Anime | Review

Review: First Squad is the shadow of a potentially great movie

Racing anime “Redline” may be the flashier of today’s DVDs from Manga Entertainment, but I only had time to watch and review one, and I went with the one about the psychic teenagers.

Ever since I read “The Girl With the Silver Eyes” by Willo Davis Roberts in fifth or sixth grade, I’ve been a sucker for stories about psychic teenagers — “Psi-Force” from the Marvel New Universe, “The Tomorrow People” on Nickelodeon (the original, not the remake).

In the case of “First Squad: The Moment of Truth,” most of the psychic teenagers are dead, but that doesn’t stop the Russian military from trying to use them to stop an occult Nazi plot in 1942.

The four dead teens were friends of Nadya, who survived an attack by the Nazis but has since lost her memory. An old guy with a cane and mad martial arts skills points her to the Kremlin, where she learns a secret sect of Nazi sorcerers is resurrecting the 700-year-old spirit of Baron Von Wolff, and her precognitive visions are the key to stopping them from conquering Russia.

So Nadya must go to the Underworld to find her friends and get their help in stopping the baron because conventional soldiers won’t be able to even see the spirits before they get struck down.

The first thing I noticed in the opening credits was some decidedly non-Japanese names. Turns out, this is a joint project with a Russian film company, Molot. The movie was written by Misha Sprits and Aljosha Klimov, and directed by Yoshiharu Ashino. The awesome musical score is by DJ Krush. So in addition to English and Japanese tracks, there’s a Russian language track, as well. Cool!

But while there’s an awesome movie somewhere in all this, “First Squad: The Moment of Truth” isn’t quite it.

Oh, it’s got its interesting parts, but there’s a lot that’s of underdeveloped plot and character that could have made it far more interesting.

Too much time is wasted with Nadya’s journey to the Kremlin, then things get kind of herky-jerky as Nazi assassins come after her and she finally gets to the underworld. It’s far too talky in some places.

The project’s Wikipedia page mentions an aspect that may have added some interest, too — modern-day “mockumentary” sequences with interviews with German and Russian veterans and psychologists about the events in the film.

But I think what could have served the film best is a sharper focus on Nadya herself, a bit more menace from the Nazis, exposition through action rather than sitting and talking, and an explanation of just who that mysterious old guy was. The film is barely more than an hour long, and I think a carefully utilized extra 20-30 minutes could have helped it immensely.

It’s still worth a watch, though. I’d go with a rental.

Eric Henrickson is a Detroit News copy editor who has also been writing about comic books, video games and anime for The News for more than 10 years. His favorite bit of geek cred so far: appearing in an online "Star Trek" fan series.