Heaven, I Need a Hug
“You’re so critical. Sometimes you just have to let art flow
—br> Nick (William Hurt), The Big Chill
Working the pop cult beat, you get all sorts of free stuff like books and CDs and DVDs (I need T-shirts—I take a large). On the other hand, receipt of said free stuff constitutes an obligation to say something clever about it. And that’s not always easy. For example, upon receiving Manga Entertainment’s new anime release, 1995’s Tokyo Revelation, I watched it three times, twice in English and once in Japanese with subtitles, and I’ll be damned if I can even find something mildly pithy to say. But I’m a professional, so here goes:
Tokyo Revelation begins with an explosion and ends with a bigger explosion. In the hour between them, there are demons, gods, a warrior priest, ghost-busting ninjas, witches, virtual reality, multiple possessions, creatures from Greek mythology, and the Internet. Try to make sense of it and you’ll hurt yourself. But it’s pretty.
The film opens on board a jetliner in the skies above Tokyo, where a fey-looking young man named Akito keys in the final sequence of a program that causes invisible flying gremlins to emerge from his monitor and sabotage the plane. Akito escapes via a pair of supernatural wings as the plane explodes and globs of glowing ooze rain down around him. The explosion is an attempt to harvest enough of the stuff (called magnetite, the raw material of souls) to bring the demon Ose (Satan) into this world, but it’s not enough, so Akito must find a special victim who is just brimming with soul-goop. Fortunately, there just happens to be one at the local high school, a girl named Saki.
In order to stake out this potential demon-snack, Akito enrolls in Saki’s class and finds that his one and only childhood friend Kojiro is also there. After an uncomfortable reunion where Akito not-too-subtly reveals that he is in love with Kojiro and the latter rebuffs him, Akito lets slip that he has “let the demons out,” using an occult ritual Kojiro taught him when they were kids. That night, Akito arranges to have four demons possess the bodies of Saki’s girlfriends and sics them on her.
However, Saki is saved by a pair of demon-hunting shinryu ninjas, one of whom also enrolled in school that day. Meanwhile, Akito’s demon buddy conjures up the Greek demon-dog Cerberus to kill Kojiro, because by sheer coincidence Kojiro is the reincarnation of the god Matsuhira, divine guardian of Tokyo. Who knew?
A simultaneous pair of exciting fight scenes—Kojiro vs. Cerberus, ninjas vs. demon-girls—ensues. But too soon, it’s back to more possessions and double-crosses and a baffling scheme in which something called “demonic software” is central to the manifestation of Satan on Earth, culminating in the realization of Kojiro’s destiny and a Godzilla-scale battle in downtown Tokyo.
How convoluted is all this? So much so that by the end, the surviving characters are still explaining the plot to each other as the credits are rolling. Given Tokyo Revelation‘s origins, however, this is not surprising. According to the handy-dandy Anime Encyclopedia the film is actually a remake of an earlier anime called Digital Devil Story. More accurately, it is an adaptation of the video game version of Digital Devil Story, a pedigree that practically guarantees that any plot one tries to hang on it will be clumsy and give one the same kind of ice-cream headache that the Tomb Raider movie did.
What is most disturbing about Tokyo Revelation, though, is that its villain, Akito, is gay, a point strongly implied in the English translation but stated flat-out in the original Japanese. Akito states that his affection for Kojiro stems from the fact that Kojiro was the only person who never picked on him. While it is never explained just why Akito was so universally put-upon, there is a childhood flashback sequence which seems to have no other purpose than to show him making a sexual advance on the young Kojiro which, again, the latter rebuffs.
It may seem a bit superfluous to point out ham-handed characterization in the midst of this muddle, and one could easily check one’s brain at the door and simply view the film as eye candy (I did mention that it was pretty), were it not that the villain’s motivations seem completely hitched to the archaic gay-equals-unstable cliché. Given that anime and its cousin manga have for years been progressive in their depiction of homoeroticism, the notion of Akito engineering the Apocalypse in a hissy-fit is just distasteful. Even moreso is the film’s resolution, which is pointedly hetero and outright disappointing.
As a budding otaku (fanboy geek), I want so badly to believe that every anime that gets sent to me will be as mind-blowing as Ghost in the Shell or as fun as Kiki’s Delivery Service. But the fact is that sometimes one has no choice but to deal with something like Tokyo Revelation and accept it as the downside of getting free stuff.