Review: Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (1998) Anime | My Reviews 01 DEC 2013

jin roh the wolf brigade anime 1Ten years after the great defeat, the Japan emerges from the chaos created by the Nazi occupation. The necessary reorganisation, known as the Age of Growth resulted in the isolation of the country. But it also resulted in many social problems. Unemployment increased drastically. Urban overpopulation led to more criminal activity. Most importantly, it led to the rise of anti-government groups, that the police were unable to control. These groups caused much social unrest. To avoid bringing in the army and to restrain the ambitions of the police, the government chose a third option. An armed force with special powers, based entirely in Tokyo: The Metropolitan Security Police or MSP. Mobile and heavily armed, this third force imposes itself as the guardians of public order.

But the situation changes radically and the opposition parties are soon outlawed. These parties fade away and are reborn as part of the rebel group known as ‘The Sect’. The Sect allied with the Panzer Corps to oppose the MSP. They turned the city into fire and blood and angered the general public. So as the population dreamed of prosperity, the Panzer Corps and The Sect become more and more isolated. The Panzer Corps fights on without respite, but the mission of the warriors is slowly coming to an end. They are on the verge of fulfilling their ultimate objective.

A peaceful protest march becomes violent after members of The Sect detonate explosives amongst the police forces. The MSP receives the order to move in, and a squad is dispatched to the sewers to hunt the escaping Sect terrorists down.

Fuse Kazuki is one of the top members of the elite counterterrorist unit of the MSP. As he chases down The Sect members in the sewers, he comes face to face with one of their fleeing operatives, a young girl known as Agawa Nanami, codenamed ‘Short Hair’. However, as he stands before her, something inside him tells him not to fire. But as fear grips the young girl, she takes matters into her own hands – and detonates the bomb she was carrying.

Haunted by the images of her death, Kazuki seeks to learn more about the girl. In his investigations he discovers her older sister, Kei. Can these two people reach out to each other and heal the other’s wounds?

Meanwhile, a plot is hatching against the MSP. As the players in the higher echelons of the country’s security forces play their political games, alliances shift and treaties are made and broken. It would seem that the MSP’s Panzer Corps’ days are numbered.

And to achieve this, a scapegoat is needed. An officer who may have already been broken. Fuse Kazuki. But rumour has it that another force moves within the MSP. A secretive group, watching their own and protecting themselves. The Wolf Brigade.

Who knows whom these animals are, hiding amongst men? The only thing for sure is once a wolf, always a wolf.

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade is a powerful film written by Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell) and directed by Hiroyuki Okiura. Jin-Roh’s setting is Tokyo-not the Tokyo of the future, but of an alternate past. Jin-Roh presents a Japan that lost a different Second World War-not to America, but to Nazi Germany. Now, more than ten years after the defeat, the occupation troops have left, but their legacy is Jin-Roh’s twilight-zone city where the domestic terrorism of ‘The Sect’ plays out in everyday bombings and street battles against the counterterrorist Capital Police-and their elite armoured, helmeted, and red-goggled Special Unit.

The story revolves around Kazuki Fuse, a top member of the elite Panzer Corps unit of the MSP. After witnessing the suicide of a young Sect member, Kazuki becomes plagued by visions of her and her death. Not understanding why he didn’t take action, Kazuki seeks to learn more about the young terrorist he failed to kill himself. Kazuki is a special-forces operative who kills in the name of the law. Like Kusanagi of Ghost in the Shell, he doubts the worth of his humanity. But unlike Kusanagi, Fuse is yet a man of flesh and blood, and he still remains human enough to feel cold-to be frightened-and to seek, with quiet desperation, to be absolved.

The movie Jin-Roh is about those in society who are predators among prey. But these ‘beasts’ never bother to change their shape; like Red Riding Hood’s wolf, they merely drape themselves with human clothes that do not even disguise the eyes, teeth and claws of a killer. Society rightly fears them. In Jin-Roh the Capital Police are themselves hunted – marked for elimination as a force by their own government, and by a public eager to forget the past and look the other way from the present. So what is it then, writer Oshii asks, that draws the human ever closer – when she can see that the wolf hides nothing?

The characters of Kazuki and Kei are fascinating and complex and they are well suited to the backdrop painted by Jin-Roh’s dark vision of the past. The rest of the supporting characters on the other hand fail to be given much story time, meaning that they remain pretty much 2-dimensional and seemingly without much purpose.

The animation for the movie is sumptuous, with beautifully detailed backgrounds and a rich palette of gloomy colours and textures. The characters and foregrounds are painstakingly detailed and the animation is smooth and flowing. The action sequences are intense and very well handled.

Likewise, the voice-acting for the show is top-notch and the film is complemented by a beautiful and haunting soundtrack. In fact, the entire sound production for the movie is of a particularly high standard.

Overall, this is a movie of very high quality and should not be missed, especially by fans of one of the masters of anime, Mamoru Oshii. However having said that, the story is pretty convoluted and takes a lot of attention to watch it and get the most out of it. This is not a simple film and won’t make for good pop-corn mindless fodder. Only serious movie-watchers should apply.

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(Historical Note: This was written back in September 2004. Thankfully my writing has improved greatly since then.)

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About Craig Lotter

South African software architect and developer at Touchwork. Husband to a cupcake baker and father to two little girls. I don't have time for myself any more.