Fire Tripper Anime Review
US Release By
Time Travel Romance
In Feudal Japan, a bandit attack on a rural village produces some odd results when falling debris from a burning building causes a girl named Suzu to be transported 400 years into the future. Over a decade later, history repeats itself when Suzu and a young boy named Shu are transported to Feudal Japan when they are caught in a gas explosion. But upon arrival, Suzu discovers she is in the middle of a battlefield and Shu is nowhere to be found. Aided by an adventurous warrior named Shukumaru from a nearby village, Suzu attempts to discover her connection to the past and find Shu. But time may be short, for it seems history might be on the verge of repeating itself yet again.
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Fire Tripper, part of the "Rumik World" anthology series, has a lot in common with one of Rumiko Takahashi's later series, Inuyasha. But it isn't just an Inuyasha preview; it is a compact, straight-faced film that makes good use of its short runtime. It's an extremely character-driven story with a realistic and likable cast, a superb soundtrack, and good visuals, particularly considering its age. It would qualify as a little-known gem were it not for one fatal flaw: the story gives away all the major plot twists in the first few minutes, so instead of a thrilling mystery you get a lot of exactly what you expect, which is somewhere between disappointing and insulting.
Fire Tripper really pulls you in and gives you an appreciation for the characters in a manner hard to find in films this short, and even manages a perfectly satisfying ending. It's worth a look if you can find it cheap or free (not too hard since it's now unlicensed), but be prepared for a major letdown when every twist turns out to be exactly what you were expecting.
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Fire Tripper is part of of the "Rumik World" series, a collection of short stories by manga author Rumiko Takahashi, creator of many famous stories that later became anime--from Ranma 1/2 to Inuyasha, which was made into an anime series roughly 14 years after the release of this film. In fact, you can see a central component of Inuyasha in this story: School girl getting transported back to Japan during the warring states period and hooking up with a warrior who protects her right after she arrives. But that's where the similarity ends.
Unlike Inuyasha, this is a very straight-faced and serious film. There are no demons, magic, enchanted weapons, or any supernatural elements other than time travel. The comedy is minimal, and the characters have an air of believability to them. On top of that, the animation is good for its time (the misery of the battlefield Suzu gets transported into is a sight to behold), the music is superb, the action scenes are excellent (though brief), and the story had the potential to be a thrilling mystery. Sadly though, potential is all it turns out to be, as the story is done in by something it cannot overcome: Its own mistakes.
I'm the last person to complain that a 50-minute movie is too long, but that is the case here. A few minutes, to be exact: The first few, during which it gives away practically everything! Thanks to the opening, the entire story is absurdly predictable. It literally spells out exactly what Suzu's connection to the past and the modern world is, which makes one key element of the story a total waste of time. Meanwhile, all the other significant characters with similar connections have names that are virtually identical to their past and present selves. So, regardless of which time frame they are in, it's all too easy to figure out who they really are. Big plot twists hardly seem significant when all they do is confirm what you already know. Also, the whole concept of why contact with large fires causes time travel is never explained at all. That's kind of a major thing to overlook.
It's really a shame, since otherwise the story is actually quite enjoyable. It's extremely character-driven, and the lack of supernatural elements and random off-the-wall jokes makes the show far more serious and dramatic than what you would normally see in this genre. With only 50 minutes to work with, the film doesn't get ahead of itself with issues that can't be resolved, like going on an epic adventure to save the world. Instead, it's about the main characters trying the find what their place is, in both past and present--something that can be, and is, effectively implemented and wrapped up in the short time allotted.
The main characters are exceptionally realistic and likable. Suzu is expectedly helpless and in need of constant protection, but not any more so then I would expect from a real teenage school girl transported into a historic war zone. I also liked the way she reacts to the situations she finds herself in. She's reasonably shocked by the whole time travel concept, but no so much that she stumbles into complete denial when it becomes apparent what's going on, and she quickly sets her sights on accomplishing the task at hand (finding Shu).
Shukumaru is depicted as being an impressive warrior without making him invincible, and has the proper maturity (and level of lust) for his age. At times he can seem exceptionally tough, such as when he first meets Suzu, while at other times he reveals some vulnerability, such as when he stumbles into her hut in a drunken stupor after a night of scorn and ridicule from his fellow villagers. Both characters have important tasks to accomplish and hard choices to make, which make the drama and romance in between them all the more interesting.
If the story weren't so outrageously predictable, I'd call this film a little-known gem. It really pulls you in and gives you an appreciation for the characters in a manner hard to find in films this short, and in many films of standard length as well. It even manages a perfectly satisfying ending and wraps up most of the loose ends. Quite an accomplishment since there are plenty of anime films over twice as long that fail to do so. Still, it's simply unacceptable that in a movie where the mystery behind the story is the most important plot point all the key aspects are laid out at the very beginning--it almost makes watching most of the movie feel like a waste. On top of that, the film makes it seem like we are supposed to be surprised when the major plot twists they already gave away finally happen, which feels flat-out insulting. Overall worth a look if you can find it cheap or free (not too hard since it's now unlicensed) but be prepared for a major letdown when every twist turns out to be exactly what you were expecting.
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Has a lot in common with Takahashi's own Inuyasha series and Fushigi Yugi, as all three are about modern school girls getting transported back in time and falling for warriors who take it upon themselves to protect them. Both other shows are far longer and much less serious, however.
Notes and Trivia
One of four short stories in Rumiko Takahashi's Rumik World sereis that was later adapted into an anime film or OVA, the others being "Laughing Target," "Maris the Chojo," and "Mermaid Forest."
The manga was released in English by VIZ way back in 1989, then reprinted in volume 1 of VIZ's Rumik World anthology in 1998; both are long out of print, although the latter is relatively easy to find copies of.
Note that while the Japanese title is written with the character for "blaze" (usually pronounced "honoo"), it includes the phonetic pronunciation for the English word "fire," so that's presumably the way it was intended to be read.
US DVD Review
None exists as of this writing.
What is it about modern school girls that makes them so attractive to rapists and/or killers when they get transported back in time? Those are the first people they run into in every series I've seen using this formula. Fortunately, whatever it is also makes them attractive to dashing young warriors who are able to save them at the last minute.
Violence: 2 - Some deaths in brief but bloody village raids and and a few shots of a realistic-looking battlefield.
Nudity: 2 - One bath scene.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - One attempted rape scene.
Language: 0 - None.
Formerly available in North America from US Manga Corps on subtitled or dubbed VHS and subtitled LD, all long out of print; no one picked up the license after USM went out of business.