Reviewby Theron Martin, Mar 30th 2014
In the future, suspended animation capsules are used for space voyages which can take years. The crew and passengers of the space cruiser Saldes are so suspended on a 20 year voyage to a new world to investigate it for potential minerals and development. During their journey, however, the ship detects and takes in something which registers as a life form. When the crew and passengers awaken, nothing initially seems amiss until they notice a report sent to them, not long after they went to sleep, that someone among the passengers joined the expedition under fake credentials and thus might actually be a criminal trying to escape punishment. While starting to suspect each other, they also soon discover that something did, indeed, join them on board: a form of alien bacteria which can infect people with symptoms similar to Legionnaire's Disease, kill them, and then absorb their bodies, too, as it grows into a much greater and more terrifying organism. Few will survive both the rampage of the alien and an additional mysterious element on board which seems to be operating on the sponsoring Company's interest beyond the purview of even the crew.
Though it borrowed ideas from a host of earlier stories and movies, the 1979 Ridley Scott movie Alien is indisputably the defining sci fi/horror production. Its set design aesthetics and iconic alien conceptualizations proved influential across a broad swath of media, and its basic but oh-so-effective plot about spaceship crew members being picked off one by one by a horrifying alien, whilst an element from within also worked against the crew's best interests and safety, spawned a legion of imitators. This 1987 film is one of them. It does also draw some distinct influences from the 1982 horror movie The Thing, incorporates in one particular element from Japanese folk tales, and adds a couple of new dimensions to concepts touched upon in Alien, but the extensive structural and thematic parallels between this work and that one are impossible to deny.
To the movie's credit, it does at least try to stretch the core premise. It introduces the concept of “time-jumpers,” criminals who worm their way into one of these long-duration missions with the intent of returning to Earth decades later, after everyone looking for them is gone; that they do not age dramatically in the process due to the lengthy periods of suspended animation is, of course, part of the point. It also delves a little bit into how those who regularly perform these deep-space runs effectively become people outside of time, although not to anywhere near the degree of depth or poignancy that would be seen in the following year's Gunbuster. It further integrates in a connection to Japanese myths about the bakeneko, a cat which gains supernatural powers by turning into a yokai. Exactly how this fits into the story, though, is a major spoiler, and also the other inventive twist aside from the time-jumper business.
Unfortunately the story does not do enough with those elements to distinguish itself, as it is otherwise a paint-by-the-numbers simplification of what happened in Alien; the only real mysteries are who the criminal is and who is secretly manipulating the ship. The order in which the characters start dropping is mostly predictable, but only a couple of them are given more than a shell personality so viewers may struggle to care. (That is one of the most underappreciated aspects of the original: its characters were remarkably well-defined and fleshed out for a horror movie, and something like this only makes one realize how important that was.) The mere 67 minute running time necessitates moving events along quickly, which further hampers the character development and only barely gives it enough time to generate much real tension.
Still, the movie does do one important thing right, and that thing is almost enough to single-handedly earn a recommendation for it as a horror production: it has one of the most horrifying and vile-looking beasties ever put into animation. Credit for that goes to award-winning artist Yoshitaka Amano, whose portfolio includes the original character designs for franchises like Gatchaman, Casshan, Time Bokan, Vampire Hunter D, and Final Fantasy and illustrations for the Guin Saga novels and American Sandman: Dream Hunter novella. (Contrarily, the character designs were done by a relative newcomer who would later go on to make a big name for himself: Yasuomi Umetsu, the creator of Kite.) What it is shown doing to the cat at one point is graphic to the point of sickening (especially if one is a cat lover), but that scene does have the impact it was probably striving for: viewers will not have a problem regarding it as a dire threat after that.
The artistic merits of this Studio Pierrot-produced project otherwise reflect the distinct rise in the technical quality of anime movies and OVAs over the course of the '80s, as its lines are neater and its colors sharper than Pierrot titles (like Dallos) which came out a few years earlier. Background art is nearly top-notch as late '80s anime titles go and does a great job of establishing the creepy spaceship environment; one would have to look at something like Wings of Honneamise to see anything significantly better. It has no real rivals from that era in exterior ship design, either. Character designs make a distinct effort to provide a racially diverse mix, with mixed results; the Japanese character actually looks Japanese, for instance, but the black character still comes off as a visual caricature. Body types are definitely more varied, too. Character, cat, and monster rendering are all solid and consistent, and the use of shading effects is quite advanced. A certain roughness does remain in the picture quality, but that is more a product of this not having been originally made for HD, coupled with a probable lack of a full visual upgrade for its rerelease, than flaws in the original artistry. Animation quality is on par with high-end OVAs and all but top-end anime movies. Graphic content peaks out at the extreme level but is not consistently so and a couple of brief doses of nudity are present.
The musical score has a sound typical of the horror and hard-edged sci fi titles of the '80s, with all sorts of creepy electronica sounds mixed in. Both it and the sound effects are generally used quite effectively, though there are occasional lapses in the former. Less impressive is closing theme “Listening to the Angels” by Teressa Jonette, a bland period adult contemporary number.
For its release of the title Discotek has included the English dub made for the original Streamline Pictures VHS release back in the mid-'90s, which means that this is a Carl Macek-produced dub. While the script does take some significant liberties, including interjecting innuendo and slang, the approach is much more in line with what Funimation typically does with its dubs these days than a bastardization like Robotech, and the effect is pretty much the same: a remarkably smooth-flowing, natural-sounding script, albeit one that cannot entirely compensate for some vague, nonsensical philosophical ruminations at the movie's end. Dub actors fit what the characters look and act like much more than the original Japanese voices, which was the correct move given that only one of the characters is Japanese anyway. Performance quality ranges from mediocre to excellent, with the balance on the very good side; if Greg Snegoff is not actually Australian then he does a great job of imitating the accent for the role of Dick Berry. A couple of VAs who would go on to have long careers pop up here, including Tom Wyner (aka Abe Lasser, Ghost in the Shell's Puppet Master, amongst others) and Steve Kramer, the voice of Naruto's Third Hokage and Bleach's Captain Shunsui Kyoraku (amongst many, many other supporting roles).
The first-ever Western DVD release takes a no-frills approach, with the only Extra (if it can be called that) being a version of the closer with the original Japanese credits; curiously, it lacks the cat meowing sound at its end that is heard in the dub track. Both language tracks have audio issues: The English one has a light but distinct echo effect on many occasions, while the Japanese performers sound like they are standing too close to the microphone. Both are presented in 2.0 digital sound, but neither sounds great.
The Wikipedia entry for the movie claims that a twist ending exists that was cut from “some versions” of the film. If it actually does exist then it is not present here, and the running time of the movie being incorrectly listed in many sources (including the DVD case) only adds to the confusion. Either way, the work presented here is a rushed but serviceable work of both sci fi and horror entertainment.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Monster design, background art, musical score (for the most part).
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