My mother was born in Poland thus making me 50% full Polish. Growing up, I was often told stories about the Second World War and how my grandfather primarily was affected by it. So much so, that he never really spoke of it (I got my stories second hand through my grandmother and mother) most likely due to the horrors endured to the Polish invasion and other unspeakable depictions of violence. Today’s review takes us to an interesting Anime that is set in Russia during the same war with a supernatural feel.
1942, Russia. The Eastern Front. The Soviet Union is trying to withstand Germany’s attacks and avoid defeat at any costs. We change our focus to a battle inside Russian lines with one of the Russian commanders yelling instructions at his troops. As he does so, he does not notice a giant black knight on a horse swinging about to swing a sword at his head. The commander’s head goes clean off in a brilliant fashion. Blackness. Then a little girl named Nadya wakes up who is traveling with a troupe to entertain the troops.
There is a lady who can sing like a canary (or perhaps ate one) who gets a standing ovation from the troops. Nadya goes on next. Her power (with the help of a blindfold) is to be able to tell the future. The requests start simply, guessing names and brief things from the past. Then a mob ensues and they start to ask more and more agitated questions. They eventually calm down and Nadya picks one person to ask a question. The solider wants to know how long he has to live. She takes off her blindfold and stares at his face.
Nadya is shocked when she sees that his face now resembles that of a corpse. Actually everybody now resembles a corpse before turning again normal. Suddenly, planes are flying overhead and the bombing starts. Bodies start flying and everybody is dieing. Even Nadya takes damage and is knocked unconscious. Her head starts spinning and it takes her to a movie theater where she is watching the events of her life.
She remembers back to her birthday and meeting a boy named Leo who stole apples. It appears she was trained in the circus at an early age. We flash back to the present briefly where a man dressed in robes finds her. Nadya continues to dream. The girl joined with Leo and other people in a group known as Division Six, a highly trained and secretive division of soldiers. Unfortunately tragedy struck and she watched all of her friends get killed by German forces.
As she continues to watch this, Leo from the movie starts to shout at Nadya in her seat. It is not your time he shouts, go to the exit! She runs towards the exit and suddenly we see her open her eyes to the monk standing over her. The scene shifts to a meeting of the S.S. There we learn about the legendary Sword of Retribution, wielded by Baron Von Wolff, a dangerous warrior mage. It is precisely 700 years later and the mythical being is set to make his return and wreck havoc in a “Moment of Truth.”
A Moment of Truth is when the forces of the living and the dead are in the same plane. We rejoin the monk and Nadya who are looking over scripture. Inside, we see a picture of Baron Von Wolff and Nadya remembers the same knight from her dreams. It appears that an evil plot is a foot and only she can save the day. She must journey to the Russian compound, talk to General Below and somehow communicate with her fallen friends. Can she stop the evil warrior mage and turn the tide of the war?
If that sounded a bit confusing, then you are exactly as I was about twenty five minutes into the story. The animation is superb but the story left me scratching my head. How exactly does a small girl become a trained super solider? Why is there a black knight in the middle of World War II? Who the heck is this monk that is walking around a dead battleground looking for people to rescue? Finally, who the heck are these real people in between scenes talking about these events as if they were real?
That’s right, you heard me correctly. At around ten times (or every seven to eight minutes), we get some person who supposedly is from the war talking about the “Moment of Truth” or strange paranormal events that they witnessed. From my research, it is to resemble a mockumentary where they use a documentary format to talk about events that are either sensationalized or completely false. But most mockumentaries are supposed to be comical or resemble satire. This is all seriousness here.
On its own, the story is not half bad once you get going. But there is very little in ways of character development or motivation. We do not even learn about the main character all that much. The ending does not do much either as it opens the way for what looks to be a series or a trilogy perhaps. But again from my research, it appears that this is a stand alone feature only confusing the viewer even more. A film that is barely over an hour long should not put you to sleep.
The video is in 1.78:1 widescreen presentation in 1080p resolution. Video quality here is on high display. Colors are excellent and they do a good job of recreating the murky feeling from the bitter cold battles of the Second World War. Whites and grays are on greatest display here and everything has a real classic feel. The mockumentary footage is also clear except that it looks like either a light source or a finger can be seen clearly in the top right corner. This is a bit distracting but fine otherwise.
For the audio portion, we get a 5.1 TrueHD track for Russian, English and Japanese (short version only)(2.0 mixes included for Russian, English and Japanese (short version) as well). I went Russian with English Subtitles for this review. The dialog is clear from what I can tell and I only noticed a couple of grammar mistakes in the subtitles. (Apparitions should not be confused with premonitions). Surround sounds are common especially in fight scenes giving this one quite a punch. It is an excellent track and will immerse you. Subtitles are included for English SDH.
- Trailers: Red Line and Battle Royale
- Long Version/Short Version: The long version with the mockumentary coverage lasts about 75 minutes, if you are just looking for the anime it is roughly an hour.
- Menus: Normally, I don’t mention menus but whoever had the bright idea of white lettering with the selected option being also white (or perhaps a millimeter off-white) should have had the Sword of Retribution shoved down their windpipe. To top it off, the arrow appears to the right of the selection after you choose it, only further confusing you. I was memorizing how many clicks to took to get to the various sections.
I had genuine excitement for First Squad: The Moment of Truth when I received it in the mail. We do not get to review very much anime here (a lot of animation but not manga) and I was interested to see it. Unfortunately, the story is confusing and the mockumentary footage does nobody any good turning a seventy five minute feature into an anime that never seems to get anywhere because of the poor character development.
The disc has no extras to speak of but it fortunately does have excellent video and audio. This feature would have probably done better as the first part of a trilogy or perhaps a 13/26 episode series. Instead, it feels like an unfinished picture. It is very pretty to look at and listen to but unfortunately has no real substance. I can’t give a recommendation to this one unless you are a hardcore anime buff. The rest would be better served listening to a real Russian documentary about World War II.