Crusher Joe: The Movie

I was recently reading an article that said that virtually every adult in Japan, regardless of their interest in anime and manga, would likely be able to talk about Hayao Miyazaki...and about Crusher Joe. Maybe it's because the series of novels by Haruka Takachiho on which the movie (and the following OVAs) are based were incredibly popular. Maybe it's because the movie was a blockbuster success when it came out. One thing is for certain--the phenomenon is hard to understand now. Despite surprisingly good graphics for 1983, some interesting characters, and a few great action sequences, Crusher Joe as a movie fails to engage the audience for long and suffers because of it.

In this far-flung universe, the Crusher organization is a nebulous freedom-loving, ethics driven mercenary organization that gets done what the intergalactic space force can't or won't. Joe is the captain of a band of Crushers who take a job to transport a young woman in stasis and her companions across space for a life-saving operation. While in transit, however, an unexplainable anomaly occurs, and though they and their ship survive, their passengers and cargo disappear. Run through the wringer for botching the job, Joe and crew make a detour on their way back, avoiding their debriefing and reprimanding for a short while to attempt to figure out the mystery that looms before them. The Crushers find that they were pawns in a far more nefarious scheme and must work to stop the use of a device that may bring untold wealth to some--but might also rip apart the fabric of the space-time continuum and rend asunder the galaxy.

Whatever your opinion of 80s anime, Crusher Joe was animated well for a movie of its time. Often, I was reminded of the colorful animation style of The Castle Of Cagliostro; although the films are set in completely different environments, the general look and feel is somewhat similar. Though the vehicular designs are simplistic, the character designs are great and what I think of when I think of the anime archetypes of the day. The action sequences are fluid, never resorting to the popular "lines in the background make you think I'm moving fast" trick. To me, the whole thing was a welcome sight after the too-bright sheen of some modern anime.

I wish Crusher Joe did have some more tricks, though. On one hand, the Crusher team breaks some boundaries, particularly Talos, Joe's older, wiser friend. Although it seems trivial for American cinema, Talos still remains one of the only black heroes in all of anime, a sadly prime example of how many other cultures are not even close to the US in terms of race relations (amazingly enough). On the other hand, the group is made up of stereotypes--the brash pilot, the free-spirited girl, the brainy kid, the cute robot, and the brave mentor. The plot is stable enough, with nothing truly new to offer but still reasonably thought out and executed. There are a few truly great action sequences that are also worth the price of admission, particularly now that AnimEigo has the tape on sale on their website for $5.

What makes Crusher Joe a lesser work, though, is that's it's simply dull in many spots. I checked how long we had to go about seven or eight times throughout the picture, roughly every 15 minutes. After sitting through much more cerebral pictures like Wings of Honneamise, Angel's Egg, and Night on the Galactic Railroad with barely a thought of time, I was surprised to find Crusher Joe so short on thrills, especially given its reputation. There's a sequence where the Crusher team is at a drive-in theater and we glimpse a few quick shots of Kei and Yuri from Dirty Pair, another creation by Haruka Takachiho. When seeing this little in-joke, I couldn't help but think how much more I enjoyed that show than this one.

Crusher Joe is not terrible by a long shot. It has a lot going for it, and perhaps those with a little more patience will enjoy it. However, I've seen plenty of good space opera in my time, and this just can't compare with better epics made in a similar time like Arcadia Of My Youth and Macross '84.

Crusher Joe: The Movie -- violence, brief nudity -- B-