As long as you don’t expect too much, I suppose Masamune Shirow’s 1987 effort, “Black Magic M-66” isn’t a bad way to spend 45 minutes. At least 8 years before he would blow the world away with one of the best cyberpunk animation of all time, “Ghost in the Shell”, Shirow’s “M-66” is indicative of Japanimation in the ’80s. It’s a shallow mini-movie with no characterization to speak off, and is constructed from a single, cheesy plot that justifies the over-the-top man versus machine violence.
The film is about Sybel, a spunky reporter (aren’t they always?) who uncovers a secret military operation trying to capture two rogue androids. The androids, freed during a plane crash in the woods, were designed by the government to kill their enemies. Now on the loose, the androids have only one goal in mind: kill their creator’s granddaughter. The how, why, and when of this little piece of information is so absurdly written into the script that all you have to know is that it is simply creator Masamune Shirow’s way of putting a new twist on the familiar Evil Mad Scientist’s Loose Creation come back to bite the Mad Scientist on the butt theme.
Obvious and badly executed attempt at social commentary aside, “M-66” is really 45 minutes of endless carnage as the androids kill, maim, and destroy their way to their intended target. Sybel, the reporter, somehow becomes involve enough that she decides to save the granddaughter on her own, and actually does get to the victim before the military does. How this is possible I don’t know, especially considering that Sybel loses her van and has to steal her rides, while the military has all those cool flying helicopters and whatnot. I guess military intelligence takes a backseat to a spunky reporter on the trail of a big scoop every time!
The action is very intense and done with enough realism (comparatively speaking, of course) that they hold the viewer’s attention. There is no need to criticize the movie’s minimal animation and lack of detail, because this is not only common, but also the rule of thumb with ’80s animation in Japan or anywhere else. Even the Japanese, known for their superior animation craftsmanship, were drawing characters with big eyes and (dare I say it?) “cartoonish” faces back then. And for those who like cuteness in their Japanimation, “M-66” has plenty of that as well.
Only serious fans of Japanimation should bother with “M-66”. There’s no real story or interest in it for anyone who is not a lover of the genre. Despite loud and violent action, I was still put off by the ’80s look of the movie. I know, I’ve been spoiled by the realistic animation that has come out of Japan since the ’90s. But then again, “Kiki’s Delivery Service” was made in 1989, and it blows Shirow’s movie away in every way, and then some.
Masamune Shirow (director) / Masamune Shirow (screenplay)