Labyrinth of Flames Anime Review
Honoo no Rabirinsu
US Release By
Tasteless Russian-Themed Samurai Comedy
2 30-minute episodes
What's In It
- Obscure Russian-Themed Attacks
- Underclad Women
- Just Plain Stupid.
- Violence: 2 (moderate)
- Nudity: 2 (moderate)
- Sex: 3 (significant)
- Language: 3 (significant)
Galan is a student with a dream: he wants to be a Samurai. That mainly means he spends most of his time in an elaborate Halloween costume watching old movies, but hey, it's a start. Things change for Galan when his refined schoolmate Natsu gives him a real, live sword... and promises more if he just comes to visit her hometown. The catch? She lives in the wilds of Russia in an isolated village where she's royalty. And there's also a little domestic dispute over who Natsu is going to marry... and a plot to steal long lost treasure... and a busty American reporter... and several people who want to kill him. If Galan survives, it'll be one heck of a vacation.
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Labyrinth of Flames is well made, well acted, nice looking... as well as incredibly tasteless, filled with huge amounts of exposed underwear, and an equal amount of very stupid and very screwed-up comedy. Unlike Agent Aika, which dressed an upskirt/underwear fetish movie in the guise of a standard action series, Labyrinth does the same (with less dirtiness for the most part) with an over-the-top comedy. This works much better--it's sleazy, but you can almost forgive it. The humor is base and simple, and there are enough lecherous camera angles to ward off even the most vague notion of decency, but it's still wacky and equipped with enough likable characters to be funny when it gets going. The heroine's retainer, severely anemic and brutally loyal Kasumi, steals the show as well as being a good analogy of it--she's cute, slightly perverted, underclothed, bleeds a lot, and makes fun of a disability, all at the same time.
Those of you who can appreciate this sort of giggling frat-boy comedy know who you are, and will have a ball. Just don't watch it with anyone you want to convince of your maturity.
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Aside from the fact that this title features neither a Labyrinth nor a significant amount of flame (must be a metaphor or something), I learned three things watching it: One, Katsuhiko Nishijima is a skilled director with a major underwear fetish. Two, underwear fetish movies work better as over-the-top comedies. And three, "guys" are more limber than good ones. I'll come back to that third point later, but Labyrinth of Flames is the answer to the question "What would you get if you crossed Agent Aika and Jubei-Chan the Ninja Girl?" Cartoony, manic, crude, occasionally disturbing, and apparently filmed by a very short cameraman, this is another title that takes a fairly well-made anime production (Samurai comedy in this case), and spices it up with a nearly constant barrage of panty shots.
Let me repeat: When I say lots of underwear, I mean lots of underwear. Depending on your taste, the underwear alone may make this worth watching or avoiding entirely. (If you loved Agent Aika, stop reading right now and go get Labyrinth of Flames.) But, if upskirt camera angles aren't enough to base a decision on one way or the other, I'll give you my take.
Now, I didn't like Agent Aika much--too far beyond good taste with nothing redeeming--so I'm going to have to make some comparisons here, since I was surprised to find (and rather embarrassed to admit) that I actually enjoyed Labyrinth of Flames. For one thing, it isn't quite as bad as Agent Aika--a tad more restraint is shown with the underwear (especially at the beginning), and there is very little actual nudity, which gives it a little more credibility as being more than borderline hentai. For another, the fact that it's a comedy (and a raunchy, very silly one at that) makes all the low-angle shots seem more humorous and in tune with the bawdy themes. Finally--and this is what really counts--I thought that it was pretty darned funny.
Be warned--even though I kept laughing at it, I still finished the show feeling like I should take a shower or something. Be further warned--I have a whacked-out, low-brow sense of humor, and Labyrinth of Flames is most definitely whacked-out and the lowest of the low-brow. There are some screwed-up moments that qualify as creative, but for the most part the jokes are numerous, cheap, entirely tasteless, and relatively dirty. A few parts are shameful (or just plain lame) enough to push the limits of even my sense of humor, but on the whole it was deranged enough to keep me chuckling. That, and the entire second half of the second episode is a drawn-out and very silly battle that I thought had just the right blend of pseudo-drama and outright chaos.
