‘Wicked City’ review
By Adam Tatelman, Staff Writer
I love the ’80s, when the first wave of neo-noir horror anime captured the attention of mainstream western viewers. I love the animation studio Madhouse, especially their hits Ninja Scroll, Trigun: Badlands Rumble, and Paprika. Sadly, I did not love Wicked City.
Wicked City is one of Madhouse’s earliest works, and I had every reason to think I would enjoy a film that promised a pitch-dark atmosphere and gruesome monster fights. There were plenty of things I liked about it both visually and conceptually, but the main reason the film doesn’t come together for me is its absolute lack of taste. Don’t get me wrong—I’m no ban-happy neo-puritan. But in a story full of disturbing imagery, that imagery ought to be purposeful and contribute to the plot in some way.
Between the hard-boiled opening narration and the stylized obsidian shadows draped over every frame of the movie, the film noir influences are apparent and spot-on. If this had been a straight-up detective yarn, the best elements of the film would have shone through. As it is, we get yet another plot about a secret organization that protects the ignorant public from supernatural threats stalking the darkest alleys.
Taki, an agent of the Black Guard, is sent on a mission with Makie, a demon from the Black World who can pass for human. Their objective is to protect the diminutive, sex-obsessed mystic known as Giuseppe Mayart, who plans to hold a conference promoting peace between humans and demons. Extremist groups pursue Giuseppe, and the night becomes a parade of ever more freakish horrors trying to axe the horny guru.
When the inevitable plot twist happens, the entire setup is rendered self-contradictory and nonsensical. If the real mission was for Taki and Makie to make human-demon hybrid babies to promote future coexistence, why make a big cover story involving Giuseppe? Just buy the two a hotel room and some scented oils. If Giuseppe was supposed to protect them and not vice-versa, how come he runs off to a brothel? And considering the number of times Makie is violated over the course of the film, how can anyone be sure the baby is Taki’s?
That’s the most disturbing thing about the film. The amount of rape Madhouse managed to fit into 90 minutes is truly astounding. Considering Makie’s apparent combat ability, these scenes are not just nauseating but entirely contrived. Sure, this is a horror anime, but this content is just the wrong kind of horrifying.
If the subject is handled with integrity, a character might experience sexual violence as an integral plot development. However, I don’t need gratuitous demon rape in my horror anime. Sadly, this bizarre violation fixation permeates the film, only serving to detract from the visceral action, chilling atmosphere, and creative creature design.
There are lots of great horror anime out there. This is not one of them. Give it a miss.