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AICN Anime-Highlander: Search for Vengeance Preview!

Logo handmade by Bannister Column by Scott Green
If you were holding out guarded hope for the anime incarnation of Highlander, there's good news. Script writer David Abramowitz and Ninja Scroll director Yoshiaki Kawajiri turn out an entirely satisfying action movie. Nothing to complain about. here. The product that a fan may have hoped for has been produced. While previous attempts to build an anime feature around English language properties have had a tendency to be rather dire, Search For Vengeance is everything it needs to be (but, little more). With a well formed hero and villain, it offers a coherent, new story. Given the quantity and quality of fighting, it certainly doesn't look cheap. Search for Vengeance proves to be smart in its cherry picking, both in its inclusions and exclusions. It utilizes the Highlander immortal swordsmen mythology to its full extend, while avoiding the tedious, over-stretched aspects. Namely, the entire premise as presented in the first movie factors in, but nothing else. Also, It wisely dodges the issue of the final, surviving immortal. Plenty of kinetic Kawajiri style fights are produced in the mold of Ninja Scroll and his Animatrix entry. One thing the movie is sure to capture is the fearsome potential of a pissed off swordsman who can leap 12 feet into the air and take off heads with a quick swipe. Kawajiri proves that he's still up for some full force heroic rage and slaughter. You can tell when his hero yells out that they are going to track down and kill the object of their hate, they mean it. The movie's creative focus was evidently just ensuring that this child of Ninja Scroll and Highlander, and maybe cousin of Fist of the North Star, would deliver upon expectations, rather than rewriting them. The issue is not that the animation is lazy, just that it isn't concerned with finding anything new to do with the tools on hand. Because the movie is neither as vulgar or as clever as Ninja Scroll, Highlander is not going to blow anyone's mind. There is some force and viscera to the violence. Though Highlander does make sure to capture the blood and twisted limbs of the aftermath, ending with plenty of eyes rolling back, the ingenuity is a bit basic. Impressive stages might be utilized for the fight scenes, but the manners in which they are resolved pale next to Ninja Scrolls'. For fans of the earlier anime work, the most shocking element of the movie will be that its sex scene is entirely consentual and as romantic as an action movie's obligatory nudity sequence can be. Search For Vengeance stars yet another katana wielding MacLeod. No one's intelligence is being insulted too badly this time with a rather off-handed introduction for the tenuous connections to franchise conceits. Colin does not pick up the 'MacLeod' name until a millennium into his life. The sword is lifted mid battle because his others were being smashed with his thwarted efforts. No mention is made of the previous movies or TV series' MacLeod's. 'There can be only one' is repeated for the inter-immortal duels' death strokes, but actually settling on who is 'the one' is not a direct concern to the characters' immediate motivations,. Other aspects of the mythology, down to the taboo against fighting on holy ground are carried into the anime. Colin MacLeod fits well into the tradition of barbarian warrior heroes. Over his exceptionally long life, he has not developed an appreciation for art, society, friendship or any other products of humanity. Before his first death, he lived in the early second century CE in northern England. His love was crucified by the immortal Marcus Octavius as she attempted to protect Colin and their tribe from the invading Romans. After dying in a failed attack on Marcus, Colin is introduced to immortality by his personal wise old man mentor/tormentor, in the form of the ghost of the druid Amergan. One of the movie's smarter facets is its antagonist, Marcus. He's unarguably evil; the worst kind of repressive mass murderer. The interesting stroke to their dynamic is that not only is Marcus more charismatic, he also seems more well adjusted and sane than Colin. While Colin spends thousands of years just tracking down his enemy, Marcus decided that though he loved what he saw in Rome's society, civilizations like people die. As Marcus figures, one can only try to rebuild what has been lost. One has been an artist and creator (generally of egregious governments) and the other has been a wondering destroyer. One of the movie's more impressive sequences tracks the progress in which Marcus installs himself into a totalitarian regime, Colin finds him and the two fight. If the movie had any interest in politics, it would have had a solid foundation to work off. This progresses through sack of Rome, China, England's suppression of Scotland, 16 century Japan, Trafalgar, World War I, and World War II. Some of these meetings are quick establishing shots, others are well formed set pieces, such as World War II, which is a dog fight culminating in a wing-mounted confrontation. The conflict of the movie itself is set into the future, where nations have ground down under the weight of global warming, war, pollution and other technology introduced plagues. Collin engages in a brute force effort tracking down immortals in hopes of finding Marcus. Bringing a head to the walls of the city-state of New York to collected the bounty on the deceased, Colin finds a society policed by SS like troupes. The well to do live subservient lives in a sealed off tower. The outcasts and lower class, who live on or below streets are in fear of a lethal virus. Of course, with that lethal rein, Marcus is the strongman of the society. The movie's fight scenes are more plentiful than they are sustained. Little separates the manner in which Colin fights from the style employed by Ninja Scroll's Jubei. Square off with the sheathed sword perpendicular to the body, hand hovering over the hilt, then leap and/or quickdraw. This yields quick, high impact, flashes of action rather than complex choreography. A few times, Marcus his able to push the action with his own muscle and mobility, but more often than not, what Colin does is brief and a bit predictable. The movie keeps the action interesting with exotic foes, such as giant alligators, spider legged Nazi-robots, and a big guy with a chainsaw-sword, or they are in exotic locations, as in the flashbacks or the fights in Marcus' Fist of the North Star style obelisk-tower. Swords are drawn often enough to serve as effective punctuation for the feature. The script manages this pacing well, ensuring that there is never a point of waiting for something to happen. Nor does it spring anything without a cause. For this type of action film, it is gratifying to see all the mechanics in place, such that every encounter is caused by a previous action or intension. For example, a character's personality is established as he pockets a watch off the hand of one of Colin's deceased foes. Later, the watch's alarm rings, alerting a threat to his presence. While it isn't exactly the type of movie that rewards additional attention, it is constructed well enough to hold interest for several viewings. While Search for Vengeance might not redefine Highlander or action anime, if this turns out to be the par for this type of movie-to-anime adaptation, fans have a lot to be pleased about. Going into this, it was easy to imagine plenty of way to run a Highlander anime onto the rocks, but instead Madhouse came through with a workable angle in a conflict between barbarian and civilized forces, and an action feature that was never dull. Aesthetically, the movie is something of an iffy proposition. On one hand, it is anime that is produced solely because it is marketable. Likewise, it reenforces the image of anime as a low brow "mature" tradition. Yet, on one level it is gratifying to see that though they aren't terribly common anymore, very violent anime action movies can still be produced, even if its for an international audience. Also, hopefully the movie's success will help fund more artistically minded Madhouse projects like Paprika and the Girl Who Leapt Through Time.
Readers Talkback
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  • April 30, 2007, 6:09 a.m. CST

