Venus Wars

I’m surprised I’d never seen this one before. It was always on the shelf at the various video stores that rented anime back in the day, but I guess I always passed it over for something that seemed newer or more interesting. Now that I’ve seen it, I’m glad to have done so, but I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything or whatever. It’s a solid anime movie with a lot of the same strengths and issues of its contemporaries.

It’s a great looking movie. It has all of that good hand drawn action going on– detailed and fluid with some neat perspectives. Even the bits where they juxtapose animated characters and vehicles with grainy real life footage looks awesome. Those scenes really add to the ambiance of this taking place on Venus— all rugged and ragged and barren. Those scenes might feel a bit more appropriate for our expectations of Mars rather than Venus, but it fits this movie’s take on the planet, and I really appreciate that approach here.

The story’s structure suffers from a lot of the same issues most manga-based movies and OVAs from this period– it’s more of a greatest hits compilation of key scenes than anything else, and if you aren’t used to rolling with this sort of thing it might not click with you. I was reared on this sort of thing, so these kinda janky plot structures are second nature to me and never really felt “off” until I became more aware of the fact that these things were adaptations. I can’t blame anyone who doesn’t dig on the awkward way these old movies are paced, but I find a lot of charm in how they try to cram in volumes worth of story into a kinda breezy hour and a half-ish movie.

The actual narrative here is pretty interesting. Venus gets hit by a meteor, which wipes out a lot of its toxic, oppressive atmosphere, and people from Earth begin to colonize it in hopes of creating a new, better society. Decades pass, and you get the feeling that Venus has become something of a dumping ground for the “dregs” of Earth. Earth is said to be relatively peaceful, but two nations on Venus are at war with one another for unstated reasons– something about unity or some other nonsense leader-types spout when they just want to take over stuff for selfish reasons. We get glimpses of a few big wigs talking about getting what they can out of their posts on Venus before moving on to bigger things elsewhere. Everyone came to Venus looking for a brighter future, but so far only those in power are seeing this future.

That’s where the main crew of characters comes in. They’re a bunch of disenfranchised youths playing a roller derby meets motocross sport called Battle Bike. This is about as good of a life as they can expect on Venus– nowhere to go socially or economically save for one character who goes to nursing school and who’s dad is one of said big wigs taking advantage of the very sort of people she considers friends. They don’t give a damn about all that and enjoy doing their thing, but as things go in these sorts of stories, the powers that be on both sides won’t let them be. When the rival county invades their city, one of their huge bi-plane looking flying fortresses uses their racetrack as a landing pad and launching point for the invasion. These kids have been robbed of the one thing that gave them real joy (outside of leering at women the way young dudes do in these 80s productions, but that wasn’t working out for them before the invasion), so after a few more choice encounters with the invaders and their native police forces, they decide to fight back and reclaim what’s theirs.

It kinda takes on the vibe of one of those “kids take on the adults” movies, where their youthful pluckiness and will to just be kids will overcome the stuffiness, formality, and rules-bound nature of the adults in charge. Thing is, this moment happens not at the end of the movie but at the halfway point. The kids lose more than one of their friends, including the lone adult who gave a damn about them, and while the pull off their symbolic anti-establishment gesture, they’re ultimately “saved” from a lethal counterattack by their nation’s military, only to be unwillingly drafted into their ranks.

Their “captors” are shown to not be horrible people in the end, but this rescue isn’t some benevolent act of altruism on their part. While not everyone in the crew is forced to fight, those that do, along with other young recruits who used modified bikes to fight, are treated like cannon fodder– thrown at tanks and other heavy machinery with little in the way of fire power or armor. Their immediate leader within the military, a bit of an arrogant ass, sees their potential and wants them to be properly trained, but the rest of the top brass sees them as nothing but an expendable force that has little say in their fate. Even if the kids don’t fight, they’re being held hostage since this military force is trying to remain hidden in the desert in order to carry out its guerrilla war in secret. These downtrodden kids are stuck between an invading force that doesn’t care who it hurts in the process of claiming land and a native power that sees anyone who isn’t “important” as a resource to be flung at the enemy without care.

So it’s fitting that the two more heroic moments during the climax come from these kids. One of the kids, a reporter from Earth who managed to sneak out of the guerrilla camp, poses as someone just wanting an interview with the invading general in an attempt to assassinate him. It’s only her lack of experience with a gun that keeps her from pulling it off, but she has more guts than anyone to even dare to pull off such a stunt. The other moment comes from the nominal main dude, who takes on said general’s tank one on one with his underpowered battle bike, using his wits and savvy with his vehicle (and his foe’s arrogance) to win out in the end. It’s a pretty cool showdown that uses the geography of a vertically inclining launch pad to good use.

In the end, the war is ended, and the main guy is united with his nurse gal pal, but there’s no real sense that any of this is really over. In most stories where the kids take on the powers that be, they try to leave you with a sense that the kids have changed their environment in some way. All we really get here is that out heroes played an important, but unsung, part in ending one conflict out of many. They have personal victories, but Venus is still Venus. For a bunch of kids who never had much hope anyway save for doing the things they love, that unfortunately might be the best they can hope for. Maybe we’re supposed to feel like the tides are turning, since the military’s leadership seems hopeful at the main dude’s potential, and the reporter plans to return to Venus since her friends reside there, but it all feels like said little victories.

At least the nurse’s cat lived and got some fish.

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