HARLEM BOMBER -- A BLAST FROM THE PAST!
Another adaption of a classic Go Nagai manga, Violence Jack: Harlem Bomber is a cautionary tale about the collapse of societal structures and the danger of gang mentalities and mankind's most primal and bestial impulses.
STORY: Often under-valued by many casual and western viewers, in this graphic tale Go Nagai uses Violence Jack as an allegory for the concept that there is always a bigger fish and those who abandon society to live as animals will ultimately die like animals.
Harlem Bomber shows the worst aspects of humanity in an attempt to issue a subtle warning to the youth of 1980's Japan that were abandoning traditionalism in pursuit of anarchic government and power structures at time.
When viewed as a self-contained piece Violence Jack may seem unfulfilling to some audiences or outright repulsive to others. People may mistake it as violence for the sake of violence and see the rape and murders as sexualized or far too graphic. However, when viewed as it is intended (as a moral tale against such horrors) it can really be appreciated and is far more intelligent than it is often given credit for.
Ultimately, this is not the story of Violence Jack but a story of a desperate and perverted mankind. One which has turned its back on compassion and the traditional values of the free world and is now ruled by violence, sadism, and lust. Cruelty is the currency of the land.
ANIMATION: The animation of Violence Jack has a nice balance and use of darkness and shadow. As an older anime predating the common use of computers, there are a number of animation errors and a few experimental visual effects that failed to be particularly stunning. The combat is bloody and fast -- graceless and brutal. This is not a world of Sword-Dancing Princesses, but blades and blood. Men and woman are very mortal, in many ways even fragile, coming apart like wet clay. The character designs are iconic of what you would expect from a post apocalyptic setting with punk rock and underworld elements.
SOUND: No comment. The voice acting in the dub is sometimes a little out of sync or over-dramatic. The soundtrack is not that memorable. Although, I am certainly no audiophile. There is nothing in the film that I found particularly grating. Some of the lines are so poorly read that they become quotable and fun to share with friends.
CHARACTERS: This is where the Violence Jack franchise both suffers and excels. At first glance many of the characters seem rather two-dimensional -- especially Jack himself. However, closer inspection reveals layers.
While Jack himself is treated like a monstrous shark among a sea of guppies it is clear he has some mysterious code or goal that is beyond the understanding of the protagonists. In this manner he is much like a wild animal or a force of nature, like a demon-wind that blows into the scene and sets in motion change (for better or worse). We watch as through his action, or repayment of debt victims are avenged only to become predators themselves. For better or worse, we see justice and injustice born at the edge of a knife.
The protagonists in the Violence Jack series are often well-intended people that are sucked into desperate situations -- and handle them realistically until a means comes along for an opportunity to handle them responsibly.
The antagonists are powerful men and women who rule through blind strength, taking what they want and need without question or reason. Like Jack himself, they are anarchic in nature, wild animals driven by their most base desires. Or, they are once noble men that have abandoned their nobility to become beasts for a number of reasons that are explored within the series as events unfold.
OVERALL: This isn't the best of the Violence Jack OVAs, but its not worst. It is often scorned and treated poorly by western fans who only see it as a bloody hentai and cannot look at the feature with the context it deserves. I highly enjoy this mature approach to anime and the exploration of mankind's less admirable qualities. I also enjoy the enjoy the mystery, the grey morality tale, and overall concept of Violence Jack and the setting within which they exist. This is however an adaption of a manga and is incomplete (at least in a sense). This (like most of Jack's adventure's) is the story of people who encounter Jack and the summation of THEIR story. Those who want to know more about Jack himself are going to be somewhat bitter and disappointed -- because ironically enough his origins and who he is matters less than WHAT he is and HOW he impacts the world around him simply by existing.
To keep it simple, if you're a fan of horror anthology series -- give this a watch. If you want to know the many mysteries of Violence Jack or learn the mind-blowing secret behind his true identity and the origins of their world, read the manga.