Reviewby Mike Crandol, Jan 20th 2003
Crusher Joe: The Movie & The OVAs
Crushers: intergalactic Jacks-of-All-Trades who will take on any assignment for the right price. Crusher Joe heads a small team of these outer space troubleshooters that includes the cyborg Talos, the beautiful Alfin, and the obligatory kid sidekick Ricky. A routine assignment escorting a cryogenically frozen heiress to a medical facility goes awry when the girl goes missing and Joe and his team are left holding the bag. It seems space pirates are trying to play the Crushers for patsies, but Joe doesn't take kindly to the setup and tracks the pirates to their home world. The four heroes not only have to rescue their human cargo but take down the pirates in the process, which involves a heck of a lot of space dogfights, explosions, and good old-fashioned hand-to-hand combat.
Further adventures of the Crushers are chronicled in two episodes that find the gang again risking their lives in the name of money. In “The Ice Prison” they are hired by a planetary dictator to rescue political prisoners from a satellite on a collision course with the homeworld, but their employer is counting on the prisoners and the Crushers dying in the attempt. “The Ultimate Weapon” has the team mounting a rescue mission to save a woman carrying a prototype weapon who has crash-landed on a hostile world. Lucky for her it takes more than evil exploding robots to stop Crusher Joe.
Looking back across 20 years of anime history, the Crusher Joe movie had a lot going for it. The 1983 feature was the first theatrical production of Sunrise, the studio that was poised to dominate much of the anime scene for the next two decades. Shoji Kawamori, the man who would later be the driving force behind Macross Plus and Escaflowne, gave an early demonstration of his amazing talent for Mecha Designs. It featured the first-ever animated appearance of the Dirty Pair. Star Wars was taking the world by storm, and Crusher Joe was a galactic space opera in the best George Lucas tradition.
Why then is the Crusher Joe movie so boring? The plot is inventive and the action is virtually nonstop, but viewing this film is an exercise in tedium. A lack of character exposition, and more importantly the absence of any character depth, proves fatal. At a leisurely 2 hours and 5 minutes, there should be plenty of time for a proper introduction to Joe and his team of Crushers, but a couple of character stat sheets superimposed over the opening credits is all this movie provides before jumping right into the thick of things. One is able to glean from the dialogue that Alfin used to be a princess of some sort before joining the Crushers, and that Talos was a former associate of Joe's father, but that's all the history given on these characters. Equally has vague as their backgrounds are their personalities, which are practically nonexistent. The problem is not that the Crushers are an archetypical group...Cowboy Bebop worked wonders with the same four "types"...but that they have no personal identities beyond those archetypes. Joe's the badass leader, Talos is the heavy, Alfin's just "the girl" and Ricky's just "the kid", and that's all there is to them. Knowing a bit more about who the heck these people are would have made this a much more entertaining film, even if they are the standard quartet of space adventurers. The two-minute appearance of KEI and Yuri has more personality than the whole rest of the two-hour film…small wonder it was the Dirty Pair and not Crusher Joe that ended up with their own television series.
Roughly five years went by before Joe and his team returned to anime, this time in the form of two 1-hour OVA episodes. Once again we find intelligent stories and accomplished action sequences totally negated by the dearth of characterization. There are some feeble attempts at humanizing the Crushers by showing them on vacation, but the revelation that Ricky likes to swim and that Joe and Talos like pretty girls hardly qualifies as character development. The shorter running time and more polished look of these installments make them more watchable than the movie, but it is a wholly forgettable viewing experience (except for the horrendous “Crusher Joe” logo that pops up between scenes accompanied by a nasal Japanese voice shouting “Cru-ush!”…. that will haunt your nightmares).
The two OVAs are handsome-looking productions that improve upon their precursor's shaky character designs and come off as way more professional despite the limited animation. The film's animation is much fuller than the OVAs or most of its early-80s contemporaries but is of dubious quality. Anime is often so devoid of any movement it's easy to say Crusher Joe features good animation merely because it moves, but that is not necessarily the case. Too often the movie's animation is sloppy and unconvincing. The outer space sequences are capable enough but scenes featuring land-based vehicles are especially bad, and the herky-jerky character animation does not help the afore-mentioned vague design work. One might be tempted to excuse it on the grounds of its age, but Nausicaä premiered just one year later and featured much smoother animation on a comparable budget.
Crusher Joe's one definite strength is its musical score. To their credit both the movie and the OVAs feature full orchestral arrangements at a time when synthesizers were the preferred scoring method. Crusher Joe sounds every bit as grand as Star Wars, Buck Rogers and the other outer space epics it unsuccessfully tries to imitate. In fact, the music is so grand it seems decidedly out-of-place on such an underwhelming production. There is no standout “Crusher Joe” theme, however. The soundtrack achieves its purpose but like everything else it ultimately proves unmemorable.
AnimEigo's two-disc release of Crusher Joe is sparse, but I can't imagine there is a wealth of extra material for this show, nor would I particularly want to see any of it. The original movie trailer is a hidden easter egg on the first disc, and linear notes on creator Haruka Takachiho are included as an insert. The video quality is as good as can be expected for such an old film, though oddly enough the “Ice Prison” episode looks much more bright and vivid than “The Ultimate Weapon”. AnimEigo's English dub is light years ahead of their early offerings like Riding Bean and Urusei Yatsura but still has a very unprofessional feel and sounds like it was recorded in someone's garage. In spite of this the most annoying aspect of the DVD is Alfin's pre-menu countdown from 10, which is locked-out and cannot be skipped! Couldn't she start at 3?
In the end Crusher Joe's greatest value is as a historical curiosity. There's a lot of potential in the material but it's a largely wasted opportunity, except as a testing ground for later accomplishments. And if you're going to shell out good money for an outer space anime, why not save it for Said Later Accomplishments? In this post-Cowboy Bebop world, Crusher Joe is downright primordial.
Overall (dub) : D-
Overall (sub) : D
Story : D+
Animation : D+
Art : C
Music : B
+ heavy helpings of action, canny interstellar plotlines
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