Directed by Yoshiharo Ashino
Featuring Voices by Cassandra Lee, Michael McConnohie and Tony Oliver
Why is a Soviet teen psychic soldier fighting with a katana?
Just as World War II comes to Russia, an amnesiac teen girl Nadya finds herself caught up in a Nazi scheme to revive an undead, Russian-hating crusader army. Conveniently for her (or at least for Russia), she’s a Soviet psychic soldier trained to tackle the occult threat, and her friends on the other side are itching to join her for some pay back.
This anime film is sadly an example of the sum being worth less than the parts. There’s so much about this project that’s intriguing. It’s a Japanese-Russian co-production, being created and written by Russians Aljosha Klimov and Misha Shprits, with a healthy amount of production staff between the two countries. The animation studio Studio 4°C has done good work in the past (the film Tekkon Kinkreet; shorts in The Animatrix and Batman: Gotham Knight; the new ThunderCats). Even the concept sounds exciting, psychic kid soldiers fighting Nazi occultists and an undead army from the Crusades. It’s just missing Indiana Jones, Hellboy or Captain America.
It’s just too bad that the film itself is pretty boring. The main character Nadya is an emotional dud. Her English voice actress (Cassandra Lee) doesn’t convey anything other than apathy. The dialog is clunky and awkward. Large parts of the film are flashbacks and exposition that halt the pace and make the audience wait impatiently for something to actually happen. The few action scenes in the film are inevitably and frustratingly cut short. The combat we’re promised in the opening credits only happens in the last five minutes, and it’s just as anti-climatic as the overall story.
The film is listed twice on the disc as short and long versions. The short version that runs for an hour is just the anime feature. The long version (which has the 75-minute run time listed on the cover) splices the film with live-action and realistic fictional interviews of Russian and German WWII veterans, historians, psychiatrist, etc. This documentary-style element tries to give the film some grounding, playing off the occult conspiracies abound in that era to make this film appear to be an actual military effort.
Just remember that unless you speak Russian, have subtitles on when watching the long version. While the film defaults in English, it starts with an interview with a Russian-speaking gentleman, and the disc doesn’t compensate for this with those subtitles defaulting to on, nor are the interview segments dubbed over.
Unfortunately, the interviews , with their realism and believability , turn out to be far more interesting than the actual film. This anime should have gone full force into the mockumentary instead of trying for a lack-luster supernatural drama.
The film is 1080p in a 1.78:1 widescreen. It looks crisp enough, but its muted coloring, slow animation and general lack of movement makes this film visually uninteresting.
The film is presented in 2.0 and 5.1 surround sounds in English, Russian and Japanese languages. However, the Japanese language track is only available in the short, anime-only version of the film. No idea why, unless the Japanese version of the film never included the interviews, but even still that’s an audio editing change that could have been made for the production of this disc.
The audio quality is clear, but it’s also flat and emotionless. Most of the background effects and music are quiet, down beat and soporific. Great if you want to take a nap.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The Blu Ray comes in a standard case and is fairly no thrills. The only extras it has are trailers for Redline and Battle Royal. A no-brainer extra would have been to take the documentary portions in the long version of the feature and put them together for one extra. If they can set aside the anime portion for its own feature, they should be able to do the same for the live-action interviews.
Overall (Not an Average)
I wanted to like this, but First Squad: The Moment of Truth is mediocre at best. There is potential here, so I wouldn’t mind seeing this work revisited. This first outing though is completely passable.
The Film 3/10
The Video 4/10
The Audio 4/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 2/10
Overall (Not an Average) 3/10