As I get older I’m always astonished at just how amazingly well many anime of the 1970’s and 1980’s holds up. So much so, that whether I’m watching something for the 20th time that I saw decades ago or watching something created back then for the very first time, much of it still looks astonishingly beautiful and is often brilliantly written and imaginative.
As mentioned previously in my “welcome” page I have made it my mission to seek out as much unseen old school anime (and manga) as possible and I have a deep appreciation for old animation techniques and the pre-CG age when most things were hand drawn.
To that end let’s discuss the frankly impressive Crusher Joe, an old fashioned sci-fi action adventure anime movie from 1983. I’ve known for quite a while about this film and the OVAs that came later, however unlike the rest of the shows and series I’ve discussed so far I hadn’t gotten round to this one until recently despite it having multiple subtitled uncut releases in the US since the 1990’s. When it was first released I didn’t have easy access to American imports and by the time I did the DVD release I found out about (too late) was out of print, so this unfortunately was my first viewing of Crusher Joe.
Based on the novels of Haruka Takachiho, the founder of mecha design pioneers Studio Nue, Crusher Joe tells the story of the “crushers”: a mercenary-like organisation of rough and ready individuals who take on a number of wide ranging jobs throughout the galaxy using their specialist skills in everything from demolition to transportation to make a living. In the early days of space exploration and colonisation the crushers were instrumental in a number of important practices such as destroying asteroids and terraforming planets to make them hospitable for humans. The most legendary Crusher is Crusher Dan, the founder of the “crusher council” that governs the rules and regulations that all members of the organisation must abide by.
Dan has a son called Joe who is now a great crusher in his own right (the character profiles during the title screen inform us he has a triple A ranking) though he and his father don’t always see eye to eye. Joe leads a team of heroes who are the focus of both the novels, this movie and the OVAs. Rounding up Joe’s team are the hulking cyborg pilot Talos, the young and excitable engineer Ricky and Alfin: the beautiful yet tomboyish navigator and former princess of the planet Pizanne. Oh and Dongo, the ship’s robot companion who doesn’t feature too heavily in the movie though he is quite amusing and is there when needed (see image below). He also has an unusual hobby for a robot: a penchant for porn magazines.
In the movie Joe’s team take on a job to transport a critically ill young girl named Elena suspended in a cryogenic state to a facility where she can receive life saving medical attention within 30 hours. However a weird time space phenomenon interrupts their ship’s warp and suddenly their cargo mysteriously disappears. The next thing they know they’re being accused of piracy by the United Space Federation with no evidence of their mission to back up their story.
It seems they were set up somehow and after getting them out of prison they get a right ear bashing from Joe’s father Dan for circumventing regulations and taking on the job quickly without following the proper procedures. Soon they’re on a mission to not only reclaim the patient Elena but also to find the people responsible and that search takes them to Lagos: a planet that’s pretty much a hideout for dangerous criminals, space pirates and assassins.
Crusher Joe isn’t a deep or mind expanding film, instead it’s a fun action packed, often funny and beautifully animated sci-fi adventure with great characters. However the world of the crushers is incredibly well realised with insane attention to detail like many anime features of the 1980’s. No doubt the novels helped fill in a lot of background detail to give it that Star Wars-like “lived in universe” feel.
The film’s plot serves as a backbone for a number of wonderfully designed and executed set pieces where the characters get involved in one exciting action scene after another.
Everything you could want from an action adventure is in this movie somewhere. Beautiful women, wisecracking heroes, bad guys both threatening and goofy, awesome mechanical design (what else can you expect with Shoji Kawamori, Sunrise and Studio Nue all involved) and an incredibly fun scene where during some downtime our heroes inadvertently end up wrecking an entire disco after a fight breaks out that culminates in riot police being dispatched.
The above scene illustrates why I love this film so much after only one viewing. The crusher team are a somewhat reckless bunch of loose cannons, however they’re all lovable in their own way and they are moral where it counts. There’s some shit they just won’t stand for, we get to see their noble side as the movie progresses. They’re just such compelling protagonists that I was rooting for them all the way. Mainstream movies need more slightly gray anti-heroes these days which is probably one of the reasons why the big screen adaptations of Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy have proven so popular.
If you like the look of old school Gundam you’ll love the movie’s character design and furthermore if you like the work of Sunrise and Studio Nue you’ll really dig the general world and technology aesthetic present in Crusher Joe. A lot of Sunrise staff who worked on the original Gundam shared duties on this film including the director/character designer Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. Also in a little nod to Gundam there are several blink and you’ll miss em cameos of the character that would become Sunrise’s mascot, Haro the little tennis ball-like bouncing robot from Sunrise’s original Mobile Suit Gundam and Gundam Zeta. It’s quite funny when you consider that the original Gundam aired in 1979 and Zeta in 1985 and in Zeta the main character Kamille discovers a mass produced toy version of Haro on a trash heap. In one of his cameos in this movie (which debuted in 1983 between the two series) Haro is seen in one scene falling off a ledge with lots of debris and onto a conveyor belt of unknown origin, possibly ending up with the garbage that Kamille finds him in in Gundam Zeta. I like to think that this is that same Mark 2 Haro that Kamille ended up repairing though that probably wasn’t Sunrise’s intention, likely they just threw him in to see if any eagle eyed viewers would notice. He has four cameos that I noticed, 3 in person and one as a design on Alfin’s watch in the final scene.
Speaking of in-jokes and references there is also a scene featuring a drive-in movie that features Kei and Yuri the two protagonists of Crusher Joe creator Haruka Takachiho’s other most famous work The Dirty Pair.
The running time of the film is over two hours long but it’s twice as entertaining and much better paced than most modern Hollywood blockbusters. Perhaps the finale runs a tiny bit too long but honestly I didn’t mind, I watched it on a relaxed Sunday morning and enjoyed every minute from beginning to end.
In a previous article called “The westernisation of anime” i talked about how often in decades past anime was edited, English dubbed and made kid friendly. I never knew this until recently but apparently a UK video label released a kid friendly version of Crusher Joe in the late 80’s dubbed and edited under the title Crushers with an altered plot, horrible dubbing and a terrible intro song. Some bastardised anime edits were discussed in the pages of Manga Mania, a magazine I used to read every month as a teenager, however I don’t recall this particular one ever coming up in any of the articles. There’s evidence of this atrocity on Youtube, the badly drawn cover art alone though probably tells you the level of respect they had for the original source material. See it below and shudder. You really have to wonder at the mentality of editing something meant for older audiences and marketing it towards kids, it’s almost like some of these video labels thought they were righting wrongs by resetting what they thought to be the status quo…. because animation is clearly something for kids right? Talk about trying to ice skate uphill. They had to cut about 40 minutes to make it “kid friendly”.
Crusher Joe is now available on a remastered uncut DVD set in both full frame and anamorphic widescreen versions, digitally remastered with great picture quality and lovely error free yellow subs from Discotek Media.
In summary if you like old fashioned adventure movies, science fiction, a bit of humour, fun characters and beautifully realised worlds or you like the work of Nue, Sunrise or a lot of the guys involved with old school Gundam you NEED this movie on your shelf. Michael Bay should be forced to study this film, it has tons of explosions but it never gets boring because it’s always varying things up with different scenarios and vastly different types of action set pieces to keep things interesting.
The OVAs are also both re-released in September from good old Discotek. Of course I’m going to review those too so I hope you’ll come back here to have a read when I post my article. This is one movie I wish I’d really watched sooner but better late than never eh? Hopefully one day we’ll see an English release for the novels and a reprint of the manga too.