Taki (voiced in the American dub by Gregory Snegoff) is hipped to the transience of our world’s tenuous treaty with the Black World (a parallel dimension [?] populated by grotesque monsters) after a near death experience with not-so-hot bar pickup Kanako (Edie Mirman). A member of the secretive Black Guard who defend humanity from the Black Worlders, he is assigned to protect Giuseppe Mayart (Mike Reynolds), an ancient, pervy old man who is the key to renewing the accord for another five hundred years. The beauteous Makie (Gaye Kruger), Taki’s opposite number in the Black World, is forced upon our hapless human hero (apologies to Stan Lee), but will tensions flare between this mismatched pair, or will love blossom? If you guessed neither, you’re not far off.
With some tweaks to the details of the story, one could believe this anime sprang from the mind of someone like David Cronenberg or Clive Barker, but it actually crawled forth from the pen of Hideyuki Kikuchi who created the Wicked City property in 1985 with the first book, Wicked City: Black Guard. I’m uncertain if the franchise spawned a manga or not, but the anime, directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, is one of two adaptations of it for motion pictures (though I think this was an OVA [Original Video Animation, i.e. it was produced for and released directly to the home video market], so it never saw theatrical play). The other was Tai Kit Mak’s 1992 live action take (produced by Tsui Hark), and the only thing I can distinctly remember about that one is that it was an indecipherable mess, visually and narratively. The anime, while slightly easier to understand, is, in my opinion, just as much of a mess. The characters are cardboard cutouts without personality (what personality is there is patently unlikable and uninteresting), and their relationships completely fizzle, in part because every line is delivered as if pronounced by somnambulists. The story is paper thin and been done to death for decades. That would be all well and good, if there was something else to bolster the retreading, and there is (sex and violence), but, somehow, here it’s just not good enough, even though brief moments do shine quite brightly, which makes it all the more disappointing (and if you want to see an actually good collaboration between Kikuchi and Kawajiri, I would suggest checking out the ultra-fun Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust). I honestly can’t say I’ve been more bored by something as over the top as Wicked City in a long, long time.
There has been some debate over whether or not this cartoon should be considered hentai (for the sake of simplicity and expediency, think “tentacle porn”), and even though I’m not anime guru enough to fully debate the issue, pro or con, I can say definitively that there is some explicit stuff going on here. There is a vagina dentata (of a sort) on display. There is a woman’s body that opens up like a giant, diseased vagina (shades of Videodrome). There is a woman being involuntarily fingered by a former friend/lover. There is a penis-snake-like monster that fucks a woman’s mouth. There is a gang rape. Sex in the world of Wicked City is dangerous, whether you want to have it or not. It should be noted that a lot of this sexual violation and violence happens to the same woman, so it’s difficult to believe that there isn’t some kind of dislike for her going on under the surface (okay, it’s right there in front of your face; there’s nothing subtle about it).
Compare that to the men in the film. They are consummate womanizers. Giuseppe lusts after Makie and blatantly grabs her ass as well as rubs her legs while she tries to ignore him. Taki wins a bet with his bartender pal when he scores with Kanako. Giuseppe loves his porn (he even tries to get Makie to watch some with him; what woman could resist?) and is simply dying to get his rocks off with a prostitute. Bearing this in mind, the men get to have voluntary, pleasant enough sex with women before being attacked by whatever monster into which the woman will transform (and this setup where all of the women that the human men have sex with are literally horrors is telling; women clearly can’t be trusted in the slightest, and the men are dolts for not being able to choose their lays better). Further, the monster women seem intent on eating the men (or some vital aspect of them), and not in the foreplay sense of the word. The males are violently consumed by the females, the females are violently penetrated by the males. Naturally, neither turn of events is especially desirable, but the latter has an innate sense of sleazy misogyny to it that’s rough going. However, it’s the choice the characters get to make before the violence that makes the difference, and the women don’t really get a choice at all. Although it doesn’t particularly bother me in the context of the film and its universe, the sexual politics of the anime will turn some people off, just as it will turn others on, so you’re aware.
Like so very, very many mismatched action partners (Riggs and Murtaugh from the Lethal Weapon films, Sykes and Francisco from Alien Nation, Gallagher and Beck from The Hidden, ad infinitum), Wicked City has a duo that is diametrically opposed but is forced to work together. Well, that’s something of an overstatement, actually. Makie and Taki don’t really have anything against each other beside their dislike and distrust for the other’s “country” of origin. They don’t bicker and argue, they don’t have any physical altercations with each other (that I can recall), and there is no begrudging respect that builds between the two. The instant they meet, Taki refers to Makie as “disgustingly perfect” (what a honeydripper!), and you know it’s basically a waiting game until the two are in bed together (and it’s not a very exciting waiting game at that). Sparks do not fly, because none of the emotion the filmmakers are trying to convey is earned, and even if they did earn it (which, I maintain, they didn’t), it feels hollow and false, because these characters are merely sacks of meat going through the motions with other sacks of meat. The anime is loaded from stem to stern with bodies displayed inside and out, but none of them is filled with anything I would call a heart.
MVT: Sex and violence is the name of the game, and the film delivers the goods in these regards. It just doesn’t deliver anything else that’s all that interesting or involving.
Make or Break: The opening scene (you’ve likely seen a fairly famous still from it if you’ve ever searched for this movie on the internet) sets up the world and the type of characters who inhabit it handily. It also forewarns of the film’s problems early on, so if you’re not all in by the end of this scene, you never will be.