Imagine something about as unpleasant and sordid as you can. Now double it. Now remember that it's Japanese anime and a prequel to Takashi Miike's infamous Ichi the Killer
. Okay, now you're getting close.
This is not a popular anime. Not only is it sick, but it's refusing to make either its sex or violence attractive. The main character is Ichi the Killer
, a sadist and loser who gets a hard-on from murder, pain and beatings. That's not what makes him unlikeable, though. No, the frustrating thing about Ichi is his spinelessness. He's pathetic. He lets bullies beat him up at school and just keeps crying and apologising. He's a snivelling worm who doesn't even take pleasure in taking pleasure, if you know what I mean. He'll trudge miserably through his "nascent serial killer" existence, occasionally killing an animal and masturbating, but none of it makes him happy. He knows he's sick in the head.
In other words, what we have here is an anime in which the violence isn't cool and the nudity isn't sexy. However if you like watching violence, there are quite a lot of people here like you... assuming of course that you're a cold, broken person who knows no other way of achieving orgasm. Either sadism or masochism is fine.
You can see how this might not appeal to everyone. Leering fanboys who live to watch testosterone-crazed action movies are probably going to be particularly unreceptive to its message. Me, I thought it was interesting, although not exactly likeable.
It's sort of an alternative take on 1-Ichi
, the straight-to-video movie that came out the following year. They're both basically Ichi At School. However in fact it's following the continuity of the original Hideo Yamamoto manga and in an odd way it strikes me as a much more realistic take on the subject. The serial killer childhood details are true to life, for instance, with the emotionless family life and the cruelty to animals. Students dissecting live frogs is something I hope was never done in Japanese schools, mind you. There's something mundane and thus doubly appalling about some of the evil on display here, such as for instance this creepy bastard of a schoolmate who keeps insisting he's Ichi's best friend even as he's exorting money from him, or the way in which Ichi gets out of trouble at home by saying he's bullying other children. His parents' reaction? They don't see anything wrong and even give him advice.
Incidentally, one of the voice actors is Takashi Miike! To my surprise he's got 17 acting credits on imdb, although that includes the likes of "stabbing victim", "man in red trousers getting beaten up by Riichi" and, in Eli Roth's Hostel, "Takashi Miike".
In summary, I thought it was good. It's taking its repellent story seriously and never letting Ichi's life become funny. It's as bleak as Siberia, but that's the point. It certainly lives up to the live-action movies and in no way feels like a lighter or trivialised version of them. The same guy wrote them all, for a start. If you liked Ichi the Killer
, you might want to check this out. If you've gone so far as to see 1-Ichi
too, I'd say it's mandatory. If you like watching things that are violent, sick and disturbing, you too might find this interesting in a cold, unlikeable way. Otherwise it is not recommended.