Day Three: Jin-Rou (MotM 2017)

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(Disclaimer: There’s some conflict with how to spell this movie’s name. Some refer to it as Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, while others simply state it as Jin-Rou. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll continue forth with Jin-Rou.)

The art of movie-making is a riveting, time-consuming process. It takes patience, planning, and bountiful amounts of creativity, effort, and enthusiasm. Sometimes this translates into timeless classics, other times one ends up with beautiful flops. The chances of a masterpiece tend to rise with studios or directors who have produced some in the past, much like the case of those behind Jin-Rou. With two from the universally-acclaimed Ghost in the Shell franchise spearheading the film, Jin-Rou has an immediate weight to it that can only be lifted by satisfying the preconceived hype surrounding its potential.

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Something notable within the opening scene is the emphasis on setting the scene early and quickly. The first three minutes are nothing but exposition and world-building through backstory narration. Wasting no time, everything that couldn’t be told by the current situation was rewarded to the viewer through a monotone lecture. While this may seem unnecessary to highlight, there’s something odd with the way it sets the mood for the story and its people. Symbolism is something the film tries to play with all throughout, and in some mystifying way, the opening speech is symbolic of the pragmatic and controlled progression of things that shouldn’t feel so calm.

To get it out of the way, much in the way the film does, Jin-Rou, by most technical accounts, succeeds. It is dark, broody, symbolically sweet, and very fluid in terms of animation and design. Voice acting is terrific and everything about the mature nature of its themes do enough to cause some grief with the audience. It has a gripping atmosphere that makes the events that occur interesting and the pacing never feels too slow or too fast. The team went all out in terms of design, as in addition to making characters feel and look attractively realistic, the effort put forth in making scenes feel more harrowing is benefited by precise and disturbing imagery. There is a noticeable desire to make this movie good, and to make it as engrossing as possible. If only it was able to escape its one true flaw, which effectively makes the experience feel almost wasted.

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Heart within the design is one thing, but it’s another to put heart within the characters. Jin-Rou is very much a character-driven story, with the concept of morality and identifying oneself within a specific condition being the focal points of the story presented. It all feels so robotic, so mechanically determined prior that no one ever comes across as anything other than a fidgety, indecisive or one-dimensional character. Characters develop, and grow as the story rolls on, but at what point does the story override the charisma of the characters involved? All characters are essentially the same, acting upon their own motives and moping their jaws into a never-moving frown. There is no cheer, no bombast, no humor to speak of. The tone doesn’t suit these things, understandably, but what harm would it cause to evoke some life out of these characters? To give them some sort of relatable characteristic that makes them more than just killing machines or double undercover agents. As strong as the story holds, what characters have the foundation to make the story feel more than simple what-ifs?

It may feel as though some hyperbole was presented with the claim that the characters being underwhelming may ruin the film. However, if by movie’s end none of the things that Jin-Rou tried so hard to evoke comes across as anything other than superficial, hyperbole is barely an indicator. Should a viewer sit and stare, completely unmoved by the ending scene, which is by far the most emotionally-riveting part in the film, it’s a noticeable issue. If the message falls flat, what does Jin-Rou fall back on? Animation? Does animation make the movie more than what it is? If the themes and story all build up to a gray conclusion, with characters, animation, and sound building upon the strength of said narrative, what does that say if it doesn’t manage to impress? From some objective standpoint, the film accomplishes a number of things leading up to that final conclusion, which merits it credit. With nothing to show for in the end, it becomes little more than an “A for effort.”

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It wanted to be more. It wanted to be a masterpiece. One can feel the power put into this pet project to show the chops of those behind it. It works to some extent, with a lot of gusto behind the presentation of the (not so subtle) themes at play. Still, there’s some issue with what makes this stand out more than others, especially concerning the blanket characters. It lacks that impact that it tried so desperately to create by dedicating all these twists and turns with the war between two sides. It doesn’t feel real, or to a lesser extent, as believable as it must to show these characters through a tragic lens. A process of too much effort? Or not enough whimsy? Reasons entirely debatable, Jin-Rou has all the makings of a classic, just without the heart to make it all feel alive.

Final Score: 5.5/10

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!

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