By Justin Graham / April 17th, 2013
Venus Wars is a 1989 feature film adaptation of Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s manga of the same name. Yasuhiko also co-wrote the screenplay and served as the film’s director. A sci-fi war film set in 2089, the futuristic setting is the stage for a conflict between two fledgling nations far from Earth’s influence.
As the title suggests, Venus Wars is set on the planet Venus, a world that, for a variety of very real scientific reasons, isn’t hospitable to human life. However, the film begins with an expository text crawl that explains how the planet was hit with a massive ice comet in 2003, triggering a chain reaction of events that made the planet livable, and the first human colonists arrived within two decades. Since then, the two primary continents also became home to two nations; Ishtar and Aphrodia, who at the start of the film are on the brink of war with each other.
The remainder of the exposition is primarily told as an explanation to Susan Somers, a wide-eyed reporter from Earth eager to get the scoop of a lifetime by being on the ground when the war explodes. She shuttles into the Aphrodian capital of Io, where she meets with her contact. He informs her that Ishtar is plotting an invasion of the city that will occur any day now – and, in the manner of fortuitous movie timing, their conversation is interrupted by the sound of air raid sirens. The invasion has begun.
Though Susan proves to be an important secondary character, the film’s protagonist is actually Hiro, a gruff, young member of a battle bike team (think motocross combined with roller derby) introduced while competing in a match that’s interrupted by the sudden presence of Ishtar aircraft. He and the rest of his team, including their mechanic/manager Gary and team captain Miranda, are forced to go into hiding after Ishtar manages to crush Io’s defenses in a single day and establishes martial law.
It’s never really made clear why Ishtar chose to invade Aphrodia. The film’s antagonist, General Gerhard Donner of the occupation army, is a fairly cut-and-dry villain without much of a personality beyond a desire to crush the Aphrodians. Hiro, with his youthful chip-on-his-shoulder attitude, is marginally more fleshed out as it’s revealed his family was essentially duped by the promises of Venus’s colonization. He was raised on an algae farm whose product was to help the barren world become verdant, but the crop was ruined year after year due to the quirk’s of Venus’s planetary rotation. After living for days under the watchful eye of the Ishtar forces and a close call with Io’s own police force cooperating with the occupiers, Hiro has had enough and feels the need to fight back.
Hiro and the rest of the team, sick of being forced to hide due to a strict, Ishtar-imposed curfew, finally get a chance to strike back when Gary has some military-grade weapons delivered thanks to a contact from his days as a soldier on Earth. They conceive a master plan to destroy the Ishtar tank that’s taken up residence at the battle bike arena, but the plan hits several snags, not the least of which being the fact that their anti-tank munitions don’t even dent the tank. Things look grim until Hiro pulls out a last-minute victory through creative use of a large backhoe.
Eventually, Hiro reluctantly joins the military after the Aphrodian forces have regrouped and intend to retake Io. And I say reluctantly because he only agrees to join if a cocky Aphrodian officer named Kurtz beats him in a bike race. On military grade bikes with live ammunition, no less.
At this point, the outcome is inevitable. Donner’s control of Io falls to pieces, unable to withstand the assault, and so he books it for the spaceport. But his hubris gets the best of him when he becomes enraged at being attacked by a couple of motorcycle units, including Hiro. There’s no significant connection between Hiro and Donner; they never exchange words directly, and Hiro has no idea who is in the tank that’s suddenly hell-bent on killing him. Donner, in his single-minded pursuit, attempts to chase Hiro up the vertical incline of the spaceport launch ramp despite the fact that he should know tanks are incapable of vertical mobility. In his rage, he ignores the most basic common sense in an attempt to kill one soldier that honestly isn’t that much of a threat to him as long as he’s sitting in his tank.
Actually, people needlessly exposing themselves to danger seems to be a running theme in Venus Wars. It’s a bit more understandable toward the beginning of the film when Susan is walking around the streets of Io and filming tank battles. She’s a reporter that’s so focused on getting her scoop, and has such a naïve idea of what war is, that she puts herself in harm’s way. Susan is completely ignorant of the fact that tank shells are certainly unable to distinguish between “enemy tank” and “civilian.” And later, when Hiro is inside the cabin of the backhoe trying to drag a tank to its doom, Gary yells at him about how he’s going to get himself killed. Except Gary is shouting this from his prone position on an exposed ladder while making his way toward Hiro’s position. So, of course, Gary is the one that dies.
All talk of deathly-poor decision making in the plot aside, the technical aspects of the film are quite good. The animation is nicely detailed with fine character and mecha design work. Probably the oddest quirk in the animation is a selection of brief bike sequences in which the background is a live-action landscape with a color filter applied to make it look more Venusian. The result is a little jarring, but it’s used sparingly and not a bad effect in and of itself.
In all, Venus Wars is pretty standard as far as war movies go. It has the ragtag group of rebels fighting against the more organized, villainous occupation, a likeable, if not remarkable cast, and plenty of action to keep the audience engaged. It’s not the most memorable war film ever, but what’s there makes it worth recommending, right?
Well, unfortunately not quite. Toward the end of the film, after Hiro has formally joined the army and leading into the final offensive, the film itself actually becomes remarkably offensive. Inexplicably, a never-before seen Aphrodian soldier named Chris is introduced that is a walking, talking epitome of a negative homosexual stereotype. He openly flirts with unwanted advances (slapping Hiro’s butt at one point), he’s lazy, he’s not an important character in any sense and he adds nothing to the narrative. He’s just there long enough to be the butt of a few jokes, including an AIDS quip. And then, during the final battle, he stays behind in an armored carrier and willfully slacks off while another soldier berates him just before the carrier is blown up. Even more inexplicably, his character is expounded upon with a quick montage demonstrating his zest for life.
I should reiterate. Chris serves absolutely no purpose in the narrative of the film. None. His scenes could be edited out and no harm would come of it. In fact, they were edited out of the version that aired on the Sci-Fi Channel in the nineties (with excellent reason).
It should be noted again that Venus Wars was released in 1989, and the world was a very different place back then. Not just in terms of the general perception and acceptance of homosexuals, but in the general perception of AIDS, as well. So in that sense, the film’s depiction of a gay character isn’t that different from other media of the era. But even so, that doesn’t make these scenes any less awkward to watch, and brief as they are, they damage enjoyment of the film as a whole.
And that really is unfortunate. Venus Wars is not a truly remarkable film in any sense. The characters are fairly standard and the setting offers nothing that couldn’t be found on Earth (save for locations named after ancient love goddesses), but the story is passable and the action is entertaining. Then they throw in a character that serves no purpose, whose entire being is startlingly offensive, and the experience just deflates. It makes sitting through the end of the film awkward, and single-handedly annihilates any desire to recommend it to anyone.
Venus Wars was released on DVD in North America by Eastern Star, a Discotek Media label. The DVD contains both the original Japanese with English subtitles and the English dub previously produced by Central Park Media. It is not rated, but contains violence, adult language, and suggestive content.
anime of the pastEastern StarShochikuVenus Wars