VOD/Home Release Date: Nov 7, 2023
Kurando Mitsutake is no stranger to budget cinema. He’s carved himself a niche that’s more or less has the look of films made in the past century. While a lot of marketing says Lion-Girl is inspired by Go Nagai’s manga styling, I’m seeing more than just one creator’s influence and they forgot to say it’s inspired by many a sentai series.
Also, what this filmmaker made isn’t 100% Japanese. This talent set up shop in Los Angeles and I found the setting of Neo Japan very tough to believe–especially when I recognise the Sierra Nevada in the background. The use of American actors isn’t too much of distraction when considering the information prefaced in the movie trailer. However, what’s presented feels more like a cowboy sentai style western than anything else.
Also, I wondered which heroine led manga from this artist was the primary influence. The protagonist here isn’t like Cutie Honey or Kekko Kamen. The closest parallel might be with Cinderella Kishi, but I’d have to read this series to say for certain. While this film honours Nagai’s works, like Devilman with its nudity and Violence Jack for the off the wall blood, at least the full-frontal bits of genitalia does not differ from what’s depicted on paper. They tend to appear as though they are victims after being kidnapped by aliens rather than put into sexual situations.
After watching this live action story, I had to revisit the printed material to remind myself how Go Nagai likes to develop his characters. They go through lengthy origins before getting to their first conflict–which is especially true for Devilman–and this film is no different. Also, I’m fairly sure what’s designed is to honour this artist’s legacy more than anything else. However, I must note that other intellectual properties can be recognized, like Fist of the Northstar and Mad Max!
Here, this world should focus on what I love from Devilman since its world matches up with how humans and monsters have merged into “single” entities. This happened because of a meteor shower that rendered most of the Earth inhabitable and its radiation gave those nearby psychic powers (and have become known as the Anaroc). Any other humans who survived but weren’t near relocated to live in colonies in order to hide from these mutants.
Although these animal-human hybrids are regarded as the terror that rules the land, there are a few individuals who want to change that. Botan (Tori Griffith) wears a sort of lioness shaped half mask which reminded me of Cheshire from DC Comics, and I had to chuckle. When in disguise, she’s known as Lion-Girl! Uncle Ken (Damian Toofeek Raven) trained her, and as for what happened to her parents, all I learned is that her mother died during childbirth. After a few heroics, Shogun Fujinaga (Tomuki Kimura) puts a bounty on her, and many wannabes emerge out of the woodwork to collect!
Had this oppressor shown just how feared he really is, I’d feel more invested in the plot. He’s not as imposing as Darth Vader. But this young lady is not ready to face him, and to go through the proverbial heroine’s journey is tough. Like in Star Wars, she must make friends who can help take down his evil empire. One requirement is for Herbert (Matt Standley) and Mayumi (Shelby Lee Parks) to say let’s find Ogi Agan (Stefanie Estes). She’s the leader of a nearby colony and as for what they do to prepare and that showdown, I skipped to watch the juicy showdown. The runtime is noticeably long and I didn’t want to wait.
Ultimately, Lion-Girl should’ve been a miniseries. That way, the buildup to confront bounty hunter Kaisei Kishi (Derek Mears) would pay off better, much like how Empire Strikes Back showed just how nasty Boba Fett can be. And if there’s a sequel, hopefully this film’s part two doesn’t kill him off too soon.
As much as I really want to love this movie, its current format doesn’t truly work. The set pieces are scattered. Although I’m glad this work has Nagai’s seal of approval–he talks about this film in the home video release–the cracks can be mended by presenting additional material as a build up to this film. Although the trailer does a great job at establishing the world, that’s not enough. Whether new material can be added with side stories offered via Youtube, or a proper manga released prior, it’s needed!
3 Stars out of 5
Postscript disclaimer: Perhaps the physical release has all the material to get viewers up to speed before viewing the film. Although I had a digital screener to view in advance, my hard copy of Lion-Girl is still caged in a postal service’s warehouse, somewhere. Hopefully she can claw her way out soon.