks.
I find this is effectively the weakest of the animated series, which is both to its credit and detriment as the initial one. The later two are better animated, and they become more extreme in what they want to delve into. Jack talks more. But given the subject matter Violence Jack tends to deal in, all of this is very much a Your Mileage May Vary sort of affair, since they become better at displaying the exact things that might cause someone to want to switch them off.
It makes a nice enough starting point in that if the levels of human violence, rape, etc in this entry prove too much, then by all means eject and do not under any circumstances continue with the franchise. This is honestly and truly the gentlest one. At the same time, it can appear almost quaint and downright conservative compared to the sequel works. Jack is an almost entirely silent protagonist and the narrative of an escaped woman from the sex slave trade looking for her lost love amongst the wasteland is almost stupidly comical in the multiple levels of how dumb that is resolved. Which, given Go Nagai, means we are always dancing in the territory where it could actually have been intended as not a joke and totally a joke.
Violence Jack was technically the first post apocalyptic wasteland manga in its currently envisioned form though, predating even Fist of the North Star. So, in that respect, it was also doing a lot of things that had not really been done before in the medium. There are definite growing pains on display in this initial anime version, certainly, but I feel it is still better than many other productions that tried to copy and mimic it.
Violence Jack: Evil Town
The height of Violence Jack’s notoriety as an animated franchise. I don’t really think there is much of a debate to be had about that, but I could see a specific case made for Hell’s Wind depending on what one wanted to focus on. This is the one that tended to get the most widely restricted or internationally banned / refused rating classifications.
The content still goes rather far into the deep end even for modern standards. We just do not see many anime productions quite like it anymore. It has cold blooded kills, such as a police officer shooting a young boy in the head. It has kids ripping the legs off bugs and eating the egg sacs. We have oodles of gang rape. Necrophilia. Cannibalism. Desecration of human corpses. Definitely A Lot Of Lavishly Animated Graphic Rape. More aggressive and visceral fight sequence executions.
It’s Go Nagai, it’s Violence Jack, it’s having a grand time.
Jack himself dispatches people in rather extravagant ways, but, at the same time, the series is entirely designed around the people he kills being totally horrible, vile, and inhuman in their treatment of other humans. He can be a tough protagonist to root for, and yet he is also the last best chance for peace, as it were, for the situations he is put in. He does always aim to side with protecting the weak.
An additional point of consideration without delving into a whole lengthy diatribe on the matter is the unusually high framerate during those legendary scenes of sexual violence. In terms of raw animation frames per second, there is a noticeable jump in fluidity when they occur. Somewhat alarmingly so, in fact, which I take as the entire point. They are done with high amounts of clarity and frames in addition to speed.
Mechanically, it is designed to trigger a sense of mental disorientation or “What’s going on?” as you are snapped into processing this different set of inputs. When things turn to sexual violence, it is something attempting to keep tripping the viewer up. Something that even if one could be lulled into a certain sense of desensitization over the Violence Jack series, there is still the natural jarring when your eyes need to adjust for the animation upgrade (and then eventual downgrade). And that such attention to detail measures in the production of this entry are applied to something portrayed to be so terrible makes it so they certainly were not primarily designed around exciting some underpants. It’s a sit up and take notice sort of call to attention.
The final fight scenes are rather delightful from a production standpoint, as they are drawn / painted exclusively in black, white, and red with oodles of sketchy-style frames and shadows. It is a starkly defined, frenzied thing, and a really swell direction choice of artistic flair for the sequences covered as it snaps between these events and the great colorful outdoors.
Violence Jack: Hell’s Wind
You know, it is unfortunate how often in a horrific scene where I have to think that the production team has absolutely no idea how a chainsaw or other sharp implements would cut through a human limb.
Violence Jack though, it does some light reading in its spare time. It knows limbs have squishy outer tissue covering a harder and crunchier secret prize of bone. So speed and velocity change to account for that.
It’s the little things, really.
Jun gets central box cover billing and is by far the most counter offensively oriented woman in the Violence Jack OVA’s. Now given, that is a difficult sentence to write. The genesis of this comes from her being brutally gang raped and left for dead within the first few minutes of the animation (for good or for ill, sexual violence is a massively common topic in the Violence Jack works). But this is the only case in this series where a set of actions like hers are taken by a lead female, so it is new territory for the franchise to explore. A ruthless and horrible thing happened to her person, and god damn it is she going to make them pay.
This gets into a whole lengthy firestorm area of film criticism, gender studies, and sociological considerations, which I could go on for pages over. And I could be convinced to. But I am going to hit pause right now so I can cover my passing thoughts on this work in a timely fashion. Suffice it to say, I am someone who thinks 1978’s I Spit on Your Grave is a film that is an interesting work to analyze critical perceptions and critiques of.
If I were to ascribe headliner descriptions to Jack’s portrayal, we have thus far seen him as a [Almost] Silent Loner in Harlem Bomber and Stoic Community Defender in Evil Town. In Hells Wind then, he moves into the embodiment of a Force of Nature. Not that he never was previously, but that thematic element has been moved straight into the foreground of the narrative and the events on screen.
He has become much closer to a classic superhero in his demeanor, actions, and facing obstacles. His words and character interactions with the young boy side character Saburo are far more uplifting, inspired, and outright actually all around helpful than his treatment towards Sabu in the first OVA. He is still Jack of course, but in a different light. While this is a difficult thing to calculate, is here in this portrayal where I would say he also had the most physical harm applied to him.
It is an interesting juxtaposition amongst the carnage, at any rate.
Mothballs is a weekly write-up of already completed anime series I have either removed from my backlog or have recently revisited. A crash space for my immediate thoughts and personal processing, these are not intended as full reviews.