Reviewby Theron Martin, Nov 10th 2005
The Mangriffon Announcer Academy is well-known for turning out top-rate TV anchorwomen, but it has a much seamier side. Female students are constantly being watched (and ogled) by the teachers and staff, and all manner of seedy mistreatment await those who can't live up to the school's strict behavioral and academic standards. Mayumi Takahashi, an enthusiastic but inept pupil at Mangriffon, discovers the school's dark side first-hand, and only one person can save her and her fellow students from abuse: Kekko Kamen, a female avenger of justice who valiantly battles evildoers with her nunchaku and eye-popping special attacks. Her special gimmick? She fights naked save for a mask and boots!
Based on a 1991 OVA series of the same name, Kekko Kamen brings its naked masked heroine into the “real” world in the latest effort to make a live-action adaptation of an anime series – this time a more adult-oriented one. Often these transitions don't work well because live action is a much more limited format than animation, so some things which look or feel great in animation just can't be accomplished the same way in live action. Some story elements also have an entirely different feel in live action than they do in animation, so the titles that can pull the conversion off are rare. This is not one of those rare titles.
The original Kekko Kamen was an exercise in rampant fan service, general silliness, and sometimes very edgy humor from the twisted mind of Go Nagai, who makes a brief guest appearance as himself in the live-action version. While the anime was hardly a high-quality production, it did succeed at being a fun exercise in extreme ecchi content when it wasn't making the viewer wince at its ridiculous dialogue or abominable lack of taste. The worst of the tastelessness has been dropped in the transition to live action (there are no Nazi rip-offs or concentration camp “jokes”), but much of the “fun” factor has also been lost. All too often this version comes off as exploitive and cruel rather than the campy, whimsical work it should have been. Many of the jokes that do remain are clumsily executed, but at least a few work; the super-villain who appears near the end has to be seen to be believed, and the movie features what is arguably one the most preposterous lines of dialogue ever filmed. (It translates in the subtitles as “I have a special power to suck energy from your boobs.” I kid you not.)
The live-action version also has considerably less fan service, a major blow given that nudity was the main selling point of the original title. Panty and undergarment shots abound, as does raunchy content (notice the school logo on the headmaster's computer and the shape of his remote control), but there's less actual nudity in it than one would typically see in ribald American comedies and what is present is less titillating. Those interested by the prospect of watching a naked female martial artist will probably go for this stuff, but those strictly looking for a healthy bit of T&A would be better off taping late-night Cinemax.
The plot, such as it is, retains the basic concepts of the original anime – a somewhat dimwitted and put-upon student at an exclusive school being rescued from abusive treatment by the naked masked heroine, who wows the bad guys with her body while beating them to a pulp – but little else beyond Kekko's signature finishing move. There is some suggestion that this is actually the sequel to the original anime, though the reuse of the name of the central student calls that possibility into question. The writing is amateurish, but Kekko Kamen has never been about witty dialogue or a scintillating plot so that's forgivable. Less tolerable is the acting, which is equally amateurish when it isn't delighting in the kind of overblown dramatics one would expect from something like Power Rangers. No dub is available, but the subtitles seem to do an adequate job.
Production merits are very basic even by the standards of lower-end straight-to-video movies in America, though they are about average by the standards of the Japanese live-action super-hero genre. Those not used to this kind of fare shouldn't expect glitzy special effects or even a good integration of foreground and background action. In places it's even painfully obvious that stage props are being used for background scenery. Fight scenes are also at the level one would expect of a campy low-budget production; innumerable are the movies that have made fights look sexier. The musical scoring fares better, however, as it retains many of the themes used in the animation and uses them well, though the opener is excessively long.
The main extra on the DVD is a five-minute interview clip from a press conference featuring the director and three of the lead actresses (fully clothed this time). The most interesting points from this are an acknowledgement about the stupidity of the whole affair but also a hope that it will be enjoyed in the fun-loving hentai spirit that it was intended. The only other extras are trailers for other Japanese live-action movies, two of which aren't translated but all of which look much slicker than this one.
The end of Kekko Kamen lets us know that a sequel exists which continues this silliness. For the sake of the producers, I hope they did a better job with it. Unless you're a fan of live-action Japanese super hero series or are very desperate for some fan service, watching the live-action version of Kekko Kamen is likely to leave you feeling that you've wasted 70 minutes of your life.
Overall (sub) : D
Story : D-
Art : F
Music : C
+ A couple of jokes actually work.
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