Starring Saeko Shimazu, Kazuhiko Inoue, Kazuteru Suzuki, Tomie Kataoka, Masaru Ikeda, Yuzuru Fujiki, Kousei Tomita, Katsuji Mori
Directed by Osamu Tezuka
It seems impossible to overstate the influence Osamu Tezuka had on anime. When I began watching Bagi and it not only featured a sexy, furry catgirl, but then had her attacked by a tentacle monster, my immediate thought was, “Man, there’s nothing in anime that Tezuka didn’t do first.” I hasten to add that this tentacle attack was in no way sexual. That particular depravity wouldn’t appear in anime for several more years, but looking back from today it’s hard not to immediately think of the ickier applications. While I have no supporting evidence that Bagi spawned the sexy catgirls and tentacle monsters that would later ingrain themselves in the anime industry, I don’t know of any earlier uses of either. Though that may only be because this and previous eras of anime are poorly represented in the west (nor would it surprise me to find out that it was simply an earlier Tezuka story that did originate the ideas).
Bagi also surprised me by being an even further departure from Tezuka’s usual style than Prime Rose. While Tezuka’s trademark humor, pacing, and cameos were much reduced in that film, Bagi almost entirely discards them. I’m not sure if this was some fluke of design, or if his style was just evolving. Either way, Bagi feels very little like a Tezuka film. His earlier films, even in their most serious moments, were joyful romps, filled with fun and adventure. Most of that has been filtered out in Bagi. I was a bit sad to lose the zany approach of older Tezuka productions, but this was balanced out by the fact that Bagi is a very well-made film. Due to the more focused narrative, it has a much weightier and more dramatic feel.
This setup fills the tale with a sense of foreboding that ratchets up the tension and keeps the plot gripping and full of impact. There are still plenty of lighthearted elements that would have been simple humor in any other Tezuka film, but here they feel weightier and more fragile because of the knowledge of just what lies ahead. Bagi wearing a feather dress and wig while dancing in the rain is funny and goofy, but we also know it’s a fleeting moment of happiness that is soon to pass. I suppose that Bagi‘s strangeness is not so much its difference from other Tezuka films, but is instead caused by the serious tone of the story which this time overtakes the humor.
There is a rather bizarre plot point towards the end regarding Bagi’s ability to speak. I won’t spoil it, but it has no explanation at all. I can’t quite call it a plot hole, so maybe contrived is a better term. That’s really my only gripe about Bagi, though. It’s full of sentiment and emotion, but still balances that with plenty of fun and adventure. This might well be my favorite of these old Tezuka films, and it’s well worth a watch for anyone who is willing to look at an ’80s story without scoffing at its age.
And again, U.S. and Canada residents can watch it free through Anime Sols in the 24 Hour TV Specials section where they have decided to spell it Baggy, so you’ve got no excuse not to see this one.