Strait Jacket [ ストレイト・ジャケット] (2007)
AKA Strait Jacket – Legend of the Demon Hunter

Starring Ai Maeda, Kei Shindou, Shinichiro Miki, Akira Sasanuma, Asami Imai

Directed by Shinji Ushiro

Do you like Full Metal Alchemist, but wish it had a bit more angst? Then Strait Jacket is the movie for you. I don’t mean this as an insult, but there is a good deal of similarity between the two. Both feature a scientific use of magic that’s heavy on mystic symbols and big suits of armor in a world with somewhat modern technology and an ample supply of mutated human monsters rampaging about.

Where the two stories differ is that Strait Jacket‘s main character, Reiot, doesn’t get involved with changing the course of nations. It instead focuses on a more personal scale, exploring his sense of overwhelming guilt for the mistakes of his past. He is a hunter of demons, who are former humans mutated into deranged monsters by unprotected exposure to magic. It is Reiot’s recognition that these demons are, or at least were, humans that makes him see himself as a mass murderer.

Reiot’s past is left pretty hazy, but at some point he killed his own teacher and he is now caring for a deformed child whose parents he also killed. It isn’t clear what the circumstances of those situations are, and the film usually portrays them with tilted and stylized silhouettes during flashbacks. Maybe all the information I wanted was buried in there, and the visuals were too confusing for me to get it. At any rate, these past events have shaped Reiot’s view of the world and his disillusionment with his role as protector of society.

Reiot is juxtaposed with another character named Issac who has the same job and was once saved by Reiot’s teacher; you know, the one that Reiot killed for some reason in those confusing flashbacks. Issac believes firmly in the righteousness of his cause, and believes Reiot to be nothing more than a miscreant that gives his fellow demon hunters a bad name. In the middle of this is a woman named Nerin that is supposed to be supervising Reiot. Nerin spends most of her time trying to understand Reiot and figure out just why he acts like such a nihilistic asshole all the time.

The biggest issue with this film is that it feels very rushed. It’s only a little over an hour, and the plot has to throw out information like Halloween candy in order to tell its story, so there’s not a whole lot of time to let it sink in or explore its themes. I feel like I could have gotten much more attached to the characters if I had more time to get to know them. It also detracts from the primary threat in this film: a terrorist organization that has been deliberately turning people into demons to cause mayhem and destruction. Unfortunately, the whole evil organization is basically undone at random because the film couldn’t spare the time to make it a real struggle of detective work.

The other problem with the film is that it just doesn’t look all that good. The animation is pretty unimpressive, the CG effects are pretty obvious, and the colors are that awkward bright-yet-dull palette that 2000s era anime often have. It’s like taking vibrant primary colors, then coating them with a thin sheen of sepia, and that makes them feel somehow wrong to me.

Aside from that, the film is pretty well executed. Information is doled out at just the right pace to keep you interested. There was always something new to uncover about the story. As much as the slim runtime makes it all feel too rushed, it also makes the action scenes fast and frequent, breaking things up nicely.

All in all, I had a pretty good time watching Strait Jacket. I don’t feel like it will linger in my mind for very long. It’s just too rushed and similar to other stories to be highly memorable, but it was a fun ride for the most part, and it left me satisfied, if unimpressed with what it delivered.