Venus Wars

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 IshtarTensions 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.Tank 1 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?

Prede’s Rating

4/5  Stars

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11 Responses to “Venus Wars”

  1. I too rated this 4/5. It certainly deserves more love since it is a great watch for so many reasons you listed above. I enjoyed both the bad guys and the good guys and when a show does that it’s worth watching.

  2. Oh yes I too enjoyed both the bad guys and good guys in this. It’s quite rare for me to side with both sides, but the show does a great job of not making anyone out to seem completely evil, they all have their reasons for doing things. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Since you covered it, I’m looking for it now on eBay. I had always wanted to watch this, more since CPM went kaput, but have an 80’s itch scratch now. Good review and I liked how you drew parallels to the invasion of Paris with the film. And for all we know, that could have been the intention of the creators.

    Is any mention given to the outside world of Venus or is all the action centred in the cities, if you don’t mind me asking?

  4. It’s also easy to find on amazon. Which I trust more then ebay. Yeah while watching this all i could think of was how similar it was to the invasion and occupation of Paris during World War II. It’s nice to know someone got a kick out of me comparing the two. It might very well be what the creators intended too…

    Yeh there is a mention of the places outside the cities. A major fight happens in the desert between both countries, and you hear Hiro talk about his life on prairie. He tells you what it was like to live on the harsh land between both worlds, although not as bad as the desert. But something makes me think more of this is revealed in the manga as they just allude to it in the film.

    Thank you so much for the comment!

  5. Seeing as how I love history, especially violent history (World War II is possibly the most interesting and tragic part of it), I think I’m gonna really enjoy watching this. Once I can get around to watching it. I poo-poo on the 80’s from time to time, but to someone who was raised in that decade there’s nothing that can beat the nostalgia I get from an enjoyable 80’s song.

    I look forward to taking you up on your recommendation.

  6. Oh yes 80’s songs are amazing! Nice to see there are others who ding them too. I’m a big fan of the 80’s stuff, especially the late 80’s. But more of a fan of mid to late 90’s anime. THAT is my time period. Guess you really wouldn’t know with the reviews I’ve posted though.

    • HA! True, I’m half expecting a special editorial post where you rag on moe blobs and cel-animation as abominations. Glad to know there are other diverse open-minded anime fans out there.

      • Well I don’t really HATE moe per say. I view it like I view any other anime. I don’t quite understand the passion for it, or the hate others have for it though. It’s nothing that amazing, but surely there’s worse things out there to get pissed at right? But you do have me there, I love some old fashion animation. Traditional paint, hand draw, no or little computer help! That’s my kinda stuff. The things you can do with computers these days in 30 seconds took people days or weeks before, but all that time really showed something. There was a lot of effort put in back then. Plus traditional paint just looks warm to me. I love it sometimes! It’s kind of sad digital paint has become “paint that girls clothes purple 42” . Colors are now numbers and nothing more 😦 . Don’t get me wrong, this can still make a wicked looking show when done right. But it more often then not leads to laziness.

        Yeah you can sure call me “diverse” and “open minded”. Thanks for the comment!

  7. I don’t think this was Yas’ best film of the period. I think I liked “Arion” a whole lot better (he also directed and designed that film). Have that fansubbed on tape somewhere. Was disappointed it never made it to DVD in English. I think this film is a quite unfocused a bit which was a bit disappointing. I didn’t like the live action bits much. At the very least the mecha, character designs and animation was all very good.

    “Venus Wars” never made it to DVD in Japan as far as I can tell, hence the reason it’s 4:3 letterboxed. Looks OK zoomed in, but not great.

    Watching some recent stuff and some old stuff recently, I think computer painted cels can and do work, as long as the backgrounds are painted (which they mostly are). A lot of lighting and compositing problems seem to have been solved going digital. However when you watch something like “Robot Carnival” or “Five Star Stories”, it’s the budget, care and frame rate that is truly missing now days to large degree. I think the actual animation was better in the 1980’s, especially for theatrical features.

    • Yeah no one ever says this is his best work. But hey i really liked it. I never saw “Arion” though. I found this to be a solid action/war movie, with some cool characters. And I thought it was pretty focused. Plus I just love how it’s soaking up the 80’s style and music. I thought the live-action stuff was very innovative for its time, but I KNOW some people will hate that. There’s nothing wrong with that though, it’s very unorthodox and weird.

      Digital paint can and does work. But it often leads to laziness, and thus less care. Instead of thinking about what color things should be, they just fill in the spot with a number real fast 😦 . Some stuff like “Gunslinger Girl”, “FLCL”, “Paranoia Agent” etc all look fantastic, and wouldn’t be as nice without digital paint and CGI. Still I do think there was a certain warmness to the older stuff. Just me being old fashioned in that regard though. You are 100% correct when talking about the budget, care, and frame rate going down hill though. Kind of a shame.

      • If you want some awkwardly placed live action inserts, check out “Genocyber”. At least in “Venus Wars”, that was shot on film and kind of blends in. Genocyber’s was shot on video.

        I think digital paint has evolved a lot more over the years. Stuff like “Kaikan Phrase” and “Hoshin Engi (Soul Hunter)” from the late 1990’s and early 2000’s look dreadful in comparison to modern stuff like “Toradora!” and the Kyoto Animation stuff. I think the tools don’t matter too much, it’s money, the never ending outsourcing and other problems within the industry that makes a lot of animation not look as good as it could do. Reliance on GC also doesn’t help, but I think Japanese studios are getting better at blending CG and cel based stuff. As long as we have no more Appleseed movies. Ah, didn’t like those movies, nor Vexille, but I think that had more to do with the stories than anything else.

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