Since the beginning of the 80’s, the West has slowly been discovering the popular culture of Japan, a country hitherto known only for ‘The Seven Samurai’, a handful of similar art-house features (often by directors disliked in their native Japan) and vast numbers of dire monster movies.
I’d like to say it began in Britain earlier, but probably it was indeed Clive James’s look of pained disbelief as Japanese salarymen willing tied themselves to tractors, in order to be dragged half-naked over sunbaked gravel, that revealed to the British public at large the truth about this little known island. We loved it. Gradually, better (and more horrendous) forms of entertainment were discovered so that by the late 80’s and Channel 4’s Japan season, the myth of the Japanese as mild-mannered, Bonsai-trimming car-manufacturers had been totally destroyed.
Despite changes since World War II, Japan is still the same culture it was when the Portuguese and Dutch came in the 16th century. Beneath a surface gloss of civilization runs violence: then, as samurai defending his lord’s honour in battle, and now, as a hero on the silver screen dispatching victims with the precision of a micro-surgeon.
In Japanese film & TV, violence is intrinsic and natural, certainly the only thing holding it back is the cost and difficulty of any special effects. But what live action can’t manage is carried out by animation studios (in Japan, these produce 150 cinema releases per year) to satisfy an eager audience. The obvious advantages of animation are exploited to the budget’s limits when it comes to thinking of new ways to kill people on screen and anime has succeeded in throwing up (literally!) some of the most shocking and creative sequences of designer violence ever, whether in fast paced fight scenes or nightmarish visions of terror.
And so dear readers, here in reverse order, are what your humble author considers the ten ‘best’ examples of extreme violence in anime. Dependent on your personal proclivities, any or all of these are worth seeing…
10 – Black Magic Marionette M66
A good example of violent action in an excellent ‘Terminator’ style movie. The feature contains little more than two set pieces: one is set in a tower block, but the better one for my money has the rogue androids (of female design, no less) attack an army road checkpoint. The androids easily kill most of the soldiers in an impressive display of martial arts and whilst blood and gore are not greatly in evidence, the style of the piece more than makes up for it.
9 – A.D. Police File One
Being largely invulnerable to gunfire will help prolong any violence and the protagonists in A.D. Police, again female robots, are just that. The scene that counts has the police trying desperately to destroy a robot by cutting it’s head off. However, it gets a gun and proceeds to pump enough lead into one guy to sink his corpse, with each round sending either a limb or about two pints of blood flying.
8 – Yoma, Volume One
A single picture stands out in this one, aside from some nice human-spider transformations. The best image is of the spider overlord (who is distinctly human), sitting in his nest eating a human head. If you’ve ever seen pictures of children brought up by wolves to eat raw meat and run wild, then you’ll recognise the look on the creature’s face.
7 – Outlanders
The film of the comic, although heavily condensed, retains the carnage of Kham’s arrival on Earth. Heads lose contact with necks, arms touch the floor without their respective bodies having to bend and death scenes all contain enough blood to paint the town red.
6 – M.D. Geist
This one really is a lot of cobblers, but it does contain a lot of very gory violence. Our hero, M.D. Geist himself, is more than capable of crushing a man’s head with his bare hands. If this show is to be believed, in such circumstances the human eye will merely pop out due to the pressure. Again, blood is much in evidence, one guy at least having a seemingly endless supply.
5 – Megazone 23, Part II
The key sequence here involves a very one-sided space battle. Imagine, if you will, the effect that masonry drill (attached to flexible tubing so that they can go anywhere) would have on your skull. Got it? Good. That’s a pretty good description of what attacks the bridge crew of a space craft. The deaths of the characters are both protracted and very messy – in case you missed any first time round, most of it is repeated later on in the film as a gory captain’s log.
4 – Five Star Stories
Another entry in the Stylish Violence bracket. Again, it’s decapitation and dismemberment but it’s an altogether better class of death and destruction than previously. Choice moment has to be when a knight uses a light sabre to slice through a guy’s head, and the two parts slide apart. Or perhaps the ‘multiple beheading by pole-ax’ is more to your liking…
3 – Akira
There’s no denying it – ‘Akira’ is a very violent film, it’s impact largely coming from it’s realism, the excess of blood being replaced by accurate portrayal of internal organs. Tetsuo’s transformation into the pile of molten flesh being all the more unpleasant for the lack of blood. The film’s ability to shock is outstanding, how this got a ’12’ certificate, I will never know.
2 – Violence Jack
I’m pleased to say that I’ve only seen part of this, but what I did see was highly unpleasant. The nastiest anime generally involves sexual violence and this is no exception. A motorcycle gang attacks and rapes a group of models trapped in parking lot. Help comes their way when Jack intervenes, a man whose idea of justice is to tear the offender in two by grabbing a leg in each hand and ripping. Everything about this was sick. It’s still not as bad as…
1 – Urotsuki Doji
This is sick. Really sick. Also known as ‘Wandering Kid’, it has quite a degree of infamy, as shown by the fact that it had the highest audience of any film at Eastercon ’90 (the national SF convention). It’s plot, what little there is, revolves around an angel, thrown out of heaven for being too brutal, fighting demons on Earth. All this is just an excuse for three set piece sexually violent sequences. By far the worst, in my opinion anyhow, is when the young ‘hero’ (a pervert who enjoyed watching his girlfriend get raped), killed in a car accident but resurrected as a demon, literally fucks a nurse to death. His penis then extends to well over a hundred metres long and tears it’s way through the hospital, trapping the souls of countless victims. Not only is this the most violent anime I’ve ever seen, it’s the most extreme piece of any sort. Indeed, it is a relief to know it’s “only a cartoon”, but leaves me with one thought: what sort of people are the animators?
[Editor’s note: I agree that it’s no.1, but for me the worst section is where a schoolgirl is molested by her female teacher, who then turns into a many-tentacled demon which rapes said schoolgirl. In every orifice. Simultaneously. In close-up…]