Big Wars Anime Review
Biggu Woozu - Kami Utsu Akaki Kouya ni
Big Wars - Gods Shooting in a Red Wasteland
US Release By
Sci-Fi Space Action/Spy thiriller
In the 25th century, the human race finds itself in a desperate battle to protect its space colonies from an aggressive alien race calling themselves "Gods" and claiming to be on a mission to keep humanity confined to earth where they were ment to stay. Whether or not they actually are gods is open to speculation, but they do possess extraordinary telepathic powers, enabling them to turn many humans into unwitting spies and saboteurs for them who are very difficult to detect by conventional counterintelligence methods.
The main battleground for the intergalactic war is the human colony on Mars, where Captain Kanki Akuh has just been assigned to the fleet's newest ship, the Aoba, and tasked with a secret mission to find and destroy the Gods' most devastating weapon, a super carrier known only as "Hell." But before he can even get his ship underway, he discovers the base has been infiltrated by God spies determined to sabotage his mission, some of whom may be among his closest and most intimate companions. Faced with possessed troops on base and the mightiest ship in the alien fleet outside the walls, Akuh must gather his forces and use every personal and command resource at his disposal to complete his mission.
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It seemed like Big Wars was an attempt to combine a spy thriller and a war movie without enough time for either one of them. Despite its grand-sounding title and Star Wars-style opening text crawl, it's remarkably small in stature, with only a couple of substantial battle sequences. The rest of the movie is sort of an alien psychological spy thriller, which is a decent concept ruined by the film's short 70-minute length; there isn't time for a decent detective story, or enough characters to supply a pool of possible suspects. It's not a total loss, though; some of the mystery is decent, the visuals are superbly detailed, the action sequences are intense, and it's got a great soundtrack.
Overall, Big Wars feels like a grand scale project that was either never finished or made to set up a sequel that was never made. It's an enjoyable movie and almost worth watching for the great animation alone, but incomplete, unsatisfying, and for the most part utterly forgettable.
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If there is one thing that distinguishes this anime film, it's sheer simplicity: A "Big War" against "Gods" with a mission to destroy "Hell." Is that really the best they could come up with? I'm thinking the makers of this film either had a very busy schedule or a very limited vocabulary. But whatever. It's called "Big Wars," so that must mean tons of great battle scenes with huge ships blowing the crap out of each other, right? With its excellent animation and soundtrack, just that alone might make it all worthwhile... if that was the case. Sadly that is not so, and it's one of many areas in which the film is lacking.
Despite its grand-sounding title and Star Wars-style opening text scene (in which the words scroll up the screen so fast I had to keep pausing the DVD to read them), "Big Wars" is remarkably small in stature. There are no fleet battles, or even major duels among capital ships. In fact, there are only two major war scenes, the first of which involves a ship being attacked by small fighter crafts, and the main mission, which involves the Aoba sneaking up on Hell to send marines to destroy it from within. Both ships hardly fire any shots at each other at all. Quite a disappointment that such massive war machines were woefully underused.
The rest of the movie is sort of an alien spy thriller, in which Akuh must find and root out the unwitting traitors among the crew assigned to the base. Not a bad concept, but it's ruined by the film's short 70-minute length; there isn't time for it to develop into a genuine detective mystery. There aren't enough characters to create a large pool of possible suspects, and Akuh hardly has to put any effort into an actual investigation. In fact, he practically has it spelled out by hints from other people right from the start.
It seemed like this film was an attempt to combine a spy thriller and a war movie without enough time for either one of them. After the opening battle scene, the spy intrigue comes into play, as well as many of the storyline and issues. Throughout this part the crew considers possible reasons for the motives of the aliens, ponder whether they are really gods or just using the title for propaganda reasons, and discuss ways to detect subverted humans who have fallen victim to the alien mind-control techniques. Then, suddenly, the film just drops all of these issues completely and switches to full-on war, complete with tons of shootouts and explosions. Nothing ever gets explained, none of the major story-lines are resolved, and there is no sequel, so it seems like most of the plot points were just a total waste of an already limited timetable that would have been better spent on more detailed and intricate battle scenes.
That's not to say Big Wars isn't enjoyable. If nothing else, it's certainly pleasant to look at. The environments and warships are superbly detailed, especially the exterior shots of the ships and interior shots of the base structures, and I can tell a lot of effort was put into the character models as well. The battle scene inside Hell is fast paced and intense, made even more interesting when the Gods use their telepathic powers to attempt to disrupt the marines' mission by distorting their minds and flooding them with false imagery.
