Early Reins [アーリーレインズ] (2003)
Starring Tomoko Kawakami, Aiko Mitsumori, Chiaki Osawa, Junko Takeuchi, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Yoko Sasaki, Youko Mizutani
Directed by Yuji Asada
YEEE-HAAAW! It’s time for a film about train robberies, and shootouts, and cute anime girls with guns. Early Reins compiles a bunch of clichés from westerns and anime into an adventure so exciting that it… well, it’ll kill the better part of an hour, I suppose. It really isn’t all that impressive. But it does have one huge thing going for it. Unlike the vast majority of anime westerns, Early Reins actually exists.
I wish I had something more to say about it, but “it exists” really is the most interesting fact about Early Reins. If you’re looking for an anime western the only other options I’ve even heard of are Gun Frontier (which is pretty hard to track down at this point) or the never released in English Isamu the Wilderness Boy (which is pretty much impossible to track down). If you expand the field, there are a few space westerns out there, and sometimes longer series will decide to throw in a western-themed episode here and there. But if you’re looking for an actual western, this is just about all you’ve got.
The plot involves a girl named Margaret who wants to be a sheriff of some random town that never gets mentioned. On her train ride to wherever, bandits attack and rob everyone. Bastards. They also try to rape the girls on board, but one of the young ladies is a total badass and kills the lot of them. Once they start investigating, it turns out the army is using the train to transport a bunch of guns and a heaping pile of gold, and every outlaw around wants a piece of it. So the gals arm up and try to keep the train safe as a huge gang of bandits unleashes a coordinated attack on the train.
That’s about it. It tries to be a bit clever at the end and throw a few curveballs at you, but there’s nothing all that inspired or original about it. The whole film is one big battle aboard a train. There’s nothing wrong with that, really. There’s just nothing all that interesting about it either. The action isn’t particularly exciting or engaging, but it didn’t put me to sleep. If it had gone on much longer it probably would have, though.
The film does lose track of a few things here and there. Margaret has a small subplot about never having killed before and the psychological toll it takes to do so, but after she takes out her first asshole the film pretty much forgets all about that. It’s not like most of the other girls have killed either, but they don’t even bat an eye at mowing down a mob of bandits. The film also makes it clear that the army was transporting guns, but not ammo. After they mention it, though, it’s pretty much forgotten. They only brought one clip of ammo for the gatling gun? No problem. It’ll last the whole movie.
I don’t really want to bag on Early Reins for its animation. It’s a low-budget title, and it has animation to match. I can’t really fault it for that. The CG is ugly as sin, too. Again, low budget. And it was made in 2003. There’s no way the CG was going to be any good even if they had money to throw around. I feel like the filmmakers knew they had nothing to work with and needed to do something to make the movie interesting, so they decided to at least gave it a unique setting if nothing else.
It’s at the bottom end of average, but it doesn’t do anything horrible enough to be called bad. So I’ve got practically nothing to talk about. It’s not really worth tracking down, but if you like anime and you like westerns, well… Early Reins does indeed exist.