One of the problems that a lot of folks like myself had a problem in the 1990s as fans were that we were just so limited. A lot of anime was starting to come over and become available but even when you went to the other route to check things out, it was still very limited by so many things. What you saw fansubbers bring out were similar to the few companies releasing in those days with shorter projects like movies. And while there were plenty of standalone movies there were also a lot of movies that were tied to larger series. But even on the fansub side, you didn’t have much access to the show itself, especially for something like this property which had over a hundred episodes. So you ended up getting a movie and that was your only experience with it. And you know so many movies were either just complete re-imaginations of the show itself or basically just a self-contained story that didn’t really have any significance to the main work.
With this film, I remember checking it out when Central Park Media brought out the DVD of it and you could only figure out a lot of it by skimming some reviews that existed by people who had seen more. It was rough because the movie doesn’t take the time to introduce anyone and goes with the premise that if you’re watching it, you know the cast. This doesn’t hurt this movie too much at the time that it came out on DVD several years later because Funimation had started releasing the show, but I remember the weirdness of all of this in the 90s with the VHS tape. What we do get is essentially a theatrical version of a streamlined small arc of the show but with much higher production values and much bloodier battles. While there is a good story plot behind it, it’s not a dense work yet its one that serves the purpose of bringing a great-looking action show to the big screen. Against all my usual thoughts about movies like this, I found myself enjoying it more than I thought I would.
The movie opens with a huge problem; the river Styx is overflowing in the Spirit World. Huge rainstorms move across the land and everyone is in a panic. Koenma Jr. is quiet and pensive during all this as everyone is trying to get to safety. When the waters finally start crashing through the headquarters, he realizes exactly what’s going on and summons Botan to his side, but not before he falls sway to the rising waters. Botan manages to find him, and he entrusts her with something that must not fall into the wrong hands. He insists she go to Yusuke and let him fall to the waters.
With the help of a spiritualist girl named Hinageshi, the usual group bands together to fight off the demons and keep them from taking over. It essentially moves like the early arcs in the TV series does, with one of the heroes taking on one of the villains until it all comes down to Yusuke taking on the big bad for the big prize. Realizing this early on made it much easier to simply enjoy the performances and choreography of the movie. The higher production values here really make the fight sequences stand out as something special. With the massive amounts of blood spilled throughout the course of the film, dismembered limbs, and more, it’s definitely much more violent than the TV show.
This isn’t earth-shattering in the slightest, nor is it a radical change in the world that these characters inhabit. It’s a solid standalone movie that gives its fans a really big-budget shiny release and has a solid payoff in the action department. It also doesn’t hurt that the movie, which was part of a doubleheader with another short film, comes in at just thirty minutes. Noriyuki Abe directed and guided a lot of the show and his work here helps things to stick to what was being done there. It’s very much a check your brain at the door piece because it sticks to a light story and instead focuses on delivering a strong theatrical experience. And I do think that still holds up for those that can appreciate the old traditional style of animation design because it has a certain fluidity to it and intensity with how things connect as the characters fight that’s hard to come by. The film is one that I really struggled with when I first saw it because it just throws you into it so it’s not one that has held up well in that regard, but for those looking for a pretty tight sample of the kind of power and intensity of this property, it’s an interesting introduction to it through that lens. It’s definitely a very limited audience piece, though with a live-action project in the work all of that could change.