Gundress (Japan 1999)

Rating: **
Review Date: 4/26/08

A disappointing amalgam of sci-fi themes and a weak homage to the extraordinary Masamune Shirow. Shirow provided character and landmate designs for the movie, but had nothing else to do with it. How ironic that his designs never show up in the anime versions of HIS stories... AnimeWorks also gets a thumbs down for their blatantly false advertising of the DVD as "Masamune Shirow's Gundress." Basically, what the writers did was take Shirow's character designs, borrow the architecture from "Dominion Tank Police," use the landmates from "Appleseed," incorporate the cyber-diving elements of "Ghost In The Shell," and develop a team dynamic in the vein of "Bubblegum Crisis." Unfortunately, the writing is weak and the whole thing comes off as particularly soft, juvenile, and naïve. There's nothing to really sink your teeth into.

The story concerns a freelance anti-terrorist group called "Angel Arms" that consists of five young women in high-tech combat armor. They're sort of a cross between the Knight Sabers and ESWAT. After busting a smuggling operation, they take the ringleader Hassan into custody. Unfortunately, some nasty terrorists want him dead and come after him. It's up to the Angel Arms to protect Hassan and take the fight back to the terrorists, while working through their own personal problems. Alissa turns out to be the main character, a cold combat cyborg a la Major Motoko Kusanagi who happens to have a history with the leader of the terrorists. She's utterly delightful as a kick-ass woman, but none of the other characters are very interesting.

The movie is solidly average on all fronts, which is really depressing after watching the "making of" documentary. The documentary builds the film up as the ultimate action anime, serving as a bridge between live action and animation and bringing a new level of depth to the entire genre. From that standpoint, the film is a complete failure. The animation is average and on par with other medium budget shows of the time. While Shirow's designs are evident, they seem overly simplistic. The voice acting is good and the music is fair, but the action scenes lack energy. More than anything it reminds me of the original "Appleseed" OVA in its tone and scope. Minimally enjoyable and instantly forgettable.