Good Lord, this movie is stupid.
I’ve built up a fair amount of immunity to the specific styles of lazy writing and recycling of stock material which Japanese animation relies on, but I’ve still got some standards. You can construct a plot entirely from off-the-shelf parts if you’d like, as long as you make it entertaining to watch and remember to include a coherent structure to lash all your hackneyed junk to. And if you’ve got a sense of pacing or mood you can add in to make this stuff go down easier, all the better. You’ll never guess, as Colony Drop is nothing if not optimistic, but Loups=Garous lacks all of this.
About thirty years from now, Japan’s existing society is replaced with the ominous-sounding System,” an institution which provides all the goods and services one could need, such as a near infinite supply of healthy and environmentally-friendly artificial foodstuffs, and which tightly controls the lives of the populace with the aid of 24/7 video surveillance and a general discouragement of public life. People mostly interact through the Internet, using smartphones that spy on them (a far-fetched idea!) to carry on their lives as much as possible without ever leaving the house. No one goes out on the town at night except for the odd creepy loner, and all of our teenaged protagonists live on their own in homes of varying shape and size with absolutely no adult supervision or even influence, aside from the guidance counselor at their local Community Center (schools apparently exist entirely online now).
What all this means, in practice, is if our heroines want to sneak around at night, they have to first hack the System so they won’t show up on the cameras, then time their trips down the barren streets so they aren’t spotted by the odd manned patrol. It’s an excuse to depict an desolate urban environment as menacing and horrific without falling back on the usual method of setting it in the post-apocalypse or something to get rid of all the people. It’s only been thirty years or so since the “barbarism” of the old society was replaced by the System, so either there are multiple generations of people out there who lived before the great societal shift who just rolled with it and have fully integrated, or there were a couple of violent purges that didn’t make it into the exposition. (I kinda like the latter theory, personally.) The only people over the age of 16 we ever see in the film look like they’re probably the ripe old age of 32 (an epidemic in Japanese cartoons) and they’re in either in positions of authority in the new society, with little to no reason to question its rules, or they’re the thugs we see in a single scene who are knocked out in about ten seconds flat.
So what is this film about, then? Serial murder! It’s not really a murder “mystery,” because you can probably already guess that the perfect society isn’t, and we know just about everything that’s going on barring the final (and similarly cliched and awful) twist regarding the villain’s motive by halfway through the film. Our heroines, a handful of stock teenage girl types with maybe a personality and a half between the four of them, discover that one of their System-assigned IRL-friends has gone missing. The outgoing, bubbly hacker girl Tsuzuki has been peering into law-enforcement databases, and she’s discovered that Plot Device-chan’s disappearance fits into a pattern of killings, where girls who like to post art on DeviantArt become involuntary organ donors. So she enlists the help of our meek narrator, Makino, and sullen, stone-faced Kono to track Plot Device-chan down, because it wouldn’t be much of a movie if the meddling kids didn’t start meddling, now would it?
Splitting screen times with our heroines are the girls’ counselor, who is the only trusted authority figure these girls ever interact with, and her old friend the police detective, who seems to be there mostly to dump exposition for the viewers when Tsuzuki needs a break. Coincidentally, Ms. Counselor is following in the footsteps of her mother, who apparently committed suicide along with one of her pupils under mysterious circumstances several years back. Even more coincidentally, Mr. Detective seems to have been involved with the investigation of that case. No points for figuring out where this goes.
Thus starts a series of confused subplots which all seem to revolve around a number of unconnected groups trying to abduct and/or kill Plot Device-chan. We pick up another major character, Myao, a slightly older gal who wears the stock “Chinese dress,” punches through security robots using her tonfa and lives outside the loving arms of the new Society as an “unregistered individual,” when the girls walk in on her beating the crap out of some thugs who intended to sell her, Plot Device-chan, and a number of other illegals into slavery. Well, there’s a plot hook, isn’t it? Maybe we’ll get to see a bit about how the underclass lives, and it’s not hard to imagine the hooks a sinister and controlling government might have in the underworld. But no, none of this is ever mentioned again; since Myao’s home was already compromised by the kidnapping ring before we ever saw her on the screen, they have no reason to go back there.