If you look past the humor... well, you won't find much, but Labyrinth of Flames is still the best Russian-themed Samurai comedy I've seen. Of course, it's the only Russian-themed Samurai comedy I've ever seen, but it does have a bit of the classic anime charm of Nishijima's other work. Of most note is the collection of lovable loser characters, foremost among them Natsu's devoted servant, Kasumi, who ends up stealing the show (especially in the first part--she might as well have been the star).
Kasumi is one of those anime personalities that you can never get enough of--loyal, incredibly cute, willing to sacrifice her body (in the most bloody of ways) for her lady, willing to stoop to any low to bag a man, and hooked to an IV from start to finish. Yes, the first severely anemic anime heroine. In fact, a character who is cute, slightly perverted, underclothed, bleeds a lot, and makes fun of a disability--all at the same time--pretty well sums up the production as a whole.
Visually, Labyrinth of Flames has a standard look and feel to it, but since this is by the man responsible for Project A-ko, it's done right. The character designs are very cute, with just a touch of originality to them, and lots of variety in their costumes (absolutely all of which, of course, involve very short skirts). The backgrounds are generic, but the art (especially the character art) is attractive. I particularly liked the character animation--important, since a lot of the gags are purely physical--and there's also a totally pointless but appealing little dance sequence.
The music is a thing to behold... well, unremarkable would be a better word for most of it, but the end theme is a lively, classical Russian piece that is simultaneously so catchy and so completely out-of-place that I absolutely loved it. Oh, and remember that limber comment? The backdrop to the credits (à la Agent Aika) is each of the female characters in various states of undress and various seductive poses... and the bad gals seem to be quite flexible.
The voice casts in both languages are all-around good. The Japanese acting is again anime-standard but high quality. Galan has an appropriate mix of whiny and cheesy stud, and Natsu's dad (by far the weirdest character) is great--Shozo Iizuka gives him a touch of gruff and plenty of... well, "Eew." You have to see him to really understand. Among the many female characters there's a nice mix of voices, with the standout again being the versatile Yukari Tamura as Kasumi--ultra-cute, over-the-top, and not quite as innocent as you'd expect.
The English dub is also good, especially considering how hard it is to dub wild comedy well. All the casting works, and although Galan perhaps seems a little too straight, things are spiced up by a very appropriate cheesy Russian accent and Carrie's even-more-appropriate, less-cheesy Southern accent. On the topic, Carrie's Japanese actress, though she certainly won't pass for a US-native (much less a cowgirl), does a remarkably good job with the English her dialogue is spiced up with--considerably better, at least, than a lot of more serious productions.
Bottom line: Labyrinth of Flames is well-made, well-acted, nice-looking, incredibly tasteless, filled with huge amounts of exposed underwear, and an equal amount of very stupid and very screwed-up comedy. Those of you who can appreciate this sort of giggling frat-boy comedy know who you are. Just don't watch it with anyone you want to convince of your maturity.
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Agent Aika. It this particular case, that's a complete sentence (even more panty shots, though the plot is somewhat less silly). Amazing Nurse Nanako is also in a vaguely similar vein. For similarly fun action-comedies, but with less crude humor and visible underwear, you might check out Gokudo, the Project A-ko movies (Nishijima worked on the first one, but the second is the most similar), and the ultimate hyperactive comedies Elf Princess Rane and Excel Saga.
Notes and Trivia
Labyrinth of Flames is an original idea credited to Studio Fantasia; the director is, somewhat unsurprisingly, Katsuhiko Nishijima, best known for the classic action-parody Project A-ko and the classic underwear-fetish action show Agent AIKa.
A couple of title notes: "Labyrinth of Flames" is a direct translation of the Japanese title, although the "main" title on the Japanese release is in Cyrillic (Пламенный лабиринт - Plamennyj Labirint). The Russian title means roughly the same thing--"Fiery Labyrinth"--although presumably "Fiery" is intended less literally, which would more accurately be translated as "Ardent." Which does make slightly more sense that the English title, assuming the maze is a metaphor of some sort.
