Appearing in Japan in Shogakukan’s Big Comic since 1969, it’s fair to say that Golgo 13 is something of a big deal over there. Being one of the prime candidates for the title of ‘longest running manga ever’, it may come as something of a surprise to learn that the feature discussed here is only the second anime adaptation of the mysterious hitman’s adventures. What’s more surprising is that, having been produced in 1998, it took almost thirty years for this popular property to get to that milestone.
The plot of this short film concerns Duke Togo – the prolific assassin-for-hire otherwise known as Golgo 13 – being hired to bump off the revolutionary figure known as ‘Queen Bee’. Queen Bee, AKA Sonya, is the leader of a dissident South American guerrilla group hell bent on murdering a presidential candidate. She also happens to be – wouldn’t you know it – a beautiful redhead prone to shedding her clothes at a moment’s notice. As the story progresses, a link between Sonya and the presidential candidate, James Hardy, emerges, which throws things into a different light. And all the while, Golgo 13 is watching…
This 60 minute feature constitutes a standalone story, rather than a direct sequel to the earlier ‘Golgo 13: The Professional’, and requires no knowledge of that film to pick up and start watching. However, it bears all the hallmarks of that earlier movie. We’ve got a cocktail of sex, violence, and shady characters to sample, but this time with some advanced production values, relatively speaking.
Animation is of a cleaner standard than it was in ‘The Professional’ – which stands to reason given the 15 year gap between the two productions. However, while the cel animation is a lot cleaner, it’s not necessarily all that appealing. Murky colour palettes and some ill-advised action effects make the film look like a confusing mess at times. In fact, it’s quite possible that you’ll prefer the look of the 1983 film. For my money at least, that movie may not have the more advanced visual stylings of this one, but it’s animated with a better sense of motion and style. Your mileage may vary.
Queen Bee also features quite heavy use of painted stills throughout – a traditional anime storytelling device which, depending on your opinion, either looks stylish or cheap. It doesn’t look out of place here, at least, and overall, while it may not be the most pleasing aesthetic, it builds a certain ambience. That’s an ethic which carries over to the soundtrack, which is certainly nothing special, but does a good job of evoking a certain 1980s spy movie feel. It feels a bit dated, but fits like a glove. So the stage is set for an atmospheric adventure, at least.
Unfortunately, Queen Bee is hamstrung by a number of quite serious problems. The plot, while it sounds solid enough on paper, is actually pretty slender. The tension-free, by-the-numbers story execution makes it feel pretty perfunctory, as if it’s a half-hearted framework for the writers to tack a bit of sex and violence onto. The result is what feels like an animated Steven Segal movie with extra nookie. And less one-liners.
The plot development and the fashion in which the story advances are pretty woeful. For example, Sonya identifies Duke Togo at a bar immediately, without any indication as to HOW she knows who he is. We’re then subjected to the sight of their first sexual liaison with nary a hint of chemistry or build up between the two, save a few lines of unconvincing dialogue. This kind of illogical progression makes the ‘adult’ content of the movie feel totally gratuitous and forced in.
There’s not a single sympathetic character in the entire story, either. Sonya – the eponymous Queen Bee herself – is fleshed out with a back story, but has so little character beyond ‘I’m a guerrilla freedom fighter, and I have sex with lots of men’ that she doesn’t leave much of a mark. President James Hardy, who has the potential early on to develop into a credible, conflicted character, is derailed by a character arc that reaches a preposterous resolution. He’s also not helped by an embarrassingly bad turn by Dwight Schultz in the dub, proving aptly why TV actors don’t necessarily make for good voice actors.
But, unforgivably, it’s Duke Togo/Golgo 13 himself who is just too hard to take. He’s a personality-free, expressionless killer, about as one-dimensional as you can get. It could be argued that this is at least in keeping with previous depictions for the character, but really, that’s not much of a recommendation. He’s always been one of the most unappealing, underdeveloped non-characters in anime for my liking, and there’s nothing here to make me question that opinion. He’s simply not a strong enough lead to carry this feature, and I was left after 60 minutes wondering why on Earth Golgo 13 has enjoyed such popularity for so long.
At the end of the day, fans of Golgo 13 may welcome this additional animated escapade. But truthfully it’s a clumsy, corny, forgettable story with astonishingly poor story development. Loaded with cliches and devoid of excitement, it’s hard to see what this could offer to anyone unfamiliar with the property.
Definitely one to pass up.