On June 14, 1940 the Nazi’s rolled into Paris. On June 22, 1940 Hitler made the French representatives sign an armistice in a railroad carriage, the same place the Allies made Germany sign one in 1918, ending World War One. Yes, the Battle of France was over, France was occupied by the Germans and Italians, and things looked pretty gloomy for the British. Germany defeated France very quickly. But just because France was now occupied did not mean the French people were done fighting. No, many brave French men (and women!) joined the Free French Forces and the rest of the French Resistance, determined to fight on despite their country’s surrender. Of course many French politicians, police, and military men collaborated with the Germans as well. What does this all have to do with Venus Wars you may ask? Well there are many parallels that can be drawn between this and what happens in Venus Wars.
Venus Wars begins when a bubbly reporter named Susan Somers (Not the one from Three’s Company, I swear) from New York City, lands on Venus in the city of Io. This movie takes place in the far future, where Venus was partly terraformed, and two major countries exist, Aphrodia and Ishtar. Tensions are high between the two nations and Susan wants to be there on the front lines to report to all the people of Earth if war brakes out. She’s not there long before Ishtar launches a surprise attack on the Aphrodian capital of Io. The real fighting only takes place for about a day, before the city is totally defeated by Ishtar’s superior tanks and planes (see: Blitzkrieg). Susan ends up on the front lines, and gets some great shots, before being almost killed in a skirmish between both sides. She is rescued (sort-of) by the Killer Commando Racing Team. They race what seems like futuristic motorcycles, only they have one wheel (or unicycles with power!). Much of the Aphrodian government and police end up collaborating with the foreign invaders. Hiro, a key member of the Killer Commandos, goes out with his girlfriend after the occupation of Io, and they try to live like nothing has changed. But a fight between some resistance members and Ishtarian soldiers brakes out in the middle of a shopping center putting them both in danger. This seems to show them both that nothing could ever be “normal” as long as their city is under occupation. Later that day a curfew is called, anyone found outside their homes will be arrested. Hiro ends up at one of the Killer Commando’s house, or rather his Uncle’s house. When some Aphrodian police and Ishtarian soldiers come to the house however, a misunderstanding of whose house it is causes the police and soldiers to get violent, and Hiro tries to run for it, and although he get’s shot he does get away. You can probably guess what happens next. The Killer Commandos decide enough is enough, and plan to practice guerrilla warfare against the invaders, in standard Red Dawn fashion. Of course the reporter wants to get the scoop on this and tags along too. They decide to go all out and attack a tank! Eventually though this ragtag group of 20-somethings meet up with the real resistance movement, made up of seasoned veterans and an older generation of fighters. The rebellion doesn’t seem much better then the Ishtar invaders to the Killer Commandos, and eventually the war becomes to much for this group of kids who just want to go home. But the rebellion can’t afford to release them, in fear they will inform the Ishtarian forces of the rebellion’s location. So some of the Killer Commandos end up fighting along side the rebellion, and some don’t.
That’s the premise for this movie, and I admit I did reveal quite a bit of the film. But I wanted to explain it’s connection to World War II. Hopefully I didn’t spoil too much for you. The Ishtarian forces are lead by the ruthless General Donner who often let’s his emotions get the better of him. I could compare him to any number of high ranking German generals. As I could compare the highest ranking rebel with Charles de Gaulle. The Ishtarians even use highly advanced tanks and aircraft to quickly defeat their enemies like the Germans did (Panzer tanks and the Luftwaffe). Not to mention the occupation of Io has a striking resemblance to the occupation of Paris. I can’t prove to you all of these comparisons I’m making are exactly what the creators were going for, but some of them are so uncanny they have to be so.
You need not have a huge understanding of World War II to enjoy this film. After all it takes place in the distant future, on a different planet, with futuristic technology. But being able to make these comparisons is always fun. Anyway, the film was released in 1989 in Japan. Central Park Media licensed the title in the United States, and released it on VHS (dub and sub) in the early 90’s. It was later released on DVD in 1998 and 2003. It’s also one of the many titles to air on the Sci-Fi Channel “Saturday Anime” movie block in the 90’s (Live Action Anime Girl anyone? Oh Apollo where are you now?) . Sadly it’s not talked about much anymore. But the movie is a solid action/war movie in my opinion. It’s not a masterpiece by any stretch, but along with Dominion Tank Police and Megazone 23, this 80’s anime has stood the test of time quite well. The characters are engrossing,my favorite of course being Susan, the reporter. I just love her personality to death. She’s so lifelike and fun to watch. Hiro and Maggy’s relationship is quite realistic, and also very cute. It’s nice to watch these two fall in love. I admit many of the characters don’t get great development and we don’t feel we know everyone very well. But being only a movie, we have to be a little forgiving. By the end of the film we do feel like we truly understand Susan, Hiro, Maggy, and Will. That’s more then most movies pull off, and I’m more then happy with it. We even get some good insight into General Donner, although I would have liked some more. And the story very well written. The “good guys” don’t always win, and when they do win battles it comes at quite a price. This isn’t exactly the same old cliche where some rebels who are at a huge disadvantage still manage to win against an almost invincible enemy, just because they are the good guys (although I’m sure some people will argue that this is the same old cliche, but anyway). Sure the good guys do win fights and such, but they feel earned. And when the Ishtarians lose battles it’s because of realistic mistakes they make, mistakes like Nazi Germany made (Stalingrad comes to mind…).
