The Persona Century Corporation has purchased nearly every parcel of land on earth. Dissension is not tolerated within the corporation's borders and those who oppose Persona are dealt with swiftly. Of those few places not yet under Persona's control is the free town of Kabuki-cho, also known as "The Dark Side of Tokyo". Within the town, under the leadership of a woman named Mai, is a small resistance group called Messiah. Into this world steps a man who takes the sobriquet of Kabuki-cho: Darkside. Sealed up in another dimension eighteen years ago by Persona Century, Darkside now returns to aid Messiah using his unique mystic power of renewal.
If you are a fan of 90s anime, then I'd recommend taking a look at Darkside Blues. If you haven't seen many anime from this time period, then this is a fairly good example of the visual styles of the 90s. However, most people will probably find the story somewhat mediocre and maybe even confusing.
Darkside Blues is a nice little gem from the 90s based on a manga by Hideyuki Kikucho who is one of the most respected horror writers in Japan. Often called the Stephen King of Japan, many of Hideyuki's novels have been adapted to anime such as Vampire Hunter D, Wicked City,
and Demon City Shinjuku.
Animation - 8
I'll go ahead and draw attention to the elephant in the room: this is an old anime. The art and animation styles likewise reflect the 90s. Whether you enjoy 90s style or not is your choice, but compared to other works of the time, Darkside Blues fares very well. The art and animation themselves are slightly above average, but I don't think many people can deny the style this show brings to the table. While there's nothing too progressive as far as the direction or choreography at work here, I still can't help but be impressed at how easy everything seems. By this I mean that it seems the style just flows off the screen naturally and can be seen in the fluid movements of the characters in many scenes. While there are many action sequences, they aren't so much edge-of-your seat and jaw dropping as they are seamless and fluid which is very pleasing to the eye.
Sound - 9
While maybe a handful of people out there won't like the music here, I think the sound is perfectly done. The melancholy music does a great job setting the mood and enhances the feel of Kabuki-cho as a city.
The Japanese voice actors do a good job and are obviously cast well for their roles. Natsuki Sakan is a great fit as Darkside and this is one of those times when a female voice actor really does seem more appropriate for a male character.
Story - 8
Set sometime in the future, Darkside Blues depicts a world almost completely owned by the Persona Corporation. One of the few free areas is the slums of Kabuki-cho, often called the dark side of Tokyo. There are various 'enhanced' humans running around who boast supernatural powers, though it's never explained whether this is actually magic or achieved with technology. Taking place in the future, there is quite a bit of technology around in the form of watches that fire lasers, robotic attack drones, and even a massive quantum cannon.
Something interesting I noticed was how similar this movie is to the Clint Eastwood movie Pale Rider (which was in turn a retelling of the classic western Shane). The reason I say they are similar is that, just like Pale Rider, Darkside Blues follows a small group of people (Messiah) whom are resisting oppression at the hands of a wealthy group (Persona Corporation) and then inserts a mysterious stranger (Darkside) who has a score to settle. While Darkside may seem to be the main character, the movie really seems to focus more on the effect his presence has on the members of Messiah.
Unfortunately, the movie seems like a small part of a whole that the viewer is never fully aware of and some things are left unexplained. Despite that, the sub-plot involving the escape of an Anti-Persona resistance fighter is covered well. The main confusion involves the backstories of many characters.
Character - 7
There are a lot of good things here, unfortunately most of the characters are undeveloped with only hints given regarding their past. The only characters really explored are the resistance fighter Tatsuya and Selia, an acquaintance of the Messiah members.
Darkside himself is almost a walking cheat code as time and time again various Persona assassins run across him only to find their attacks have no effect. Darkside only bothers to take his hands from his pockets on a couple of occasions and really he never seems worried no matter what attacks are being thrown at him. Darkside's past is only ambiguously explained, but really his character is in the movie to bring about change in others.
Through a process he calls 'renewal', he enables various characters to overcome hurdles formed when they were emotionally scarred in the past. Though for some people, this renewal simply brings about their death.
Enjoyment - 9
I personally love 90s anime and Darkside Blues is a great one. This show walks a fine line of psychological and action so there is substance to chew on mentally, or if you just wanna sit back then there's plenty of action as well. While I wouldn't call this an action anime, I don't think more than 5 minutes ever go by before the next altercation starts.
Darkside Blues was the first big project by J.C. Staff, a relatively stable anime studio nowadays. Despite their current success, it is evident that this is not the film that started it, as their production studio in 1994 was unable to do Hideyuki Kikuchi’s world any reasonable sort of artistic justice. Ontop of that, a very confused screenplay doesn’t save much of its remains, resulting in a peculiar mess of a movie.
