I don’t know whether I’d be speaking too harshly of Golgo 13: The Professional in saying how bad it is. Make no mistake, it IS bad, but the fact that it’s a quarter of a century old now makes me inclined to cut it a little slack. It’s a throwback to the cheesy, ultra-violent straight-to-video efforts that gave anime such a bad reputation in the Bad Old Days so there’s a good reason as to why the animation’s sometimes ropey, the plotting’s clumsy and the ennui-inducing levels of gratuitous sex and violence are offputting. It’s an old movie. In fact, it’s almost as old as I am and considerably older than most other anime movies I’ve seen to date. The opening animation sequence uses technology that was cutting edge at the time…which sadly was way back in 1983; another infamous scene, using the same techniques, features a group of CG helicopters storming a CG building but is so out-of-place it feels like it belongs to a different production.
The odd-looking CG is a minor complaint next to the excesses of nudity and meaningless bloodshed, which detract from an action thriller which actually has a decent concept and plot behind it. The movie was intended to appeal to an audience outside of the stereotypical ‘otaku’ market, so owes more to the film noir and Western pulp comics than the typical anime premises. To its credit, G13: the Professional does actually feel like a mainstream action flick at times: it has a stony-faced hero, disposable bad guys, car chases, gun fights and a plot not without an occasional clever twist, which are all ingredients for an hour and a half of fast paced, undemanding entertainment. Having Osamu Dezaki on board as director also brought a bit of artistic talent and sophistication to the table too, which is evident in the more ‘cinematic’ camera angles and those watercolour still shots that he used in the Black Jack feature.
Enjoyment of this film hinges on whether or not the frequent (and occasionally ludicrous) violence and sexual content is enough to keep your attention in order to notice its better points. Golgo is sent to kill someone, which he does with no hint of emotion. He then moves on to the next job, stopping to seduce some woman or other in between. The movie wins a bonus point here for telling a decent story: the significance of many of the killings and sex acts will be lost on you but there’s a definite plot in there somewhere if you have the inclination to find it.
Films like this are pretty common but this doesn’t alter the fact that they’re a decent enough way to pass the time; the problem with G13: The Professional is that certain aspects are so laughable or ineffective that they detract from the things that the films gets right. It wants to be serious and full of tension, but every now and then something out-of-place or just downright outageous crops up and ruins the moment; It’s good for a laugh in that sense.
Golgo himself is a stumbling block in enjoying this movie from the outset. Even when he’s killing or bedding someone his expression never changes; admittedly he’s wearing shades half the time anyway (even indoors…hey, I did say this was the 80s). I couldn’t find a reason to like him, beyond the fact that the people after him are even more heartless and detestable: the recurring bad guy gradually turns into an inhuman monster hell-bent on revenge which is interesting enough but given Golgo’s complete lack of personality and his implausible ability to cheat death there’s not much cause for sympathy for either. Making the hero so shrouded in mystery is a tried and tested idea but in this case it led me to ask myself “Why should I care?”
The rest of the cast fare no better. Almost all of them are devoid of remorse or humanity, which makes for a gritty and pitiless backdrop riddled with bullet holes, explosions and people resorting to anything to get what they want. In a way it reminds me of the classic James Bond films or the Riding Bean OAV but sadly G13 is so intent on taking itself seriously that it lacks the playful fun element of Bean Bandit and others of his ilk; ultimately this film ends up being amusing for all the wrong reasons.
Golgo 13: The Professional is a superficially fun but undeniably dated feature whose entertainment value is decidedly of the mindless violence variety. If it actually did this consistently I wouldn’t say that was a bad thing, but the infamous helicopter scene is one of many ill-chosen concepts that robs the film of tension and credibility. It’s worth the rental but not one to stand up to many re-watches.