Stephen reviews: Black Lion (1992)

blacklion-1Black Lion [時元戦国史 黒の獅士 陣内編 Jigen Sengokushi Kuro no Shishi: Jinnai-hen] (1992)

Starring Yasunori Matsumoto, Yuusaku Yara, Ai Orikasa, Kan Fujimoto

Directed by Takashi Watanabe


I’ve been taking a break for a while, and I wanted to come back with a great movie that would capture the spirit of anime and the whole reason I love it. Something that really captures the essence of the medium. Which brings me to Black Lion, a short film about cyborgs and ninjas in ancient Japan. Jackpot.

Now you might be wondering why there would be cyborgs in ancient Japan, and the answer is simple. Cyborgs are awesome, and ninjas are awesome. So if you put the two together you get something even more awesome. Do you really need an explanation for something that awesome? If you do, then you have come to the wrong place, my friend. Cyborgs fighting ninjas is always awesome, no matter what the reason.

The plot starts with Oda Nobunaga out conquering the area. In this tale, however, he has an army of robot samurai armed with machine guns. His army rips apart the opposing soldiers armed with mere spears and bows. The arsenal quickly escalates to missiles, tanks, lasers, and orbiting spaceships. The conventional firearms of the sixteenth century can’t stand up to the onslaught.

blacklion_2The story soon shifts gears, though, showing one of Oda’s soldiers, the seemingly immortal swordsman Ginnai, as he massacres a group of ninjas. A ninja named Shishimaru is the sole survivor of the fight. He is rescued by a rival group of ninjas that also want to kill Ginnai, and while Shishimaru doesn’t exactly like the other guys, they wind up working together to assassinate Ginnai.

There really isn’t any more to tell. The rest of the film centers on series of assassination attempts on the unkillable cyborg. The film is almost nonstop ninja action, and it’s pure gold. There’s tons of sneakiness mixed with fierce sword fights. The ninjas drop all kinds of punishment on this guy, and like the Terminator, he just keeps coming. My favorite of part is when Shishimaru ambushes him with a bunch of scarecrows in a cloud of smoke. It’s a great trick followed by an equally great sword fight where the two bounce across the landscape faster than the eye can see.

blacklion_3I could go on about the various scenes and how thoroughly entertaining they are, but in a film where the only plot is more action, it would be nothing more than a spoiler. I’ll just say that the final showdown features some of the most unexpected moves from Ginnai, and all of them left me busting a gut. It’s a brilliant end to a great battle. The only weakness here is the somewhat lackluster animation. It’s by no means bad, and it conveys everything it needs to, but I’ve seen better.

Of course if you need a gripping story, you’ll need to look elsewhere. The closest thing to an explanation is a few lines of dialogue that mention Oda distorting the timeline, which implies some kind of time travel. That’s it though. All the out-of-place technology is otherwise left a complete mystery. That sure doesn’t bug me though. I wanted a kick-ass action film, and that’s exactly what I got. I’m not going to complain about a little mystery along the way.

My biggest problem with the film is that it ends. It’s clearly just a small part of a much larger story. After the opening invasion, Oda’s army is forgotten and the rest of the story focuses on taking out just one of his soldiers. There’s still an entire army of laser-wielding cyborgs that need to be stopped. Considering how much pure undiluted fun this film was, I have no idea why it never got a sequel. Nonetheless, I am happy to get what I did, as this has been one of the most entertaining anime titles I have seen in a long time.

11 comments to Stephen reviews: Black Lion (1992)

  • BRING BACK ROBOTECH!!

    I know it’s got nothing to do with this review, but I just wanted to put that out there. 🙂

    Nice review, Stephen, good to have you back. Had to put up with reviews about John Travolta’s gyrating hips and Jamie Lee Curtis in a leotard while you were gone…. man, talk about tough!! 😉

    As an aside, what and where did you get into Anime, my friend? It’s obviously a passion, but there must have been a time when it wasn’t… so what was the film that got you into it?

  • Stephen

    Thanks! Glad you liked it.

    It’s actually pretty hard to pin down where it all started. I’d certainly been exposed to Westernized anime during my childhood, things like Speed Racer and Voltron (and of course Robotech), but they just blended into the background of my childhood TV experiences. At some point in the ’90s Cartoon Network frequently ran Vampire Hunter D and Robot Carnival back to back. I always tried to watch those, but I don’t think that was the beginning of it all.