The setting of the film is a walled-off section of Tokyo, the only patch of land on earth that hasn’t been bought out by the big bad business with headquarters in space. A resistance
to the business tries to create a change in the system while a mysterious man in a flying horse-drawn carriage arrives in town to open up a service to look into people’s dreams. Still with me? Okay, good. This odd sci-fi synopsis is just the tip of Darkside Blues’ iceberg of unrealized themes and unfocused storylines.
The movie drops you into the world without any exposition or main protagonist to focus on, instead leaving the audience to piece together many bits of information from a plethora of sources. That may seem like arthouse praise, but a lack of incentive or investment follows when not one of the many characters are particularly interesting. While the disconnected developments of the characters gradually intertwine without effective emotional impact, it does at least build the setting better than the art could hope to depict it.
Speaking of, the animation gap that J.C. Staff conjures up isn’t something that an animation company should be proud of. Select shots of movement look perfectly Ghibli while other cheap scenes make Inferno Cop look reasonable. The background work also varies from rather impressive detail to pathetically stale renditions. The bipolar animation prevents our immersion in the film’s world, especially when Darkside Blues came out between two animated sci-fi giants like Akira and Ghost In The Shell. Consistent attention to how the setting was presented turned out amazing results in both films, while Darkside’s tighter budget doesn’t allow the possibility of competition. Outside of that arena, a middle ground ought to have been reached to portray the world with consistency, but Trigun wasn’t out yet for J.C. Staff to take notes.
Musical expectations rode on the title itself, and to be fair there is one decent blues song during the opening credits. Aside from a pleasant energetic organ piece, everything else in the soundtrack was forgettable. The voice directing in the English dub is awful, producing dozens of awkward deliveries and painful stuttering. Partnered with a bad script adaptation and it’s easy which voice track to choose for this one, not that I recommend this movie regardless of Japanese or English voices.
Yup, time to take a look at Darkside Blues’ messy narrative state. The movie opens by presenting initial ideas through lazy one-liners, in which characters talk normally until a sudden piece of philosophy manifests from the established tone of street bum dialogue, never to be mentioned or explored until the script brings it up an hour later. The subject matter is more focused by the third act and the topics explored are worthwhile, like the justification of violence as a suitable means for change or when peace itself becomes corrupt. These come to fruition at the end in the form of two female leads who ended up being the narrative focus after hours of audience guesswork.
However, the simultaneous focus on people like the man with the flying carriage who looks at people’s dreams introduce other themes that go nowhere. A large portion of focus is on the man’s ideas of unfinished concepts passing to other people and how it becomes reborn in a way, but this isn’t fleshed out beyond a few repeated phrases of dialogue and it has nothing to with the other main themes as they converge without it at the end. Was it J.C. Staff asking for help on the movie? Did they want to give the project to a more capable studio to be done better and this was their cry for help? Another oddity was a reoccurring little boy who doesn’t do anything in the film but sit and look at the camera for a couple of scenes. He opens and closes the film without doing anything meaningful. For such a seemingly important visual, nothing specific can be attached to him and the studio ends up wasting animation on empty symbolism.
Darkside Blues is never able to present itself consistently, taking too much time to focus in on character development and failing to refine its topics. I admire that there is definitely some worthwhile substance, but it is crippled too much by sluggish narrative and poor production. Whatever constraints that J.C. Staff had were obviously too much to do anything impressive with the movie, causing it to suffer on all fronts and become completely underwhelming.
True to the manga, Darkside Blues is a little gem for the mid-90s with older looking art but it really goes well with the atmosphere of the story. There's a particular part my friend had pointed out to me during a fight scene when one of the men has a lit cigarette and as he's moving around there's a streak of red following the cigarette's movement. Sounds nerdy, I know, but it's things like that that makes good movies and anime REALLY good. If you like mysterious sexy men riding a horse-drawn carriage check this one out.
The evil Persona corporation dominates most of the earth with their iron fist, excepting small resistance movements, one of which is located in the free town of Kabuki-cho, also known as “The Dark Side of Tokyo”. Here a group of juvenile delinquents known as Messiah dwell. For a fee, they shelter and assist a terrorist who opposes Persona.
I really wanted to like this movie because it was based on a manga by Hideyuki Kikucho who also wrote Vampire Hunter D. You can see the similarities in the animation (which is superb for its time,) supernatural themes and mysterious, romanticized character of
Darkside. Unfortunately, the movie did not live up to the D.
Call me dense, but I never did understand Darkside's power or why he was at odds with the Persona corporation. Had he not been a part of the movie, the story would have been complete--an oppressed society rising up against its oppressor. In fact, the most explored characters are the terrorist and the Kabuki-cho resident that nurses and shelters him.
Where the anime does excel is the music. In the opening sequence, a street musician breaks out in a blues number during a struggle against Persona. The blues music portrays the heavy air of oppression in Kabuki-cho.
There is thought provoking dialogue regarding peace and whether peace achieved through force is actually peace. Had the movie followed these themes without the supernatural element, it would have been a success.