    If only they'd throw in some Queen tracks

    by Boondock Devil

    Still interested in seeing this if only because I'm a big fan of Kawajiri's films. It'd be a nice bonus to have an entertaining Highlander movie to go with it.

  • April 30, 2007, 6:27 a.m. CST

    Needs a restart

    by Dazzler69

    For this line I would just start from the begining. It's got too much crap from the other movies and tv show. Make some new rules for the final "one".

  • April 30, 2007, 6:50 a.m. CST

    Good addition to Highlander franchise shocker?

    by Lemming

    .

  • April 30, 2007, 7:22 a.m. CST

    You need images? Here's the trailer!

    by godoffireinhell

    http://tinyurl.com/2psmal

  • April 30, 2007, 7:37 a.m. CST

    1st one needs the Casino Royale treatment

    by SpencerTrilby

    The 1st Highlander needs a reboot/remake/whatever-you-name-it much more than Escape From NY. Go with a serious remake of the first with a better casting and the timeless Queen soundtrack, and you've got a winner. As for this anime, the english-dubbed preview posted a few months back was weaker than weak, but I'll give it a chance because of Kawajiri.

  • April 30, 2007, 8:07 a.m. CST

    Look guys, the truth is

    by Grammaton Cleric Binks

    Highland was great, but never recovered from Higlander II, the movie which "just didn't happen" it doesn't exist, okay. The series did well, but no one wants to keep pretending that the continuity errors don't screw this series royally. Without a real explanation as to why there can be more immortals after the first movie, the rest of the films and or series, while mildly entertaining are crap. There was one, then there were more? This is just like the big bang theory. First there was nothing, then something went bang, but we don't know where the something from nothing came from. It just happened. Accept it. Oh puhleeez.

  • April 30, 2007, 8:09 a.m. CST

    But on the bright side

    by Grammaton Cleric Binks

    Clancy Brown is back. Viking as a viking vs. Karl Urban. Now that's a fight I want to pay money to see. As a matter of fact if they ever do a re-make, re-imagining or prequel, get Urban or else.

  • April 30, 2007, 8:28 a.m. CST

    Can we please get some decent accents?

    by OneintenMan

    The Scottish accents in the trailer are ridiculous at best and offensive at worst.

  • April 30, 2007, 8:52 a.m. CST

    jap animation fad fading

    by Undead03

    and it's about time...this immature crap goes ON and ON and ON with little comprehension or connecdtion with an audience who's more interested in CHARACTER and STORY than plot and occasionally competent graphics. How about some good STORYTELLING?

  • April 30, 2007, 10:50 a.m. CST

    I warn ye! Do not cross swords with a man named...Colin

    by Sledge Hammer

    Double entendre headlines and specky gits unite! Or not. Whatever.

  • April 30, 2007, 12:34 p.m. CST

    reenforces low brow "mature" tradition?

    by Neo Zeed

    I believe anime has successfully changed it's "mature" image a long time ago. Hooray for 14 year old girls and soccer moms everywhere! But seriously, it's time to bring back the violent action stuff. Why put a disclaimer that this should fund more "artisicallly" minded films. If anything, action needs the support.

  • April 30, 2007, 6:45 p.m. CST

    Trailer looks pretty good

    by magnetoelectric

    Plenty of places taking preorders for this..After seeing the trailer, Il be checking it out

  • April 30, 2007, 11:15 p.m. CST

    christopher lambert...

    by phallix trebek

    is crying cos he didnt get a phone call...although he does have the next mortal kombat sequel to look forward to

  • April 30, 2007, 11:28 p.m. CST

    Wow Undead03

    by Johnno

    Way to summarize all jap animation as being the equivalent of this highlander film. Ignorance FTW! I believe there are some other character driven cartoons with more animals to be due in theatres soon. Go watch those. I'm sure there'll be comedy in spades. Not just good characters... but the same good characters over and over again in new shapes and forms. There's no reason to change those winning formuls! Enjoy!

  • May 1, 2007, 12:28 a.m. CST

    It wont suck.

    by Supervillain Outcast

    It's very similar to Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust -- think even produced/drawn by that same team, and I loved that anime movie (and the original.) Immortals? Totalitarian society? Killer robots? Looks fun.