When I initially picked up Darkside Blues I glanced at it very skeptically. Not only had I heard mixed things about this movie (more bad than good, I'm afraid), but it also sported "From the creator of Vampire Hunter D and Demon City Shinjuku" across the top of the cover; two movies I have less than fond memories of. Nonetheless, I paid the four bucks it cost to rent this thing.
Any skepticism I had was blown out of the water when the credits started rolling. I'd heard this movie was atmospheric, but I didn't realize just how atmospheric. This is probably as close to an animated Martin Scorsese film as you'll find. The visuals sport rather heavy shading, similar to Demon Shinjuku and Wicked City. A kind of Gothic-meets-inner-city style is used throughout the movie with effective results, and the background art is well detailed.
The dialog in the movie is odd for the most part and downright cryptic in some places. A lot of the characters have a deliberate, laid-back manner of speaking, as though their words contain some profound insight into the mysteries of the universe. Considering this, the dubbing is surprisingly decent. I'm not a big fan of U.S. Manga Corp's dubs, but aside from a few actors over-acting, it's generally solid.
The plot is really secondary to the characters and their personal agendas as the movie progresses. The time is somewhere in the future; exactly when seems unimportant. A giant world-wide corporation calling themselves Persona Century (not exactly catchy, but I digress) owns about 90% of the world. Only a few select areas, including an area in Shinjuku are left "free", although Persona still meddles where and when it wants. Recently, a terrorist attack was staged on the Persona headquarters and only one terrorist escaped. He has fled to Shinjuku where encounters a group of misfits; half delinquents, half anti-Persona rebels.
It is in developing and exploring its characters where Darkside Blues shines. To call them misfits would be an understatement; these people are downright odd. The character featured on the front box cover, named Darkside, is surprisingly not the main focus in the movie, although he does have his share of choice scenes. The focus is on the terrorist, Tatsuya, and the group he meets up with, a blond street-wise woman named Mai, her muscle-bound companion Kenzo, and a young woman with a troubled past named Selia. Mai and Selia have the largest roles as revelations about their pasts and reasons for their current state of beings are slowly unveiled. Darkside, in all of this, seems a spectator of sorts. Given that he seems to have come from some alternate dimension and possesses some freaky psychic powers (not to mention a flying horse-drawn carriage), you might suspect he would have a larger role, but sadly he does not (and any questions about his nature and origins are left unanswered). Another peculiar character is a young boy named Kitari who is even more mysterious than Darkside and also remains an enigma at the end.
The Persona corporation is generally represented by hired guns and mutant humans with enhanced abilities, but three key people are given face and name. One, Guren, is a high-ranking member of Persona and a figure in the pasts of one of the main characters. Another, Tamaki, is a sadistic woman with a taste for torture, but she is given no more than a handful of scenes in which she takes part. And the third is Enji, who has spent much time in Africa and possesses some deadly powers. Despite his personality quirks, he is given the least screen time of the three, and comes across as being rather superfluous.
The problems with Darkside Blues stems from the fact there are a few more characters than necessary. Time is spent half-developing several minor characters, while leaving questions hanging in the air about the main ones. I was particularly confused by the revelation about Mai during the movie's climax since very little seemed to be leading up to it. Still, for all it's worth, this type of movie is very hard to execute correctly, and Darkside Blues succeeds on most counts.
If you're heavily into artsy, atmospheric films and the like, you'll probably enjoy what Darkside Blues offers. A must for any Scorsese fans.
The Verdict: * * * * (good)
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