Monday, October 27, 2008

STRAIT JACKET (2008) d. Shinji Ushiro

Reviewed by Tim Hulsizer

Plot (from the disc packaging): In a world where sorcery and science co-exist, the power of magic comes with a price: Humans who do not take proper precautions are transformed into horrific demons. Those who destroy these demons – and run the highest risk of all – are tactical sorcerers known as ‘Strait Jackets’. But when terrorists unleash a plague of demonic carnage, the Sorcery Management Bureau must enlist unlicensed assassin Leiot Steinberg to stop the slaughter. Even if this rogue killer and a mysterious young girl can end the outbreak, will they be able to face their own dark secrets?

Review: An enjoyable "film" written Ichiro Sakaki who wrote the novel they turned into the "Scrapped Princess" TV series, STRAIT JACKET is actually a series of 3 separate OVAs edited together into a feature length tale. Since they all tell parts of the same storyline, this edit makes perfect sense and Manga has done an excellent job making the transitions seamless.

I'm not going to sit here and tell you the plot and characters are completely unique. Steinberg is the classic anime archetype of the dark, trenchcoat-wearing antihero with a troubled past who does his job incredibly well but refuses to join the establishment and follow their rules. Think along the lines of Vampire Hunter D and you're most of the way there.

However, this adherence to genre mores proved incidental to a very entertaining storyline and I quickly found myself engrossed in the characters' backstories and the intricate details of this world, a place in which the streets are all cobblestone and the houses are quaint, European-style cottages while the vehicles and firepower are decidedly modern in their style.

In order to battle the demons that take over human beings when magic-powered machines go wrong, Steinberg and his fellow enforcers don elaborate armored suits with a finite number of magic charges built into the front of them. Each spell they cast is fired from their weapon and uses a certain number of these magic charges, depending on what they cast.

The details of how magic crept into society are discussed in vague terms but they don't get into the details of how they power everyday machinery. This actually worked for me, as it drew me in and made me hope for more at the end of the tale. The characters' nonchalant regard for magic seemed plausible; after all, how many average people really know the intimate details of what a microwave is doing when it reheats our pizza? We take these things for granted as long as they work.

You may be asking, "Is that vagueness indicative of a stylized anime that lacks a lot of depth?" The answer is yes. If I have one quibble with STRAIT JACKET, it's that I wish they'd said more about Leiot's troubles and the stories behind secondary characters. Still, I liked the world they've created and would jump at the chance to see more.

This very entertaining anime moves along nicely and offers plenty of cool demon carnage and gore for the horror fans while telling a decent human story to boot. I wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone who enjoys a serious, action-oriented anime without sailor suit schoolgirls or giggly love triangles.

76 minutes, Manga Entertainment, released 2008. SRP $19.97. UPC # 0-1313-850759-4. Format: 1.85 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.

Subbing/Dubbing: I watched this subtitled and found it very readable in terms of both script and font. I don't generally watch dubs so I can't give a personal opinion, but general concensus on the internet seems to be that Manga have pulled off a very good dubbing job here.

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