Following a few other false starts, including a “psychotic cartoon fan” angle, our heroines figure out that, shock of shocks, the government is behind the kidnapping and murder of the kids! And they’re doing the most dastardly thing imaginable, and digitally altering the evidence in the databanks! Of course, there’s nothing left to do but to get all the surviving players in one place: the headquarters of the System’s security patrol.
You know that scene where the heroes are cornered, facing certain death against impossible odds, and the villain stops for just an instant to savor the look of anger/horror on their faces… but suddenly, a voice cries out, and our heroes look up with excitement to see that their friend is here to save the day? Yeah, Loups=Garous does that about every five minutes in the second half. Characters will walk out of the scene just so that they can come back in the next one to do it again! After the third time or so, one starts wishing that the heroines would just walk into the next room and not fight anyone, just to freshen it up.
And so our heroes advance up the tower, stabbing and slashing the opposition as they go, until they find the central computer of the system responsible for overseeing and controlling their world! Tsuzuki immediately hacks it to delete the evil AI responsible for most of the evil and cover-ups of the film, while the rest of our heroines break random electronics in a massively tone-deaf montage set to energetic J-pop, all of which is sandwiched between fountains of blood and Serious Grim Revelations. Cut to shots of the city as security robots pour into the street and malfuction, as the lights in all the skyscrapers bounce up and down to the beat of the music like the visualizer in an MP3 player! The whole sequence is absolutely fantastic, and if I had to pick one scene to represent how stupid this movie is, this is totally it. Then, as the music fades out and our heroines walk triumphantly down the hall, Myao actually stops to ask Tsuzuki what they just did. I guess she was just breaking shit for the fun of it!
There’s a brilliant shot in the midst of the musical destruction: one of the many kidnapped children inexplicably stored alive and conscious in a room inside the facility, walls covered with monitors tuned to the Important Plot Developements channel. She looks directly at the camera and explains that “Somebody is trying to destroy the rules of this world. Probably a wolf.” I know from reading Brian Ruh’s review of the original novel on Anime News Network that there’s something going on here regarding metaphorical “wolves” and “lambs,” but very little of that made it into this film in a form that makes any sense if you haven’t read the book. The line’s a total non-sequiter here.
The book’s been translated into English by Viz’s Haikasoru SF/Fantasy label, but I think you’ll forgive me if I’m not jumping at the chance to read it now. Ruh’s review suggests that a lot of the problems I had with this film are, in some form, common to the book, but perhaps the film decided to skip over even more internal monologues that might’ve made themes, motivations, and plot threads clearer. Being based on a book might also explain why everyone stands around talking about what’s happening, though bad cartoon writers tend to do that anyway.
The ultimate resolution of all the violence and monologuing about how certain characters were driven to kill and exploit those weaker than them, heroic and villainous alike, is so tediously predictable and stupid that I’m not even going to give it the dignity of spoiling it here. Just know that it’s an even worse explanation than usual for one of the most well-known twist endings in American science fiction. Once the villain completes their monologue, they’re promptly stabbed in the neck, and our heroes go home, having apparently suffered absolutely no repercussions for the trail of bloodshed and destruction left in their wake, never mind the whole “physically destroyed the security system responsible for the oversight and protection of the entire city, if not the whole System” thing. FILM OVER.
In case you were fooled by the Production IG logo into thinking this film might at least be visually interesting, let me correct that. The film has only slightly better than high-budget TV animation, with a whole lot more gradients to try and disguise the single shades used on characters and their outfits. And there’s the dark, moody lighting which suggests that somebody watched the Garden of Sinners series but didn’t get the message about the little touches that make those movies attractive. The direction isn’t outright inept, like, say, Night Raid, but the fight sequences are dull and uninvolving. After all, they’re between “characters” I can’t bring myself to give a shit about. “Inoffensive” and “unremarkable” are the orders of the day here.
This is a dumb, ugly, boring movie. Don’t watch Loups=Garous.