Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Review - First Squad (2009 - Dir. Yoshiharu Ashino, Aljosha Klimov, Misha Shprits)

The first thing that sprang to mind as I watched this Russian/Japanese hybrid - Russian writers, Japanese production company - was how much it reminded me of the board game Tannhauser. Just have a look at the screenshots to see what I mean. That's not to say the comparison is bad news because Tannhauser was always a cool looking game.


Set during World War II on the Eastern Front, First Squad is the tale of a group of children with special powers who are enlisted into a secret unit designed to fight the naughty Nazis. The Nazis, being a crafty bunch, try to resurrect some sword wielding nutter from the Crusades to fight their battles for them. Everything seems to have gone very pear shaped early on in the film and we are then left following the story of Nadya, one of the members of First Squad.

Coming from the studio that brought us Tekkonkinkreet I was hoping for something with a similar style. It's not. It's got a traditional anime feel with a distinctly Russian flavour. But couple that with the original Russian voices and English subtitles and the film amounts to a very interesting proposition. 

I was expecting something fairly predictable but there were a few twists thrown at me. One scene had me thinking, 'Here we go, a bit of backstory time'. Yawn. (I'm never that keen on origin stories, the Star Wars prequels spring to mind, as does the Scorpius episode in Farscape. Yawn. Again.) But to my surprise, everything suddenly changed and I was engrossed in a chase scene between Nadya and some blond-bobbed female German twins. Good stuff.

It's a real shame that the ending seemed very rushed and decidedly standard issue. It felt more like a game of Team Fortress 2 than a battle involving super-powered children. Their powers seemed to be more along the lines of, 'Look at me! I can use a pistol!' or 'I can use a rifle!' or even more thrillingly 'I can use a rather large gun!' Mmm. Not strictly that impressive. Add the fact that it only lasts 73 minutes and I ended up really quite short changed. Due to the short running time, the rest of the First Squad are very underdeveloped.

Even so, I can see myself buying this at some point because I really enjoyed the atmosphere. The animation is premium quality and the music by DJ Krush is not too shabby. The ending paves the way for a sequel, one that I wouldn't mind watching for once. Plus, if a film contains an apple scrumping scene, it's got to be half decent.

If you like this you could also try:
Redline, Tekkonkinkreet, Jin-Roh, The Sky Crawlers.


  1. It actually sounds quite good. I sense a certain element of grittiness and I really like the look of the artwork.

    1. It is slightly gritty. But only very slightly. It's grown on me and I will definitely buy it at some point. (It could be a bit like Tekkonkinkreet in that it becomes one of my favourite films and goes way past its original rating of 7/10.)

  2. Just watched it (and for once) completely agree with your review. Sadly not that gritty but I would have enjoyed another half hour. Did they ever do a sequel?

  3. I did warn you that it wasn't really that gritty at all. They haven't done a sequel yet. Not even sure that plans are afoot.