Shelf Life
Crusher Joe: The Movie

by Paul Jensen,

After avoiding the bandwagon for as long as possible, I finally played a bit of Overwatch last weekend. I had some fun, I have a better understanding of why people love it, and holy moly I'm terrible at it. More power to anyone who has the reaction time and teamwork to be good at it, but I think I'll stick with my racing sims. Welcome to Shelf Life.

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Crusher Joe: The Movie

On Shelves This Week

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Extra: From what I can tell, this release only includes the English dub of this series. Episodes are available on Funimation and Hulu.

Shelf Life Reviews

In what turned out to be a useful coincidence, I watched Crusher Joe The Movie in the same week that I saw Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Both feature a team of wisecracking heroes who save the day by blowing things up in spectacular fashion, and both are good fun despite not being especially deep or nuanced, even though the two movies are over 30 years apart. I guess some things never change.

I love it when anime manages to surprise me or make me think about a complicated topic, but sometimes it's okay to just have fun. That's definitely what you get with Crusher Joe The Movie, a sci-fi action flick from the early 1980s. It's not here to challenge you or mess with your head; it's just here to entertain. The heroes dash from one explosive fight scene to the next, exchanging amusing banter along the way. It's far from perfect, and it doesn't have any big ideas or themes, but I had a good time watching it nonetheless.

The story follows a team of four “Crushers,” who essentially work as action heroes for hire. The group is led by Joe, the fiercely independent son of a famous Crusher. They take on a mission to transport a cryogenically frozen woman, but things go wrong in a hurry when their cargo disappears and they're arrested on suspicions of piracy. Their search for the real culprit leads to them to Lagol, a planet full of dangerous criminals.

Honestly, the story isn't all that important in this movie. It's mostly there to keep things moving from one action scene to the next, and the “space badasses vs. space pirates” premise suits that purpose quite nicely. It's not especially deep or gripping stuff, and it's half an hour longer than it needs to be, but it works. The protagonists are also relatively simple in terms of their personalities, with an emphasis on action hero charisma over serious character development. While I liked Joe and his Crusher pals well enough, they lack the special spark that distinguishes truly iconic characters from the genre crowd. The villains are in the same boat, providing an entertaining challenge for the good guys without leaving a lasting impression.

What does stand out about this movie is its wide variety of action scenes. Crusher Joe The Movie has big space battles, drunken bar fights, laser gun shootouts, hover car chases, and every other kind of explosive sci-fi spectacle you could possibly want. The visuals have that quintessential '80s style to them, and the animation is genuinely ambitious in presentation. Spaceships blast each other to pieces, jet fighters loop and roll through the sky, and pretty much everything explodes in lovely, hand-drawn detail. There's a sense of exuberance to the whole thing, as if the production staff went out of their way to include a bunch of impressive shots. More than anything else, that abundance of unhinged creativity makes this movie fun to watch.

Crusher Joe The Movie is also an interesting film if you enjoy placing older works into the larger context of anime as a medium. It's a good example of the shift from idealistic, inexperienced mecha pilots to tough, jaded professionals in sci-fi anime. The outfits are still bright and colorful, but Joe and his friends are definitely the kind of wisecracking space cowboys that we've grown accustomed to in recent decades. You'll also find a number of familiar names in the credits: Yoshikazu Yasuhiko directed this movie a few years after serving as animation director for Mobile Suit Gundam, while writer Haruka Takachiho is probably better known for creating the Dirty Pair series. (Kei and Yuri even make a cameo appearance!)

As releases of older titles go, this effort from Discotek Media is pretty solid. You get two versions of the movie, one in 4:3 and the other in 16:9. The English dub from past releases is also present, and it's quite good. Older dubs can be extremely hit-or-miss, but the English audio fits this movie almost as naturally as the original Japanese. Extras include a bunch of promotional videos, ranging in length from the usual short-form commercials to longer PVs. Perhaps most importantly, the movie looks and sounds good despite its age.

If Crusher Joe The Movie has an Achilles heel, it's the sheer volume of more recent titles that have refined this formula over the years. Compared to many of those newer favorites, it ends up feeling extremely simple. There's no unique gimmick or big twist to help it stand out, partly because this style of story was less common when it was made. It remains entertaining over a single viewing, but I wouldn't count it as a must-own unless you enjoy collecting anime of this particular vintage.

That wraps up the review section for this week. Thanks for reading, and remember to send me photos of your collections at [email protected] so I can feature them in the column!

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