    My brother had a lot to do with it. When I was starting high school, he was in college, and he showed me all sorts of anime. If I had to pin it down to one title, I would probably say Akira, but I can’t really say if that was the first. There were so many others around that time, Fist of the North Star, Project A-ko, Macross, Vampire Princess Miyu. I was kinda deluged with it, and I loved all of it.

    A couple other things impacted it, too. First, my brother was filtering it, so I mostly wound up seeing the really good stuff. The other thing is that in the ’90s anime was just getting popular in the West, and not much of it was around. Naturally, the first things to get translated were the best stuff Japan had to offer. Now there is so much available, and tons of it is crap.

    Anime also coincided with my love of video games. I loved Sega RPGs, and most of those were anime styled. As the ’90s wore on, more and more of those types of games were coming out. I guess I was getting hit with the stuff from all angles during my impressionable youth.

    (and in regards to Robotech, I am trying to hunt down the movie edition of Macross 2, so maybe I can get that reviewed in the near future)

    • I couldn’t stand Speed Racer as a kid (and still can’t, in all honesty – I must see if the live-action film is any good too) but I loved Robotech and Voltron. I still try and make my friends watch Akira if they haven’t, because I think not only was that a landmark animated film, but a landmark film period. I admit, my experience with anime is exceptionally limited (I think I got into Evangelion for about three months way back in the day) which is why I don’t often comment on your reviews, but I know and understand enough to appreciate why it has such a fan base around the world.

      It’s a personal thing, but I often struggle with the style of the animation; I was raised on Hanna Barbera and Battle Of The Superfriends and WB shorts, so I was never exposed to anime much as a child (aside from Robotech and Voltron) which has probably led me to a warped view of the medium – I’ve tried to get into it from time to time, but I just don’t “get it” the way most others do. And dear God, let me never see another Pokemon cartoon ever….

      Sounds like an excuse, but that’s the only one I have! LOL!!!

      Keep up the good work, my friend!!

      • Stephen

        I was never terribly fond of Speed Racer myself, but it had a sort of “so stupid it’s funny” charm to it. Like a bunch of other cartoons, I would watch it if nothing else was on. And I can also do without any more Pokemon.

        I definitely agree with you on Akira. That film is fantastic. I’ve seen it at least a dozen times, and I think on the last couple I was actually starting to understand it. I had a bit of a Will experience with Leonard Maltin, though. I saw his review book at the library one day, flipped through it a bit, and stumbled across Akira. He gave it two stars and called it a generic sci-fi flick without anything unique about it. Really Leonard?

        • If it’s any consolation, I admired Maltin for so long, before stumbling across some opinions of his which I disagreed with. Haven’t picked up his movie guide book for several years now.

        • Perhaps Maltin saw the film again. I looked it up on his iPhone app (which is great, iPhone users) and he gave it 3 stars and called it “Technically spectacular” and “a must see for adult animation buffs.” I just can’t imagine anyone calling Akira “generic,” though, WTF. That makes no sense. Akira is a lot of things, but generic definitely isn’t one of them. Maybe when he saw it he had been seeing too many giant baby movies, and they all started to run together. 🙂

          • Stephen

            Of course I might be wrong and it was some other critic’s book; this was quite a long time ago. I’d feel pretty bad if this whole time I thought Maltin had no taste when it was really some other moron.

            • Eh, Maltin can take it! He’s a good critic, he just has a genuine aversion to a lot of genre films. His review of The Hobbit is basically, “I don’t like fantasy, and this doesn’t change that.” But that’s OK, because unlike a lot of critics who shat on The Hobbit, he actually acknowledged that the movie wasn’t for him.

      • I’d just like to jump in and say that if you have never delved into the works of Hayao Miyazaki, you’re missing out, Rodney. Regardless of where you stand on anime, the Miyazaki films are just incredible.

        • Stephen

          Agreed. Some day Will and I are gonna get in a big argument over which of us gets to review them.

          I’ll take Nausicaa if you take Ponyo.

          • Hahahaha! We can both do them if we want to! But if not, I have no problem doing Ponyo over Nausicaa. That would kind of be fun to review them all, but select each film in turn like a schoolyard baseball team. We just might have to do that someday!

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