BLACKFOX – Anime Review
Synopsis: Living in a ninja residence tucked away in a corner of a futuristic city is Rikka, the eldest daughter of a Ninja clan, who looks up to her father—a researcher—very much. Carrying on with her life normally, Rikka’s home came suddenly under attack one day. Driven into a corner, what would she do to overcome this crisis? Rip darkness to pieces and become “BLACK”! (Official Crunchyroll Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
BLACKFOX opens on Rikka, a little girl who’s being chased about an old Japanese house by a ninja in a Black Fox mask. While it initially looks like Rikka is in danger, she eventually turns and fights the man, keeping up with every swipe of his blade. Rikka, as it turns out, is the granddaughter of this masked man, Hyoue, and destined to replace him as head of their Ninja clan. But Rikka is also daughter to a brilliant scientist, Allen, one who has recently perfected A.I. robots, modeled after animals, meant to act as friends to mankind. Outside of the odd mix of Ninjas and Sci-fi, the first twenty minutes of BLACKFOX are quite solid. We follow Rikka through her family’s introductions, and into her teen years, shortly after getting accepted to her dad’s alma mater. As she’s returning home to celebrate the good news, Rikka finds her family has been attacked by her father’s former associates, seeking to use his research for militaristic purposes. Rikka is forced to watch as her family is torn apart, and only survives thanks to her father’s creations, who whisk her away to safety. It’s then Rikka decides she’s destined for revenge, and will stop at nothing until the murderers of her family are brought to justice.
What follows this impressive and tight opening twenty-five minutes is a rushed, mess of events that suffers from too many ideas at once without enough breathing room to make any of them actually work. The first causality in all this is Rikka herself. Despite Rikka’s vow for revenge, six months have passed and she’s again a pretty cheery kid. Whenever the film needs Rikka to be emotionally crippled, grim and dour she is. When it needs her to be silly, she is. There’s no natural flow to her character, making it difficult, if not impossible to identify with her state of mind. She exists less so as a multi-dimensional character and more so as the vehicle for whatever tone the film is aiming for in any particular scene. In fact, the first scene after flashing forward sixth months reintroduces Rikka as an amateur detective, working for a freelance agency that barely factors into the film outside these five minutes aimed as pure comedic relief.
BLACKFOX wastes a lot of time on elements that never end up being all that integral to the film’s plot, like the detective agency. Another example is Rikka’s roommate, Melissa, who’s introduction is so brief that she never actually relevant to the story, that is until she randomly gains prominence in the films last half hour. Another is the pull Rikka suffers between her grandfather’s way of life as a Ninja, and her father’s way of life as a scientist. The film never really delves into the idea that Rikka is at odds over these two competing sets of values, besides a brief mention in the first twenty minutes, and it’s not until the final act that it comes up again. The whole idea feels like an afterthought because of its absence from the entire second act of the story.
These ideas pop in and out of the film on a whim, and by the time credits roll, feel like things you could have cut out and not lose anything of actual value. BLACKFOX is ultimately a story about revenge, its consuming nature, and preaches instead the concepts of unity, family and friendship to overcoming your obstacles. But this message is bogged down by a preponderance of scenes that have nothing to do with that message. By the time we get to the dramatic catharsis, with Rikka challenged on her need for revenge, it feels like we barely saw her suffering from the usual symptoms of someone who is thirsting for righteous, bloody justice. There’s only one scene used to illustrate where this need for revenge is taking her, and what’s presented hardly feels damning, making Rikka out to be more Batman-light than Punisher-esque.
So why is it BLACKFOX boasts incredible visuals for its action, solid character designs, but falls flat on its face when it comes to story? One explanation I’ve seen, and it does make some sense, is that BLACKFOX wasn’t meant to be a movie at all. It was meant to be a 2-cour anime series. This explains why there’s so many different ideas and elements crammed into the film, leaving no room for any of it to breath. The film does indeed rush after its first thirty minutes, and the haphazard nature with which ideas are introduced, underused, and forgotten would tie in well with the explanation that the script is trying to cobble together at least twelve episodes worth of content into just 90 minutes. BLACKFOX reminds me a lot of Gundam F91, another anime film originally meant to have been a much longer affair. Both films are hodgepodges of too many ideas for too short a run time and I can’t help but wish the creators of BLACKFOX had had the good sense to trim their concept down into something that would actually work well within such a short film.
Whatever the case BLACKFOX boasts incredible action sequences draped in fun sci-fi and Ninja themed aesthetics, but lacks quality storytelling and ideal pacing, making for a film that’s purely appreciable on an aesthetic level. If you’re just in it for the visuals, BLACKFOX is well worth a watch on that alone (save for the horrible pedestrian CGI where everyone walks exactly the same) but if you wanted something a bit more meaty, with a little more heart, BLACKFOX just isn’t worth sitting down for.
BLACKFOX is available for streaming via Crunchyroll.