This Week: Crusher Joe: The Movie
This one has been a long time coming. So, I suppose, welcome home Joe.
This is a franchise that has been recommended to me for a number of years now. It was the first light novel series produced by Haruka Takachiho starting back in the late 1970’s, with his second line being Dirty Pair shortly thereafter. Actually, on the written front, he kept them both going for decades now in between other projects, with the most recent books of each being from 2005 and 2007, respectively. And I think Dirty Pair is a rather solid and colorful sci-fi action comedy series that still holds up remarkably well. They are fundamentally the mothers to the likes of Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt and numerous other Girls With Guns anime buddy cop action comedies, but endure well beyond their children’s attempts to outgun and outwit.
Yet, I have never actually seen Crusher Joe until now. The anime only consists of this movie from 1983, and two OVA’s from 1989 (which I also watched this week). But there was always something in the way, you know. Never enough money to buy it, or something else would catch my eye when I did have the means, or so on and so forth. And after a while, it gets really easy to just continue to do that, to keep putting it off in favor of other things. You get stuck in a rut.
Oddly enough, when an untenable situation carries on for so long, one does tend to call in the Crushers.
This movie, a co-production between Studio Nue and Sunrise, is a testament and love letter to very classic science fiction action adventure techniques. A key plot point does involve trying to save a girl for instance, sure, but the girl herself is not the goal nor is she a reward. We travel to such a variety of landscapes, from drinking in dance halls, to marshy swamps and a pirate base, certainly space itself, and even a drive-in theater. And there is a whole lot more on top of that.
It is a movie that wants to do Cool Things in a variety of places. It is like taking your action figures as a kid and running them through any and all varieties of playsets you may have cobbled together out of pillows, stuffed animals, baskets, and anything else on hand. Except to you, they were awesome space stations and grand cities.
The film seeks to capture this feeling in a way where it manages to consistently cycle through set pieces or locations, yet never feels rushed or as if it does not know what it is doing. There is a lot of careful purpose in what it does. In one scene for instance, our team run into what amounts to Cyclops King Kong. Other films would give a whole big extended sequence around that alone, because hey: that is a Cool Thing! Here, his role is small, almost just above being part of the scenery. It has other wildlife to show off after all, and it keeps things feeling not only snappy but gives that subconscious feeling of there being this alien ecosystem our heroes are in at the time. Cool as he sounds, it is actually bettered by using its Cyclops King Kong in moderation.
There was this extra kick in a lot of sequences I was really appreciating. Where things like a seedy pirate hangout or wildlife just sort of poking their eyes out while zipping around the frames make everything seem very lush and alive. There are more than a few scenes where there are these mini-stories going on in the background, and that adds a heck of a lot to the look and feel of this being a big universe to get into and we are just seeing a small part of it.
Same with how the numerous bad guys have a lot of really full animation in their running around while dodging / providing fire or getting shot up, even if they’re pretty far in the background. Even they feel more like people actually fighting, rather than just more routine action film canon fodder. So I think this is definitely a movie where, when I eventually come to rewatch it, I’ll flat out notice things happening on the screen I did not catch before. And that is a really swell thing to be able to walk away with a sense of.
The same goes with any number of the cornucopia of action scenes in this movie. We have jetpacks, fighter planes, giant space battle cruisers, fisticuffs, road vehicle chases, and bunch of other classics on hand. But they are punchy and to the point. They never wear out their welcome or become a droning series of laser blasts and explosions. The scenes happen, they last a few minutes, and we move on to the next story bit until we get another crunchy fight scene later. Never enough narrative at a stretch for things to seem slow, not too much overblown action for eyes to gloss over. It is always moving, forever transitioning, so keenly aware of always maintaining interest for kids and teens and parents alike.
Speaking of scenes that work on multiple levels, so long as we are here I do want to talk about one in particular.
Which would be the one where we have hover cars at the drive-in theater watching Dirty Pair .
