Fine wine. Furniture. Coins. Cheese. What do they have in common? Like many things, all of them become more valuable with proper aging...one look at the Antique Roadshow, and it's clear people can make a living off of properties that have aged enough to be classics. Anime doesn't have this same reputation, primarily because the character designs and animation style date many features. Although there are many exceptions, it's not hard to pick out something animated five years ago versus something created fifteen or twenty years prior. This doesn't mean that the animation is bad, merely that it is not as attention-grabbing as animation today. This is a strike for modern audiences against Etranger. That's truly devastating, since otherwise it is one of the most thought-provoking, unique, and undervalued anime ever created, especially given the film's origins in an all-but-forgotten mecha show.
As the film starts, we realize that GoShogun is no more. The team that once saved the earth 40 years prior is now disbanded, and the original members have lost contact with one another. But then there is Remy, the lone woman from the team, who gets involved in a major car chase during the opening reel. She has plans to meet up with some of her old cohorts, but instead winds up in a horrific accident. Remy is rushed to the hospital, where she is only given a 5% chance of survival--for not only has she been hurt by the accident, but a disease that had gone undiagnosed has gone malignant due to her injuries. As her former comrades watch helplessly as the medical system writes her off, Remy mentally fights the demons that want her to give up on her recovery. Comatose, she imagines herself back in her twenties, fighting with her companions against a city with no escape and a destiny of doom. She also sees herself young and alone, lost in a well in her early childhood, fighting for her survival. We flash back and forth between the hospital, Remy's past, and the battle raging in her mind as life and death hang in the balance.
I found Etranger incredibly satisfying. That's not to say that there are not faults--the film's artistic style is admittedly dated, and the ending is a little too obtuse--but this movie transcends its roots. GoShogun was a twenty-six episode series that fit the stereotypical "robot series" out of the 70s. That doesn't mean it wasn't good, but it was easily lost in the shuffle of mecha shows. Etranger wisely avoids its roots in this respect; there's nary a robot to be seen anywhere in this film. Instead, the film focuses on its one main character and drives her story home, rather than introducing all the other characters again and trying to give each one importance. (It's very hard to make an ensemble work in a big movie--just look at the catastrophe that is the film X to see what I mean.) The show still manages to give its secondary characters personality enough that you don't feel lost; you might find yourself wanting to see the original television program, but there's not a feeling that the casual viewer has missed something. By pushing the storyline 40 years into the future, the characters are really no more knowledgeable of each other than the audience is, which helps the movie endear itself to audiences otherwise unfamiliar with GoShogun. What's more, the format of working between three quite different stories is pretty great.
What also differentiates Etranger from a lot of other films is its willingness to play with multiple genres. Though quite a few action sequences stir things up a bit, Etranger is certainly not an action film like its preceding series. In fact, the film delves a bit into psychological horror, not gruesome but certainly intense. At the same time, it is a drama with lots of talk and discussion. It's not dull, but it's not friendly to action audiences. The combination works very well, however, and it opens up possibilities. It delves into questions posed by more artistic anime like Grave of the Fireflies and Night on the Galactic Railroad while still retaining a sense of entertainment and excitement. This is rare in any form of media, let alone anime. Add some really strong character development and plot, and you've got a winner.
This film used to float around at conventions and such in the late 80s and early 90s, but has disappeared for quite some time. However, there's a new Region 1 DVD release scheduled for early January, which means that many American audiences (and others with region-free players) might get the chance to see this for the first time. If you can keep an open mind towards older animation and don't mind some thoughtful discussion starters, I think it's well worth the time and effort to pick this one up.
Etranger -- violence, mild language -- A