The title of the first episode, "Chonmage Rabirinsu? Raburinsu?", is accurately translated by USM as "Samurai Labyrinth? Loverinth?" But, if you want to be literal, "chonmage" is the name of the classic half-bald samurai haircut with the reversed ponytail.
In a somewhat more creative translation, Erola Suppaatoka's name was changed to "Erola Nakedoff" in the dub and subtitles; that is a fairly accurate translation of the pun from Japanese to English. On the topic of names, the symbol on Galan's jacket is "Г"--the Russian letter G, presumably his initial.
And on the topic of Galan, at one point he yells out a couple of elaborately-named and very random Russian-themed attacks: "Pugachev's Cobra! Emergency Brake!" and "Tokachev Jump, Comrade Gagarin, Earth is blue! 1961! Vostok reenters the atmosphere!"
The latter refers to Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, who orbited the earth in the Vostok 1 space capsule in 1961.
As for the former, it shows up in USM's subtitles as "Bugachov Zugobra"; this is a mis-re-Romanization (or Russianization) of "Pugachev's Cobra," a flashy maneuver developed by the ace Russian pilot Victor Pugachev. It involves pulling the nose of the aircraft up very sharply, which drastically decreases the aircraft's speed in a short amount of time, so it loosely fits the "Emergency Brake" description (and what Galan is doing when he yells it). It's also apparently a crowd favorite at airshows. The translation error likely occurred because the English translator only had the phonetic Japanese to go off of, and they guessed poorly at what it was intended to be saying.
US DVD Review
I'll make it simple: This DVD is so good I couldn't believe it was made by US Manga Corps. After years of second-rate DVDs, this disc includes everything you could possibly want. Of course there's a very crisp video transfer, clean stereo audio, and a subtitle track, but the disc also includes a thorough chapter index, complete Japanese voice actor credits (both at the end of the program and in the menus!), an art gallery, character sketches, textless opening and closings (more interesting than usual in this case), a rather amusing text interview with the director and character designer, an even more amusing, live-action "documentary" on the making of the dub, and one of their standard little DVD-ROM programs, which includes art, the script, and cast. Easily the best DVD USM had produced at the time, and has just about anything you could ask for, plus a few things you wouldn't have thought to. It certainly took them long enough to get it right.
The DVD was re-released a couple of years later with a red background on the cover and little else changed. Which, in this case, isn't a bad thing.
Rated 16+ by USM with good reason--gross, bloody, and rather lecherous.
Violence: 2 - There's a bloody samurai movie-within-a-movie at the begining, and a couple of graphic pratfalls later.
Nudity: 2 - Only brief actual nudity (mostly in the credits), but there are a LOT of panties.
Sex/Mature Themes: 3 - Some implied hanky-panky, and a lot of crude jokes.
Language: 3 - Some crude language.
Staff & Cast
Original Japanese Cast
Galan: Kouichi Touchika
Natsu: Yuki Masuda
Shigemitsu: Shozo Iizuka
Shinka: Yuriko Sasaki
Carrie: Mami Kanatsuki
Kasumi: Yukari Tamura
Datenoshin: Susumu Chiba
Nastassia: Ruri Asano
Narrator: Shinji Nakae
English Dub Cast
Galan: Eric Stuart
Natsu: Jessica Calvello
Shigemitsu: Tristan Goddard
Shinka: Carol Jacobanis
Carrie: Sonny Dey
Kasumi: Elisa Wain
Datenoshin: Tom Wayland
Nastassia: Blythe Wit
Narrator: Ross Lefko
Other Voices: Barry Banner, Ross Lefko, Tom Wayland
Original Story: Studio Fantasia
Director/Storyboards: Katsuhiko Nishijima
Scenario: Noriyasu Yamauchi
Character Design: Noriyasu Yamauchi, Koko Kikuchi
Music: Kouichi Fujino
Producer: Kiyoshi Sugiyama
Production: Bandai Visual
By Bandai Visual, Nippon Coloumbia
Formerly available in North America from the late US Manga Corps on bilingual DVD. That DVD was a re-release of their original DVD release with no real changes other than changing the background of the box art to red. There was also a VHS version released alongside the original DVD.