Let the game begin.
It’s the future. Four people, three women and one man, are participating in an online role-playing game, called Avalon (F). One player, Colonel (Meisa Kurioki) wants to move onto the next level by defeating a giant monster called the Madara. To do this, she has to convince the other three players to help her.
Take a look at that cover art. See the three hot babes with weapons and body armor, and one of them casting a magic spell, with monsters and robots flying in the background. Looks pretty sweet, right? That’s not exactly what you’re getting with this movie. Yeah, there are gun-totin’ hot babes and giant monsters, but that’s only about ten minutes of this movie. The rest of the movie? It’s the characters walking around an empty landscape, looking all morose and not doing much of anything.
The movie begins with a lengthy expository info-dump, in which a narrator tells us about the blurring of humanity and electronics. He then goes on and on about the future wars and economic and political fallout from those wars, and then he introduces us to the Avalon game, which was originally meant as a simulator for the military but has been taken over by gamers who have formed illegal “parties” within the game. You don’t need to know any of this to understand the movie that follows. All you need to know is that there are four people playing a very boring online game.
Most of the movie has the characters walking around a bleak, empty-looking landscape. Occasionally, they spend a few seconds talking to each other or fighting the monsters in brief skirmishes, but mostly, they’re just walking around. I guess the idea is that the filmmakers are going for a Spaghetti Western feel, evoking those long stretches of isolation and silence in Sergio Leone’s work. It doesn’t work as well here as it does in Leone’s masterpieces. Instead of establishing mood, it just feels like padding. The characters walk around. One of them sits by a campfire, eating. More walking. Another of them stands and stars off into the distance sadly, and so on.
There’s more. The actors wear face masks for most of the film, and speak in English with thick Japanese accents, making the English subtitles a necessity. The movie is divided into chapters, with lengthy chapter titles that expose about the nature of God and other such pretensions. A large talking globe oversees the game, occasionally chiming in, telling the players where to go and what to do. At first, I thought the globe was being set up as the villain of the piece, but instead it’s just kind of there. Some of the visual effects are pretty cool, but not really worth sitting through all the tedium it takes to get to them.
Assault Girls was directed by anime legend Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell), and appears to take place in the same universe as his much better 2001 film Avalon. A lot of Oshii’s work has to do with blurring the line between man and machine, but this one doesn’t explore his usual themes in any meaningful way. Everyone should check out Oshii’s films, but not this one.
The widescreen picture is a little too soft and washed out, but that could be the choice of the filmmaker. The sound is provided by a pair of unimpressive 5.1 and 2.0 tracks. A trailer is the only extra.