Honestly, I’ve never been too worked up over finding originality. I know that a tried and true story can still be told in over a million ways. Is the setting a fantasy where it used to be sci-fi? Are there comedic beats or is it more series? What sets this apart from others? John Wick‘s concept wasn’t necessarily original, but we never saw a revenge film about a dog being killed, nor did we see one with such elaborate world-building.
Even the most acclaimed creators’ works can be traced back to the maker’s inspirations. Media is all about inspiration and telling old stories in new ways by combining myriad elements in a really creative way. Today, I want to look at a film that in a lot of ways is unoriginal, but that I don’t think has to be discarded because of that. From Studio 3Hz and director Kazuya Nomura comes Black Fox, a new film that just recently released on Crunchyroll.
Rikka Isurugi is a ninja.
More accurately, she is being trained by her grandfather, Hyoue, to become a ninja. While she is quite skilled, even at a young age, she really wants to follow in the footsteps of her father Allen, a renowned scientist. Years pass and she follows the latter’s path despite Hyoue’s insistence that she carries on the family legacy.
When Allen’s past acquaintances make it known that they want his research on robotics, he refuses. This makes his family a target, and he deploys his three robot animals to help Rikka escape. An eagle named Kasumi, a flying squirrel by the name of Madara, and a dog named Oboro. Abandoning her name, Rikka takes on the name of Lily and – with the help of her robots – begins a new quest to bring her family’s murderers to justice.
Just typing that last sentence, even I could feel that temptation in the back of my head to groan because, yes, the revenge plot is something we have seen before. The grand strokes of the narrative are not enough of a spin on the hero’s journey or the genre to necessarily set it apart. You can likely see where the film is heading as it goes along. All that being said, it is not without cool ideas.
While the core premise is derivative, the ideas surrounding it are cooler. The setting is near-future in a city that seems to have a synergy of Western and Asian culture, given the number of people with English names. There are elements of science-fiction that permeate the entire story, from Lily’s talking robotic companions to a character with psychic powers.
When I first saw trailers for this film just a month or so back, I don’t think I was expecting anything from the narrative. I had already gathered that it was a revenge plot from the dialog. Those sci-fi elements are what drew me in, along with impressive action animation featuring some hella cute girls. What I was NOT expecting was to watch a superhero origin story.
I would compare Black Fox to any B-tier MCU film, albeit with a stronger final battle than a grand majority of the MCU. Yet it also has the makings of an episodic cartoon. Probably because this project was originally going to be a TV series. This film gives the protagonist a secret identity working a day job as a detective(‘s assistant), nifty gadgets, and an expanding array of fellow vigilantes as the film progresses.
Lily combines her passion for technology with her training in ninja arts to become a formidable foe to the corporation she is tracking down. While friendly and in high spirits, she proves she is also willing to get violent, striking fear into people and becoming a local legend like an early-career Batman.
Crossing Lily’s path is Mia, a young girl gifted with psychic powers, and the daughter of one of Lily’s targets. Both leads deal with a sort of familial loss. Lily’s family has been taken away and grapples their urge to kill as they seek to avenge them. Mia’s family is still alive but she can’t rectify that they aren’t the same as they used to be and that they are beyond saving.
Mia’s father, the oddly named Lauren (this movie has lots of caucasian characters), is an absolute nutcase and all the more entertaining for it. It makes Mia’s arc that much sadder when you see how he used to be compared to who he has become. He is over the top, but enough that you love seeing him on screen just as much as you can’t wait to see him get his ass kicked.
This film doesn’t necessarily make the most of all of its cast. The trio on all of the posters is Lily, Mia, and Melissa, Lily’s roommate. However, Melissa is rather underwhelming, her role making more sense only at the very end of the story. Similarly, Madara and Kasumi don’t have a lot of personality as opposed to Oboro, who has a much more functional arc alongside Lily.
It is to this film’s credit, however, that most characters were immediately likable in some way. Lily’s dad and grandfather both leave strong impressions by way of the first act and even less fleshed-out characters are nothing if not enjoyable. Since this film sets itself up for a sequel, I have no doubt the creators can do a lot with the cast.
This is a tried and true story about finding one’s way and being your own person. In a word, it is formulaic. The biggest detriment to this film is that its core ideas are unoriginal and the themes add little nuance, but I can hardly say that the film is mediocre. At the very least, it is a mediocrity sustained by the quality of its production.
Studio 3Hz just recently placed itself firmly on my radar after I watched Princess Principal, so I had no doubt that the animation would be good. Fight animation is done superbly and only gets better as it nears a stunning conclusion with cuts by some up-and-coming webgen animators such as MLANG, Gem, and Tsuyoshi Iida to name just a few. An expected amount of hand-to-hand combat, a pleasantly surprising slew of flashy effects, and even some adorable character acting.
My enthusiasm is tempered only by my exposure to other more nuanced stories, but I still find a charm to it. For a while, it has felt like media has been capitalizing on the kinds of things which appealed to me as a kid more and more. This film, which already feels as though it is trying to gain a larger western audience, shows similar intentions.
The music was done by Masaru Yokoyama, responsible for Fate/ Apocrypha, Sirius the Jaeger, and Your Lie in April. Regardless of individual quality, all three of those shows had wonderful soundtracks and it is no different here. There is certainly a Hollywood influence on the sound. It may not reach the highs of his work on Apocrypha, but the heavy use of horns and strings with an optimistic and heroic slant added much to the climax. Otherwise, the synergy of orchestral and techno is just as strong here as it was in Sirius.
This isn’t the first time Director Kazuya Nomura has gotten my attention with even an admittedly average production. He has worked on season two and the film of Sengoku Basara, a show which bordered on obsession for me just a few years back. Basara was nothing if not a prime example of tried and true storytelling made addicting thanks to the characters and presentation on display.
Nomura also directed the Ghost in the Shell Arise film from 2015, which was perhaps one of the few saving graces in that permutation of the series. While he has his failures like Joker Game, one can more often attribute blame to the writing staff associated with said failures.
Black Fox has a well-produced wide appeal that I think would be particularly pleasing to younger audiences. As a kid, this would have been the kind of film that I rewatched time after time on DVD or VHS. Furthermore, Lily is the kind of bombshell brimming with personality that would have won my heart and had me raving about her in similar breathes as Wonder Woman or Kim Possible.
As an adult, my enjoyment of the film is more casual. Black Fox is the kind of movie you sit down to watch on a Sunday morning with a cup of coffee, thinking “hey, I haven’t seen this yet.” The characters are likable, even if ones some like Melissa (the third in the marketings “trio” is underutilized). The concepts are cool without being tied to a strong theme, creating cool characters in the robot companions.
Should a sequel be made, I’ll be excited, albeit with higher expectations. It’s simple, but in its simplicity, it finds a way to stick with me. It never oversteps its boundaries or overstays its welcome. While this film might not make my top 10 for the year, I believe it is at least deserving of an honorable mention. Because sometimes the simple pleasures are just what we need.
Black Fox is available for legal streaming through Crunchyroll
What did you think about Black Fox?! Did I pique your interest, or did it seem a little too cliched? Leave a comment below telling me your thoughts and let me know what other anime films I should review.
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next week!!!