For those who are quick to write off the specialty studio, FUNimation releases more on Blu-ray than just anime. So far, the majority of their live action offerings have been more or less cracked out releases (titles like 'Robo-Geisha' or 'Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl'), or titles aimed at a very specific audience, due to some peculiar twists ('Ichi,' for example). Quite honestly, I can't imagine these types of flicks are best sellers, and after all the time and money is spent adding a secondary dub track to the majority of their properties, there are times when I wonder how the studio can even stay up and running. I'm thankful they are, of course, since they're the most prolific anime Blu-ray distributor in North America, and because some of the less glamorous titles turn out to be quite entertaining, even if they're beyond words.
I know most readers won't get to see it, but 'Alien vs Ninja' had me intrigued from the moment I saw the press release, with the studio poking fun at their own work, by constantly using the word "Seriously?!?!," undermining their own title. They know what kind of movie they're distributing, and how truly disturbed some of the titles they cover are. This is one of those titles. Abandon all expectations. Forget everything you knew going into this film. You're about to see some of the most ridiculously juxtaposed action you'll ever see, as a band of ninjas take on a small legion of invaders...from another world.
The life of the ninja is to live in the shadows, to do their deeds undetected, to leave no trace behind after their missions are fulfilled. Yet, one group of ninjas is tired of that. They want to fight the generals, rather than the lackeys, they want to change history directly, rather than indirectly. They are tired of backing down. Yamata, Jinnai, and Nezumi are all different, but each is deadly. They're about to learn there's a creature out there more dangerous than all of them combined...a creature from worlds unknown.
Alongside female ninja Rin, the trio of heroes work to take down the alien aggressors, who have been dispatching villages with little effort, turning some of the best warriors into their minions. These creatures are difficult to kill, relentless in their efforts, and are amazing warriors, seemingly bred to take over worlds. This fight will take everything the ninjas have in them, and maybe more, if they're going to survive.
All one needs to do is take one look at the aliens in this film to realize something is amiss. They're borderline humanoid, with dolphin-like faces, and pores atop their heads that create the 'AVN' equivalent of a chestbuster, as the pink embryonic creatures control their victims after going through their nasal cavities. When fighting, they flex their arms and legs and show off the costuming and makeup used on the actors beneath them. Severed arm? No problem, that can be easily reattached. Simply put, it's insanity. Yes, 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: Turtles in Time' already tackled the idea of mutant warriors influencing history, but it wasn't quite their goal to destroy humanity...rather, just the minds of those unfortunate enough to watch. These otherworldly beings, however, aren't so friendly.
'AVN' is a fun flick, and any of its shortcomings can be forgiven due to such. With very entertaining fight choreography (seriously, it's pretty damn good!), and likable characters, the film distinguishes itself early from some of the more shlocky similar affairs. The leads are properly established and perfectly individual, so watching their turmoil against the dark gray horde is interesting, as each warrior's unique personality and fighting style will be either a blessing or a curse against these new foes.
But, true to its genre, 'AVN' doesn't play it straight. That's what makes it so damn fun. The entire third act of the film is pure insanity, with long winded fight scenes that are astonishing for reasons other than the action within. Characters start to break, flipping off their enemies, and at one point, the mind-controlled warriors do the most insane thing I've seen in some time, as they break into English and...well, I won't spoil it. Needless to say, it's a moment that dropped my jaw, out of sheer randomness.
Needless to say, there are few films like 'AVN.' The effects are cheesy, the sets are cheap, and some of the acting can be pretty over-the-top when it isn't supposed to be. These flaws are obvious, and hardly worth the time to detail, as part of the charm of this film is the fact that it wants to, much like its ilk, buck any rational thought or physics of any kind, and stand on its own, as evidence that drug use is as high in Japan as it is here. There simply is no other explanation for this film. It's a serious, then insane, trip of a trip, and it's an enjoyable ride.
The 1080i encode given 'Alien vs Ninja' isn't phenomenal, but it's also not bad by any stretch of the word. Perhaps it's best to say that, like the film itself, it's an unusual experience.
Basically, when it's hot, it's scorching, and when it's cold, it's freezing. Black levels go from solid, with the finest details on the black on black on black costumes showing up properly, to overly bright like they were gray. Textures are fine and fleshed out one minute, rubbery the next. Skin tones always show up the same color, which is great, but they are often way too smooth to be believable, which is not so great. Throw in light artifacting, some noise issues, brightness and grain fluctuations, as well as motion blur, aliasing in tight diagonals, and some wishy washy camera movements (the fault of the production, not this disc, but damn can it be frustrating), and you have a disc that is surely not the best.
I suppose I'm not quite used to getting a FUNimation disc where the Japanese track is the default audio, but here's another in that short list. 'Alien vs Ninja' sports dual lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mixes, in Japanese (with default on subtitles that can be removed) and in an English dub. For this review, only the native track is being considered.
Dialogue is a little uneven, volume-wise, for my tastes, but since I don't speak Japanese, it wasn't a major concern. What concerns me with this release is the volume of the soundtrack elements, which are relegated so deep in the background that they may as well be another monster in the forest, only they're both unseen and unheard. Bass levels, while not constant, can be fun, including a powerful opening explosion, and a few heavy knocks. Rears aren't utilized consistently, but there are fun moments, like localized (not moving) gunfire (yes...gunfire), some random swoops and slides through speakers, and some fun fades through the channels.
This film isn't an audio dynamo, so I would just advise those interested to go into it with this in mind, and the end result will be a bit more enjoyable!
'Alien vs Ninja' had me at, well, 'Alien vs Ninja.' This isn't high concept, arthouse cinema. This is just unadulterated fun, one person's dream battle coming to life. It's pretty damn funny, even if it doesn't reach the same levels of insanity as other films of this ilk. FUNimation's Blu-ray of this dorky little gem features average, if that, video, good audio, and a small pile of extras. It's worth of at least a rental, just for insanity's sake. You know you want to...