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AICN Anime-Highlander: Search for Vengeance Preview!

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If you were holding out guarded hope for the anime incarnation of Highlander, there's good news. Script writer David Abramowitz and Ninja Scroll director Yoshiaki Kawajiri turn out an entirely satisfying action movie. Nothing to complain about. here. The product that a fan may have hoped for has been produced. While previous attempts to build an anime feature around English language properties have had a tendency to be rather dire, Search For Vengeance is everything it needs to be (but, little more). With a well formed hero and villain, it offers a coherent, new story. Given the quantity and quality of fighting, it certainly doesn't look cheap. Search for Vengeance proves to be smart in its cherry picking, both in its inclusions and exclusions. It utilizes the Highlander immortal swordsmen mythology to its full extend, while avoiding the tedious, over-stretched aspects. Namely, the entire premise as presented in the first movie factors in, but nothing else. Also, It wisely dodges the issue of the final, surviving immortal. Plenty of kinetic Kawajiri style fights are produced in the mold of Ninja Scroll and his Animatrix entry. One thing the movie is sure to capture is the fearsome potential of a pissed off swordsman who can leap 12 feet into the air and take off heads with a quick swipe. Kawajiri proves that he's still up for some full force heroic rage and slaughter. You can tell when his hero yells out that they are going to track down and kill the object of their hate, they mean it. The movie's creative focus was evidently just ensuring that this child of Ninja Scroll and Highlander, and maybe cousin of Fist of the North Star, would deliver upon expectations, rather than rewriting them. The issue is not that the animation is lazy, just that it isn't concerned with finding anything new to do with the tools on hand. Because the movie is neither as vulgar or as clever as Ninja Scroll, Highlander is not going to blow anyone's mind. There is some force and viscera to the violence. Though Highlander does make sure to capture the blood and twisted limbs of the aftermath, ending with plenty of eyes rolling back, the ingenuity is a bit basic. Impressive stages might be utilized for the fight scenes, but the manners in which they are resolved pale next to Ninja Scrolls'. For fans of the earlier anime work, the most shocking element of the movie will be that its sex scene is entirely consentual and as romantic as an action movie's obligatory nudity sequence can be. Search For Vengeance stars yet another katana wielding MacLeod. No one's intelligence is being insulted too badly this time with a rather off-handed introduction for the tenuous connections to franchise conceits. Colin does not pick up the 'MacLeod' name until a millennium into his life. The sword is lifted mid battle because his others were being smashed with his thwarted efforts. No mention is made of the previous movies or TV series' MacLeod's. 'There can be only one' is repeated for the inter-immortal duels' death strokes, but actually settling on who is 'the one' is not a direct concern to the characters' immediate motivations,. Other aspects of the mythology, down to the taboo against fighting on holy ground are carried into the anime. Colin MacLeod fits well into the tradition of barbarian warrior heroes. Over his exceptionally long life, he has not developed an appreciation for art, society, friendship or any other products of humanity. Before his first death, he lived in the early second century CE in northern England. His love was crucified by the immortal Marcus Octavius as she attempted to protect Colin and their tribe from the invading Romans. After dying in a failed attack on Marcus, Colin is introduced to immortality by his personal wise old man mentor/tormentor, in the form of the ghost of the druid Amergan. One of the movie's smarter facets is its antagonist, Marcus. He's unarguably evil; the worst kind of repressive mass murderer. The interesting stroke to their dynamic is that not only is Marcus more charismatic, he also seems more well adjusted and sane than Colin. While Colin spends thousands of years just tracking down his enemy, Marcus decided that though he loved what he saw in Rome's society, civilizations like people die. As Marcus figures, one can only try to rebuild what has been lost. One has been an artist and creator (generally of egregious governments) and the other has been a wondering destroyer. One of the movie's more impressive sequences tracks the progress in which Marcus installs himself into a totalitarian regime, Colin finds him and the two fight. If the movie had any interest in politics, it would have had a solid foundation to work off. This progresses through sack of Rome, China, England's suppression of Scotland, 16 century Japan, Trafalgar, World War I, and World War II. Some of these meetings are quick establishing shots, others are well formed set pieces, such as World War II, which is a dog fight culminating in a wing-mounted confrontation. The conflict of the movie itself is set into the future, where nations have ground down under the weight of global warming, war, pollution and other technology introduced plagues. Collin engages in a brute force effort tracking down immortals in hopes of finding Marcus. Bringing a head to the walls of the city-state of New York to collected the bounty on the deceased, Colin finds a society policed by SS like troupes. The well to do live subservient lives in a sealed off tower. The outcasts and lower class, who live on or below streets are in fear of a lethal virus. Of course, with that lethal rein, Marcus is the strongman of the society. The movie's fight scenes are more plentiful than they are sustained. Little separates the manner in which Colin fights from the style employed by Ninja Scroll's Jubei. Square off with the sheathed sword perpendicular to the body, hand hovering over the hilt, then leap and/or quickdraw. This yields quick, high impact, flashes of action rather than complex choreography. A few times, Marcus his able to push the action with his own muscle and mobility, but more often than not, what Colin does is brief and a bit predictable. The movie keeps the action interesting with exotic foes, such as giant alligators, spider legged Nazi-robots, and a big guy with a chainsaw-sword, or they are in exotic locations, as in the flashbacks or the fights in Marcus' Fist of the North Star style obelisk-tower. Swords are drawn often enough to serve as effective punctuation for the feature. The script manages this pacing well, ensuring that there is never a point of waiting for something to happen. Nor does it spring anything without a cause. For this type of action film, it is gratifying to see all the mechanics in place, such that every encounter is caused by a previous action or intension. For example, a character's personality is established as he pockets a watch off the hand of one of Colin's deceased foes. Later, the watch's alarm rings, alerting a threat to his presence. While it isn't exactly the type of movie that rewards additional attention, it is constructed well enough to hold interest for several viewings. While Search for Vengeance might not redefine Highlander or action anime, if this turns out to be the par for this type of movie-to-anime adaptation, fans have a lot to be pleased about. Going into this, it was easy to imagine plenty of way to run a Highlander anime onto the rocks, but instead Madhouse came through with a workable angle in a conflict between barbarian and civilized forces, and an action feature that was never dull. Aesthetically, the movie is something of an iffy proposition. On one hand, it is anime that is produced solely because it is marketable. Likewise, it reenforces the image of anime as a low brow "mature" tradition. Yet, on one level it is gratifying to see that though they aren't terribly common anymore, very violent anime action movies can still be produced, even if its for an international audience. Also, hopefully the movie's success will help fund more artistically minded Madhouse projects like Paprika and the Girl Who Leapt Through Time.
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