I’ve talked quite a few times on this blog about how I am not a big fan of horror media in general. I do like psychological horror things that dig deeper into people’s minds to bring out their worse fears, but that’s about it for me for the genre as a whole. I don’t like jump scares, which is what most modern horror stories use. All those do is surprise you and nothing else. Anime has it worse because the very fact it’s animation adds another filter away from the horror unless the animation style is inventive and elaborate. With all of that said, I think I might see the reason why it’s possible for something animated using elaborate drawings on Popsicle sticks to scare me. No seriously, I watched Violence Voyager at night and I couldn’t even sleep very well after completing it. Violence Voyager that uses the technique I mentioned known as Gekimation, from independent animator Uchija, to tell it’s story to great effect.
Violence Voyager is like something you would hear about in a non censored Grimm’s Fairytale in a very 1980’s Japan setting. After the end of their school term in Japan, American foreigner Bobby and his friend Akkun with Akkun’s younger brother Yakkun in tow exit out of school and carrying toys from their science show, the two are accosted by three kids. Bobby used to get more attention because of his status as an exotic foreigner, but hanging out with nobodies like Akkun have taken that from him. Well, as far as we know.
The three kids in question decide to head into the mountains on their way home. It’s a quick scene that establishes important elements like the two kid’s status and friendship alongside the kids in mountains idea that is infinitely important to the plot of story as a whole. There are a lot of these moments including when Bobby was at home where we meet his cat Derrick and his dad whose very protective about his sickly wife. Plus, the two friends also meet a bat and an old man by the name of Lucky Monkey with an ape on their journey through the mountains. All of these characters play a role later in Violence Voyager’s story so everything is properly set up and established.
The next day, Akkun and Bobby start their own journey through the mountains. One of their friends, Takashi, lives on the other side of it and Akkun knows a short cut to his house. This is when the two meet an Old Man with the ape on the way who tries to dissuade them from going there. Of course Bobby doesn’t listen and pushes Akkun, who wants to go back home, further into the mountains to see Takashi anyway. Nothing happens as planned though. Bobby sees a bridge that Akkun hasn’t seen before leading to what looks like a run down theme park for kids by the name of Violence Voyager. Bobby immediately pushes Akkun into the direction of going to Violence Voyager instead. As you would expect, nothing is as it seems. The theme park is first a simple water shoot em up with mechanical alien targets that appear and are shot down by squirt guns, but everything changes when Akkun and Bobby meet a girl who asks for help. A girl who has been there for three days.
From that point on, things only get worse and worse. Everything goes off the rails here because nothing that happens is predictable. It’s childhood horror and Grimm at it’s maximum because there isn’t a single thing in this story that is held back. Kids, animals, and adults alike are easily killed in this film. There is also a strong amount of body horror that could be compared to Akira in some ways. Even the people that make it out have their bodies arranged in ways that are completely unnatural for human survival. No one is safe and it’s that maximum adult fear which makes it terrifying because not even adults can stop the horror on screen. It happens and no one can stop it except for the kids caught into the conflict themselves.
If there is a weakness in the story telling is the character writing. I don’t mean in terms of character arcs. I’m not exactly expecting an hour and a half film to have strong character arcs that really dig deep into character’s psyche. No, that’s asking too much. To me, the writing feels like the characters are more vehicles for this fairy tale story to happen instead of having the story being a vehicle for the characters. Certain decisions that characters make feel like the hand of the writing pushing them in directions for the story to happen. Still, this doesn’t happen too often and we at least have a strong understanding of these characters in question. That’s all that necessary for the audience to care about what happens to them. All that matters really.
What makes the experience of Violence Voyager feel visceral is the Gekimation. Yes, Violence Voyager’s is based around using something similar to paper drawings, though they are painted, on popsicle sticks with elaborately backgrounds as the animation. That adds more then it takes away from the experience though. For instance, the drawings of these characters are from what you would expect from any kind of children’s book. Same with the background elements and science fiction backgrounds in the later part of the movie. The easy animation works together to create a safe, child friendly environment to build up viewer expectations then crush them as hard as it can. Something similar to what Madoka Magica did with it’s cute character designs and horror elements.
Before you ask, the character paintings do change based on what the characters are wearing, expressions the director wants you to see, and everything else. There is a lot of artistry and effort on display in Violence Voyager. If I had a complaint, I think the liquids and fire works used to supplement the drawings are somewhat jarring and took me out of the experience sometimes. Yet again, it would be hard to use paper animation for the applications they are used, so a huge amount of credit there. Gekimation has a lot of limitations. Not a problem from a technical stand point, but it’s still something that bothered me from time to time. Uchija did a great job putting this all together in a coherent manner.
Then there is the voice acting to look at and consider. The screener copy I was given to watch was english dubbed. I was nervous at first, but I found all the performances themselves pretty well done. The cast was made out of Debbi Derryberry from Jimmy Neutron, Cedric Williams who was apart of Toradora’s voice cast, Saki Fujita who voiced Ymir in Attack on Titan, and Shigeo Takahashi from Nichijou. A lot of quality voice actors at play here, so Violence Voyager dub was more then average. Each voice actor did a great job giving each character appropriate aged voices. What interests me is how hard it must have been to get timing right with this style of animation. At least in anime there are lip flaps to use for recording and timing. In Violence Voyager, I imagine there must have been a lot of watching for the timing in the original version and possibly notes from the original creator himself. Maybe something else, but a job well done regardless.
What can I say about Violence Voyager besides the fact that it legitimately scared me. It’s not a perfect movie, but there are no cheap thrills here. Only realistic stakes that ruin the lives of many kids and adults that lost their way in the mountains. A solid tale that will frighten adults and kids alike. So, if you do plan on watching this because it sounds interesting, maybe keep your kids away from it. Unless you want them to watch it to intentionally scare them. While it’s not available to watch now, it will be available on all sorts of digital platforms on the 21st this month. Those platforms being Amazon, DirectTV, FlixFling, VImeo on Demand, Vudu, Fandgo, and AT&T. So many options for that will allow almost anyone to watch it. There is little chance that anyone could be disappointed with this unique and wonderful horror film.
TriCoast Studios contacted me last week about watching and viewing this film. I saw the trailer above and couldn’t stop myself from agreeing to watch it and talk about it. As you can guess, I’m glad that I did.