Review for Loups=Garous Blu-Ray & DVD Combi Pack
It isn’t always the case, especially with media from an unfamiliar culture and language, but you’d expect the title of a film to offer some insight into its content. Failing that you’d expect to learn the rationale behind the name of a film in the process of watching it. Having seen Loups=Garous, I’m still none the wiser. Of course it’s always wise not to judge the book by the cover, but in this case, I hadn’t even heard of the book before Loups=Garous turned up for review. There was the usual hesitation that I have when watching something completely cold, but I have to admit that I perked up when I saw the Production IG logo at the head of the film. Production IG always do good stuff, and besides, I had just been thoroughly impressed by their Oblivion Island. Then 50 minutes later I woke up, and had to skip back to re-watch fifteen minutes of the film that I had just slept through... but I get ahead of myself.
It’s the future, and the Net is ubiquitous to the point where people would much rather live isolated lives interacting through electronic interfaces, than actually meet face to face. It’s even reached the point that children live alone. One such girl named Hazuki Makino suffers from Communication Disorder and as part of her counselling is assigned to a group of students for some face to face time. The other children that she gets to know include self-proclaimed genius Tsuzuki Mio, androgynous lone wolf Ayumi Kono, and gentle soul Yuko Yabe. The only problem is that Yuko is missing. At the same time in this carefully regulated world, this future utopia created by SVC Corporation, where citizens’ lives are governed by their connections to the net, there’s still a serial killer on the loose. This killer is preying on young girls, their corpses being found eviscerated. The victims all have something in common, an interest in a certain kind of manga art, and they all belong to the same net community. Yuko Yabe is also a member...
Loups=Garous is released as a DVD release, and as a Blu-ray DVD combo. I only received the Blu-ray check disc for the film, and can’t comment on the quality or the content of the DVD portion of the release.
Loups=Garous gets a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer at the 1080p resolution on this Blu-ray disc. The image is clear and sharp throughout, colours are bold, and the only minor flaw is some digital banding visible around light sources in darker scenes. The animation itself never really strikes me as a theatrical level project. The character designs are simplistic, and the world design rarely offers the sort of detail that would challenge the Blu-ray resolution. I half suspect it to be a TV animation that someone realised would be better to release as a movie given its effective runtime.
The images in this review are sourced from the PR, and aren’t necessarily representative of the final retail release.
You have the choice between PCM 2.0 Stereo Japanese and English on this disc, with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. If you want no subtitle stream at all, you’ll have to switch it off with your remote, as there’s no way of doing so via the menu. The Japanese audio is streamed at 2.3Mbps, while the English is streamed at 1.5Mbps, although to my ears there was no difference in the quality of the audio for either track. I was happy enough with the Japanese audio, the actors seemed well-suited for their characters, there was a bit of sound design to the film that gave the action sequences a boost, and there was a whole lot of j-pop to appreciate. Looking at the extras, it becomes clear that Loups=Garous is something of a vehicle for Japanese girl-band Scandal. I gave the English dub a spin, and it seemed pretty fair from what I heard. The subtitles were a bit awkward, and phrased in a way that would have me skipping back and pausing to read through more carefully. They also had the tendency to shunt back the current spoken line and join it with the next one, making me wary about missing subtitles.
Loups=Garous presents its content against an animated menu screen on this Blu-ray. All of the extra features are presented in HD, either 1080i or 1080p, and for a change when it comes to anime, this disc is loaded with extras.
There are plenty of promos and trailers to look over, two Promotion Videos set to different music, but both running to 22 seconds, a 90 second Theatrical Trailer, and an Early Version of the Promo Video running to just over a minute. There are also two music video clips for Koshi Tantan, as performed by the CGI incarnations of the Scandal girl group. It appears that guitars are for dancing with, not playing.
There are more substantial pieces to go with the film as well. The Movie Digest lasts 12½ minutes, and saves you the bother of watching the first three-quarters of the film. The Picture Drama lasts 8½ minutes, and is a prequel story set to an image slideshow, that tells of Ayumi and Hazuki’s first encounter. The Pilot Film offers an Early Version of the early part of the film, and there’s plenty of interesting alternate footage here, not something you see a lot of with animation, where cuts and changes usually take place long before the animation stage. This lasts 13 minutes.
Finally there are the interviews, 17 minutes worth with the cast, which features the voice actors for the four main characters. There’s the interview with the director Junichi Fujisaku, which lasts 7 minutes. The interview with the writer Natsuhiko Kyogoku lasts 4 minutes, and there is a piece on the pop group Scandal, that feature heavily in the movie. They talk about their roles in the film, and the making of the CGI music video to the insert song, as well recording the end theme. This last piece runs for 16 minutes.
