Takashi Miike’s infamous splatter-fest “Ichi the Killer” has proved to be a controversial cult favourite, and so it comes as no surprise that it has inspired a spin off in the form of an anime prequel. Although the initial reaction for fans of the original film may be to sigh with cynical disgust, it should be remembered that the whole story and mythology of “Ichi” stems from a manga, and as such it is actually a fairly justifiable candidate for the cartoon treatment. In addition to this, the anime boasts more than a few links to the film, most notably original writers Hideo Yamamoto (creator of the manga itself) and Sakichi Sato, as well as a voice cameo from “Ichi’s” director, Takashi Miike.
Unfortunately, this is where the good news stops as, whether judged by the standards of its live action counterpart or even by that of anime in general, “Koroshiya: Episode Zero” is a pretty poor effort. Hampered from the start by an obviously low budget and some shoddy animation work, the cartoon lacks any kind of impact despite promising an unrestrained and carnage filled look at the character’s origins. If anything, this rather tame affair serves only to retread that which is already known about the character, and to raise further questions, presumably to be pursued in a future series which has yet to emerge.
The plot is set shortly before “Ichi the Killer”, and begins as Ichi is released from a psychiatric hospital after a series of killings. Believed to be cured, he is placed under the supervision of a psychologist and allowed back into the world, despite the fact that he behaves like a six year old child and has a mind full of disturbing memories and pent up sadistic sexual urges. As Ichi makes a vague attempt at a normal life, he finds himself facing bullies at every turn, which serves to bring forth his repressed experiences, further helped by a mysterious girl he meets at his karate class. As we learn more about the events which led to his incarceration, Ichi draws closer to the edge, and it is obvious that bloodshed and perversion cannot be far away.
Whilst Ichi is a fascinating character, and one which deserves further exploration, the problem with this prequel is that it is far too unoriginal and unambitious, providing a disappointingly predictable motivation for the character’s madness. Although this does give director Shinji Ishidaira an excuse to show scenes of childhood violence and sleazy sex, one would have hoped for a little more inventive reason for the character’s incredible sadism instead of just being a downtrodden loner who witnessed his parents enjoying mild bouts of S&M.
This really is the main problem with the narrative, as it sheds no real light on the events of the live action film, and lacks the deceptive depth which its characters possessed. In fact, since we are shown Ichi being bullied, exploited and harassed by a variety of lowlifes, the anime seems to be actively encouraging us to support him and his resulting actions, making him more like a vigilante than a psychopath. Whilst the original film benefited from existing in a moral void, the anime seems to be siding with Ichi, and using cheap emotional plugs in an attempt to make the viewer do the same. Considering the character’s actions and personality, this is an odd, poorly thought out move, and one which meets with little success.
Another problem is the anime’s visceral content, or to be more precise, the lack thereof. Despite being promised otherwise, the cartoon features little of the film’s shocking torture or violence, and relies upon a couple of poorly judged set pieces. Similarly, although there is a fair amount of perverse sex, it never comes close to the film’s gleeful portrayal of pathological perversions. These shortcomings not only disappoint, but also detract further from the themes of the film, which used ridiculous extremes of violence as a form of commentary.
The final, and possibly the most damning nail in the coffin, is the poor standard of animation. Despite the talent involved, the budget appears to have been very low, and the proceedings resemble a Saturday morning cartoon more than a credible stab at continuing a franchise. The characters and backgrounds are shabbily drawn and move awkwardly, which reduces any impact the action scenes may have had.
All of this only serves to confirm the viewer’s initial fears that this is indeed little more than a cheap cash in on a successful film. There is nothing particularly worthwhile about this anime prequel, either in terms of character revelations or violent content. As a result, it is likely only to appeal to diehard “Ichi” fans. And even for that niche, “Episode Zero” is far from being required viewing.
Shinji Ishidaira (director) / Sakichi Sato, Hideo Yamamoto (screenplay)
CAST: Takashi Miike …. Kakihara (voice)
Sayaka Oohara …. Midori (voice)
Chihiro Suzuki …. Ichi (voice)
Shinpachi Tsuji …. Jijii (voice)