I’m not a hentai guy. I won’t knock the next person for what they’re into, but nine times out of ten it’s just gratuitous sex with either a needless gore fest or over-the-top silliness in place of an actual plot. Urotsukidoji will forever be carved into my brain, but that’s a whole different rabbit hole than our Hidden Gem. It can be a thin line between hentai and more mainstream anime, and Wicked City does its best to blur it. This movie isn’t for kids, or the faint of heart, and could never be done today. Adapted from a novel by Hideyuki Kikuchi, Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s Wicked City was unleashed on the land in 1987. Yet as dark and deranged as Wicked City can get, there is always a weight to it that also gives it heart. Marry that with a good plot, a dash of cyber punk, and Madhouse’s industry leading animation, and you’ve got yourself a classic.
Set in the distant late 1990s, the deadline has just been moved up on a treaty between humans and demons. In this world, there are two: our world and the demons’ Black World. The majority of both wish to live in peace, but over time bloody fights broke out so much so that a treaty was drawn up. Every few hundred years it’s renewed and a secret organization made up of both races, called the Black Guard, enforces the treaty and protects the innocent. Our man, Taki Renzaburo is the best agent the humans have to offer. Driven by a sense of duty and booty, Taki is forced to team with Makie, Black World’s best agent, to protect a key figure of the treaty signing. Although they’re opposites, Taki being the silky smooth player to Makie’s stern professionalism, they both effortlessly ooze a calm cool that sets the tone for Wicked City, even highlighted stylistically with most of the movie being tinted with blue hues.
Everything hinges on these two and their budding relationship during the course of their mission. The weight of their undertaking, and the cost that comes with it, only comes from our agents. Whereas everyone else has left a piece of their humanity on the table for the cause, Makie and Taki are still intact. In one scene, the demon extremist bomb a full plane in an assassination attempt and our two are taken aback not for possibly failing their mission, but for all the innocents that were lost. Similarly, it’s a rocky start for the two, but mutual respect grows into more in the face of the horrors they have to deal with, leading them to see each other as more than just agents and endangering the mission. However, they need it with what they have to go through.
Wicked City may be dipped in hues of blue, but it’s over a landscape of grime and miscellaneous fluids that I wouldn’t wade through with a hazmat suit. Leading the way is the man they must protect, Giuseppe Mayart: a legendary human telepath to both worlds, over 100 years old but nasty and horny enough to give Quagmire a run for his money.
He’s laser focused on hooking up with a Black World woman since it’s a pregnancy free level of ecstasy humans can’t give, regardless of the fact it can always end in death. Between his constant shots at Makie and the trouble he manages to get himself into, he’s more than a pain in the ass yet has more than a few secrets of his own. On his tail, you have the radicals, who want nothing to do with humans and know no low they won’t stoop to. To battle them, Taki is armed with a specially modified gun with a massive recoil, while Maki has retractable nail claws and telepathic abilities. Each radical has their own power, but none more bold than the Spider Woman.
The first five minutes of the film sees her introduction after tricking Taki into sleeping with her and her failed attempt to castrate him. Normally, nothing would be more nightmare inducing than her monster-mouthed vagina dentata, but this is an erotic horror anime we’re talking about. So yes, there is rape and the stereotypical tentacle rape (albeit thankfully shorter than its brethren usually go). Here’s normally where I would check out, but Wicked City, with a mix of its demeanor and treatment of the scenes, keeps the train on the tracks. There isn’t anything glorified here (although I freely admit it is extra), even going on to outright call it an act of humiliating aggression, but it can still be a hard pill to swallow for those who aren’t turned off by everything that precedes it. It’s a product of the genre, all of which stands in stark contrast to what Taki and Makie share.
Wrapped around the budding love story is a hail of great fight scenes, and small character scenes, that stand out even more thanks to Madhouse. Battling demons leaves the door open to be as a detailed and graphic as they can get away with, but more importantly, they capture the small moments and gestures just as well. The story between Makie and Taki plays out just as much on their expressions as they do in their dialogue. The anime greats almost all share this trait as it’s not only eye-candy, but humanizes our hand drawn characters that much more. Pulling off the player turned loving man story is never a slam dunk since it’s way too easy to come out cheesy or unearned (especially when there is so much else going on), but, as in real life, the eyes are the window to the soul for both of them. The animation accentuates a great plot that delivers on its twist without leaving plot holes or telegraphing the destination.
Despite being limited by its very nature, Wicked City lives on in its popularity. In 1992, the movie was bastardized to create a live action movie that loosely based itself on the source. Taki got to stay, along with a confusing, vanilla and neutered version of Giuseppe Mayart, but demons were now drug selling “Reptoids” he had to takedown. Trust me, it was even worse than it sounds. However, Wicked City has continued living through its novels still dropping all these years. In anime, if you look closely, it’s influence can be seen floating around still.
As I said before, Wicked City isn’t for everyone, of age or not. Everyone has different taste, but if you can handle it, check it out. The amount of world building and character development crammed into 90 minutes is impressive in itself. Personally, this is as far I’ll wade into those waters, but there’s no denying the greatness that I stumbled on with my brother over 20 years ago.
Wicked City | 1987 | Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri | Production Company: Madhouse