Original Title: アサルトガールズ
Languages: Japanese, English
Genre: Action, Science Fiction
Director: Oshii Mamoru
Set in a dystopian future, the people of the world escape from real life by playing the game Avalon (f) – a virtual reality MMORPG. The story focuses on four characters – Gray (Kuroki Meisa), an expert in long-range sniping and hand-to-hand combat; Colonel Saeki Hinako, a weapons expert; Lucifer Kukichi Rinko, a mage who can transform into a giant crow; and Jäger (Fujiki Yoshikatsu), a lone wolf with a powerful rifle.
The four operate separately, wandering the desert and defeating giant sandwhales for experience points. However, they come to the realization that, in order to defeat the level’s final boss, they need to band their skills together and form a party. But, they have to resist not destroying each other first.
First off, let’s just put this out on the table: Oshii Mamoru is a fantastic director, known for his philosophy-driven storytelling. Assault Girls starts out as promising as Oshii’s other famous works, with a lengthy narrative about the fall of society and the retreat of humans back into their “gilded cages”. To escape reality, people dive into the film’s virtual reality MMORPG, which has the ability to bend to the will to the players inhabiting it.
A peek into the character designs alone is enough to peak anyone’s curiosity. The CG-enhanced visuals aren’t bad at all, and the atmosphere of the story teases to be fascinating, as one can expect from the work of the esteemed director.
Hell, it even has star power to boot in the form of the titular Assault Girls. Kuroki Meisa had been seen in the Crows Zero series of films, as well as Heavenly ForestKikuchi Rinko had previously made her rounds in Hollywood with the films Babel and The Brothers Bloom, in addition to her memorable role in Tokyo Serendipity. And Saeki Hinako had made some fans with her portrayal of Sadako in Rasen, the sequel to horror film The Ring.
So alright, we’re geared for a great sci-fi flick with all the right components, you may think. You get caught in the (very) lengthy intro, in which a narrator introduces the dystopian world in which Assault Girls takes place, speaking in a way so that you know to expect a philosophy-driven story that only Oshii can deliver.
However, by the narrative’s four-minute mark, you will start to question whether or not your attention can be kept by watching the series of still photos layered underneath the speaker’s voice, which in actuality is perfect for audio tapes of children’s bedtime stories. The opening is so drawn out that you will probably finish your bucket of popcorn before its end. And don’t worry, you will have enough time to make another batch in time before the story even starts.
Oh, but if I step away during this deep and philosophical intro, I’m going to miss the essence of the story, you may be thinking. Don’t worry, because once the intro finishes, the film does not return to the philosophy or social commentary. At all. Instead, it dons the tropes of your average run-in-the-mill shoot-big-monsters kind of science fiction flick. Actually, average is too strong of a word to say. It’s like saying Kuroki Meisa is just an average cute female.
Not a whole lot happens in Assault Girls, actually. The film has so many extended takes that could be trimmed tremendously. This is on top off the even more numerous amount of scenes that show, well, nothing. Rather, the camera just scans the (oftentimes same) landscape for long amounts of time, inserting some cuts in between that features anything from close-ups of snails or shots of the characters sitting down. Or, a random dog.
It’s really difficult to say that the film would be better even with the editing and trimming. For one, it’s already short, clocking in at about 70 minutes. But most importantly, the entire plot can be repackaged as one full arc in a regular film. In the end, the film stems away from the philosophy it tries to build its world with and becomes a story about four arguing gamers trying to band together to destroy an end-game boss.
There is no internal conflict happening with any of the characters, and we aren’t introduced to any of their backgrounds, let alone really know their personalities. So because of that, there is zero character development and zero reason to invest our interest into any of the characters. Actually, I take that back; each girl’s respective hotness is the only reason that one would invest in anyone.
An interesting move made by Oshii is the decision to make English the primary language of the characters in the film, as for no other clear reason other than to make Western audiences giggle, the rules of Avalon (f) state that no “local” languages can be spoken.
This leads to thick accents spoken from underneath muffling masks. And since English is not the native language of any of the actors, the dialogue is delivered at nowhere near the full potential, making it seem like some kind of student video project for a foreign language class. And to top it all off, the girl with the best English ability – Kikuchi Rinko – has no bit of spoken dialogue at all.
Assault Girls is one of those films that could have been amazing. The set-up was interesting, the character designs were bad ass, the sci-fi elements had potential, the girls are beautiful…
However, the film was quick to dispose of the world-building the lengthy intro had set up, leaving us with something that could have worked better as a short film, or as a single scene in a much larger one.
Watch this film…
…if you have insomnia and need something with enough power to knock you out.