Now, this is one of the more traditionally slow or serious parts of the movie, one where our team is discussing with an important figure aspects of their mission and where it should be taken (but that does stop them from catching some of the film within the film). Now, I had been told about this for a while now and knew to be looking for this crossover. But, even so, I think though that this was a really well handled bit of reference humor. Pretty much everything in terms of the scene and flow still works regardless of it you get it or not.
- If you do not know the Dirty Pair: The background film still works as a stand in for a comedic drive-in sci-fi theater piece where explosions and laser blasts happen, with lots of bad guys falling over.
- If you do know the Dirty Pair: Then this minimovie playing on during the actual serious stuff just gives you that little of bit of extra content.
Nothing with the whole drive-in scene is really slowed down or hampered if the viewer does not get the joke. It isn’t bending over backwards to make sure fans already in the know get their appropriate levels of headnods or shoutouts at the expense of someone viewing the material with no other experiences with it. Which is something a fair number of productions can have issues with even today, where the attempt to pamper with a laborious reference gag for the “in” crowd can shut down the experience for everyone else, who then needs to wait until such a scene is over until they feel things are moving again.
So that was just a nice bit of well navigated screenwriting for me to see. Especially as this was the first time the Dirty Pair were animated and with their original character designs from the book illustrations to boot before their later visual overhauls (Which Ben Ettinger over at AniPages has some nice material on). And so much of the movie flows with this same level of care to multiple types of audiences.
It is especially amusing when one considers that this is a science fiction movie, which ideally has images and fantasies for a future tomorrow. And in a few years after it came out, we received the movie Dirty Pair: Project Eden.
Crusher Joe: The Movie goes on for two hours and eleven minutes. 131 minutes, if you prefer.
For comparison, Final Yamato is the longest theatrical animated film, and it clocks in at 163 minutes. The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is only a minute shorter. Both of those are giant send offs to popular franchises. Odin: Photon Space Sailer Starlight is 139 minutes, but that was a soaring attempt by Yoshinobu Nishizaki to recapture the Yamato magic (and bombed. Hard. And I will write about that disaster in these posts one of these days). Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise of bright eyed early Gainax hits the scales at 121 minutes, and that is with a massive blank check of a budget (courtesy of the the Daicon III and especially Daicon IV videos sending shockwaves through the industry, which I touched on previously).
My point being: Crusher Joe: The Movie was a very ambitious film, especially as something that lacked either a successful animated television franchise already, a star studded production staff with swagger to burn, or more money than anyone else.
And it never felt long. Or that it was trying too hard.
I feel if this movie was made today, it would have a lot more Snarky McQuip von Badass in its dialogue, especially on the part of Joe himself but the group on the whole as well.
There is just so little posturing in this movie, and I mean that as a great compliment. The self insert fantasy or escapism of the classic science fiction execution it is trying to achieve comes from the act of doing. That you act or react to events in these backdrops that transition you to the next. And sometimes, sure, it may not have turned out in your favor. But you make do the best you can. And there is a whole lot of doing in this movie so as to propel it along through all those snappy action and narrative scenes I mentioned.
That these individuals are heroic or strong or ideals because of this think on their feet quality that is achieved through the very delivery and flow of the work itself. While the dialogue is fluid and nobody is overly noble (heck, an early part of the movie involves an alcohol-fueled Joe whipping up a dance floor fight), there are few one liners, if you follow my meaning. This is about righting wrongs and trying ones best to save the day through the application of ones ability before it is about trying to look standoffish and sound quippy and snarky and badass and cool.
Which makes it cool.
All this adds up to make a film that I liked a heck of a lot, just as I had been told I would. It even felt comfortable and familiar, despite never having seen these worlds before. And yet it could still surprise me with how well shot, passionately animated, and colorful it was.
It has this really swell Golden Age of Science Fiction inspired vibe with enough lacing of modernity in it (Takachiho having been in his mid-20’s during the late 1970’s and all, so he would have grown up with such material to then build upon) that it does not feel as stodgy as it otherwise could. It would still spark an imagination today, kid or parent alike.
And I do not care how old you are: hover cars at the drive-in are awesome no matter your age.
Mothballs is a weekly write-up of already completed anime 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.