The animation is really impressive in this movie. For such an old (well it’s only a few months older than me so I’m not sure I should be calling it “old”) movie, I can’t believe how well this still looks. It’s comparable to the stunning animation in Akira. This movie pays special attention to animating the character’s movements and facial expressions. They seem so lifelike and fluid at times! And the fight scenes are nothing to laugh at either. Some of the battles blow you away! And the short motorcycle race scenes are breathtaking. Some really impressive stuff here guys. The character designs are old school, but beautiful looking and distinct. The girls are sexy (in that oh-so-80’s style) and the guys are cool. The vehicle designs are entirely realistic which I enjoyed. This isn’t god-level technology being used here. While things look futuristic enough, you still recognize what they are using, and at the very least it all seems feasible. And again the tanks are reminiscent of World War II stuff. One odd, yet interesting thing this movie does is one scene merges traditional animation with real filmed footage of a car going down a road. This is done to give us a more realistic look at what Susan’s camera is filming, and I was blown away by how great it looks. But it’s very different then the norm, so others may not like it. It’s only used in a scene or two so it’s shouldn’t be that big of a deal if you don’t like it.
The music in Venus Wars is amazing! It feels so alive, so exciting, and so 80’s I just love it! I do of course have a weak spot for 80’s pop music, the language it’s sung in is irrelevant. And this is some of the best 80’s pop out there as far as anime go! The soundtrack here is top notch. There is a place where I WISH La Marseillaise was played, as it would fit perfectly. But alas the movie will only indulge me so far. The dub on the other hand is pretty decent, although it’s not Michael Bakewell’s (ADR Director) best work. This is yet another dub by Manga Video UK, in which CPM and Manga split the cost. It was dubbed in London, England with a British and Canadian cast, putting on American accents. A few minor characters early on are poorly cast and sound a little goofy or strange. But the main cast is more then solid. Denica Fairman, who I’ll always remember as Sophia from A Wind Named Amnesia, plays Susan Somers the reporter from Earth. And she’s the star of this dub! She plays the perky and energetic Susan perfectly. Which is quite a contrast from the calm, soothing, and mysterious Sophia. She is incredible in this role. It’s a sign of real talent that she can handle such different roles with ease. I only wish she were in more dubs. Ben Fairman plays Hiro and he fits the part quite well. General Donner is played by Peter Marinker, who does an amazing job playing the tough, emotional general. This man has talent. He makes the general seem lifelike, and realistic, and prevent him from becoming just a caricature. Which is very impressive.
Central Park Media’s 1998 DVD (the one I own) has a goofy looking DVD menu, although at least it has a menu. (You can’t imagine how annoying it is watching stuff released around the same time by other companies, like Green Legend Ran that Geneon put out, that have no menus at all). The menu works well, so hey can’t complain really. The extras are nothing more then “meet the cast” stuff which plays clips of the film where the characters are introduced. The other extra just play clips of the movie dealing with guerrilla warfare. Cool, but pretty poor excuse for extras. Not that you can blame them, it must be hard to find good extras for such an old movie. I like the 98′ DVD cover, despite the dumb “Anime DVD” thing written along the side (Why did CPM do this for their first few DVD’s anyway? So glad they stopped that). But the 2004 release also has a nice DVD cover, and I believe the video quality is better on this release (but don’t quote me because I don’t own that version to compare). Both versions have the dub and sub. You can find both versions of the DVD on amazon quite cheap.
Venus Wars is a classic I’d put aside Dominion Tank Police, Megazone 23, Akira, Bubblegum Crisis and the like. Perhaps it’s not quite as good as those, but it comes pretty damn close. And it’s kind of sad this is not as well known as those. If you like 80’s anime, you can’t go wrong with this. You have sexy girls, great animation, catchy music, fun sci-fi, and a ton of World War II references. What’s not to like?