While there wasn't enough mystery involved in the spy aspects of the movie, it still wasn't a total loss. I did enjoy Akuh's effort to root the traitors out, and arguably the best action scene in the film is his personal duel with the main one. Kind of odd that this would be the key fight in a movie about rival armies and warships, but still, when I see a great fight scene in any context, I find it hard to complain.
And, while the movie itself falls well short of an epic war film, it at least has a soundtrack that was worthy of one. From the grand opera-style music when we first see the Aoba to the most intense theme used in the final battle, the music is always appropriate for the situation at hand and helps contribute to the overal atmosphere quite a bit.
I guess the last thing to talk about is the characters, which is hard because they are so generic that its hard to remember them. If I was going to list their names, which isn't necessary, I would have to go back and look them up. There is nothing really wrong with them, it's just that there isn't anything that makes them stand out, nor is there time for development. It's just all the typical roles we find in most anime space crews: The dashing captain (though to his credit, he is at least the proper age and has the proper maturity one would expect of a captain, unlike so many others in the anime world), the brainy engineer, the gruff war-hardened commander, the attractive doctor, and the seductive female intelligence agent (an old friend of the Captain's named Darsa). They fill their roles acceptably and play their parts, but I would have preferred a more unique cast with more involvement in the story. Akuh and Darsa are the only characters who have much of a role beyond fighting and completing the mission.
Overall, Big Wars feels like a grand scale project that was either never finished or made to set up a sequel that was never made. It talks about a grand war for the fate of mankind, but only shows one ship fighting to destroy another one. It delves deep into the possible motives for the aliens starting the war and doesn't even come close to implying an answer. In fact, we don't even get to see the "Gods" at all, just their possessed human slaves and their war equipment. It's an enjoyable movie and almost worth watching for the great animation alone, but incomplete, unsatisfying, and for the most part utterly forgettable. Chances are when the end credits roll, you'll want to get right to work on finding a space war anime that actually has sufficient substance to go along with its slick presentation, as there is little to be found here.
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The much newer OVA series Yukikaze (also based on a novel) has a lot of similarities in the details of the plot--a mysterious alien enemy who uses mind control and manipulation of perception in addition to military hardware to fight humanity. It's also somewhat more developed, if far more abstract in its approach to the subject and with a lot more focus on character interaction. Super Atragon is a short series with a similar classic sci-fi feel and plot, while Venus Wars does the gritty war on a nearby colony thing with a similar visual style, but a much more human and down-to-earth enemy. And, finally, Crusher Joe is a more action-oriented classic anime sci-fi movie with a somewhat similar, but much less serious, feel.
Notes and Trivia
Big wars is based on the fifth book in the Big Wars series of novels, titled "Gods Shooting in a Red Wasteland" ("神撃つ朱き荒野に"), first published in 1981. The series, by Yoshio Aramaki, consists of nine novels, published between 1987 and 1989. It is not considered complete--at least at the time, the author apparently had plans for more.
Aramaki is a prolific science fiction writer, having published dozens of books in a number of different series, dating back to the early '60s. The only other anime adaptation of his work is the alternate-history WWII what-if story Deep Blue Fleet ("Konpeki no Kantai"), a sprawling series of OVAs produced throughout the '90s. It's not available in English as of this writing.
US DVD Review
USM's ancient DVD--one of their earliest--is pretty minimal. It has the trailer, some USM previews, and your choice of English or Japanese dialogue and an English subtitle track. It is widescreen, but is not anamorphic--it's letterboxed. The video doesn't look too bad--relatively clean, at least--although it is interlaced. Like a few other early USM discs produced by Image Entertainment, it came in a cardboard snap case, rather than the now-ubiquitous plastic clamshell keepcase.
Definitely not for the kids. Has some brutal violence and explicit sex scenes. Not to mention one symptom that a human has fallen victim to the Gods subversion is nymphomania(!); a lame excuses for fanservice if ever there was one.
Violence: 3 - Mostly ships and robots blowing up, but it does have some brutal shootouts.
Nudity: 3 - Scattered nudity throughout.
Sex/Mature Themes: 3 - Two short but fairly explicit sex scenes.
Language: 1 - Nothing I can recall.