In the Japanese version of the film, it’s pronounced “Roo-garoo”, which sounds a bit like Scooby Doo saying Boogaloo. That’s no help at all if you want to understand it of course, and it’s only through watching the extras that I learned that Loups=Garous is French for Werewolf. There are no werewolves in this film, although apparently the title refers to the Lone Wolf character in the movie, Ayumi Kono. I suppose it could be an allegory, in the same way that Jin-Roh was a dark and adult version of Little Red Riding Hood, but the allegory in this case is hard to define, and when it comes down to it, Loups=Garous just isn’t good enough for me to care about finding out.
It has an interesting, if not altogether original premise, that of a future world where technology has confined and constrained human societies. There’s a bit on the blurb about a devastating virus wiping out much of the population, but this is never even alluded to in the actual film, and I wonder if it was taken from the source material from which the film was adapted. But what is evident is that this is truly a surveillance society, with cameras everywhere watching every move that people make. More than that, to actually be a member of society, entitled to its benefits and rights, you have to actively collude in being monitored, what is essentially your ID constantly keeps tabs on you as well. The other aspect of the film that extrapolates from current social trends is that desire for people to communicate primarily online. We see it now with people in restaurants glued to their phones rather than talking to each other. In Loups=Garous it has reached the point where children suffer from Communication Disorder, unable to communicate with people face to face. It seems that the role of schools now is to actually facilitate the growth of social skills, rather than actual education, and teachers have become counsellors, working with their patients to get them talking to each other face to face.
What this has to do with a serial killer stalking young girls is a pretty tenuous connection, but in a surveillance society to this degree, that someone can commit murder on such a scale is surely worrying. When Hazuki Makino gets assigned to a group of students to work on their communication skills, and it turns out that one of the girls is missing, then it all begins to tie into the serial killer case. Yuko Yabe is the girl that has vanished, and hacker Tsuzuki Mio is eager to find her. She has the skills to fool the surveillance grid, and she takes Hazuki on an adventure in the real world. Mio’s also got a friend in Myao Rei who lives off the grid, unregistered as a citizen, and whose hard-hitting skills come in useful in tracking Yuko down. Then there is Ayumi Kono, also in the group to develop some social skills, and who Hazuki has a crush on.
Incidentally, Ayumi’s gender changes for the Western localised version of the film. He’s male in the dub, and in the subtitle translations. In the Japanese audio, if you’ve picked up just enough of the language, it eventually becomes clear that Ayumi is female, also confirmed in the extra features. I don’t know exactly what happened here, but it seems that a movie about a serial killer, eviscerated young female victims, with a human trafficking subplot, and a fair bit of blood, gore and violence is fine, but a lesbian crush, however platonic, is too much for US fan sensibilities. Either that or they constantly screwed up on the translation, and no one noticed (They obviously noticed when it came to the extra features).
There are a whole lot of problems with Loups=Garous, and most of them stem with the fact that it’s a vehicle for the Scandal pop group. This shouldn’t be a handicap, as Ice may have been mediocre, but it certainly wasn’t mediocre for the AKB48 tie-in. But here, the film is actually hamstrung by the crow-barring in of Scandal. The pacing and story development is all over the place to begin with, with the film taking a devil’s age to get going. It’s only a 90-minute feature, but following a very promising start featuring a girl in distress, cornered by masked delinquents, we switch to Hazuki and her story begins. It’s a slow build as she narrates her way through the world that she lives in, her communication disorder, and getting assigned to her new friends to help deal with that. Then slowly, the serial killer plot thread is reintroduced, and the girls (and girl/boy) start investigating Yuko’s disappearance...
Then it all stops for a while as they form their own impromptu girl band and devote some time to learning some Scandal dance moves. The momentum of the movie is killed stone dead at this point, and by the time the story gets going again, I found it hard to care about developments in the plot, the revelation of who one of the killers is, and what the whole serial killer plot is all about.
Loups=Garous is like a poor man’s Ghost in the Shell. It’s got the concept, a nice cybernetic, totalitarian future world, but it doesn’t do enough with it. The characters fail to register, and I certainly didn’t have any empathy for them, the pacing is tedious, and the whole Scandal diversion in the middle of the film killed it for me, just put me to sleep. There are better films out there that cover similar themes with far greater success. I’d suggest Jin-Roh for one.