Violence Voyager Review – A Horror-Filled Journey Into Gekimation

Well, it only took us four years of blogging to get picked up for a review. Go us! 

In all seriousness, though, thanks to TriCoast Studios for reaching out to us about the opportunity to review Violence Voyager – it’s an awesome moment for us to have been asked to do this, and we’ve been pretty dang excited to oblige. I can pretty confidently say that Violence Voyager is entirely unlike anything we’ve seen before as a blogging collective (and you can get a sense of whether or not you’ve seen anything like it, too, by checking out the trailer here)!

It’s kind of hard to explain Violence Voyager in a way that does it justice without really experiencing it. Saying that it’s a film about two young boys, Bobby and Akkun, who go off on an adventure and find themselves in a weird theme park where things go horribly, horribly awry (and did we mention that the whole film is in a cardboard cutout style called gekimation coined by the auteur Ujicha?) just doesn’t have the same punch as seeing the film in all its weird, gory, goopy, unsettling glory.

Writing this piece up as a straightforward, review-style article seemed a little unfitting, especially given the unorthodox format of the film itself. Instead, we decided on a few prompts and ideas to cover individually, thus resulting in basically a few mini-reviews put together by each of us. Hopefully, you enjoy reading the different takes we had on the film!


Owningmatt93

Similarities to Horror Films and B-Movies

I’m not one for watching a whole ton of horror films or B-movies, but there are elements here within Violence Voyager that do remind me of aspects of both. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with this innately though, as there’s an appeal for both of those genres and aspects that can make a show enjoyable, especially if it manages to uniquely express itself. However, I do think there’s an extent to which a film can do this and convey something that might be meaningful to the genre itself outside of being a unique entry in terms of its art and story.

In its narrative, there are aspects of the film that correlate to being exactly what I would expect from an entry of these genres: an overall campy story in a jarring art style that gives off a vibe of abnormality and that something is amiss. The story itself isn’t particularly unique, nor does it tend to exhibit qualities that lend it to be a top-of-the-line entry in either of those regards. There are plenty of loose ends for the plot that never seem to get resolved, details that are never explained or feel unnecessary to the overarching story, and character moments and decisions by them that feel rigid and disconnected from one another. None of it seems to progress the plot in a way that doesn’t make the film seem like a disjointed mess by the end of it.

Combined with the horror aspects and the amounts of blood and gore, this film seems to take the ideas from both of those genres and recreate them in a way that causes the animation to be the only aspect that truly stands out beyond the rest of the show; something that I can appreciate, but isn’t necessarily something that I can’t imagine would be appealing to any sort of majority, but could be appealing given the right audience.

Thematic Elements of the Film

This film is one that continues to stand out in my mind after watching, but not necessarily for any reason beyond the unique cinematic experience of the film itself. A lot of narrative decisions I continuously questioned during the film, but not in a way that felt constructive to provide any overarching thematic aspect with the material that the film provided to me. Films created with an artistic intent such as this one can survive on their own without having that, but with this film, anything beyond the art style felt pretty uncompelling and lacking in elements of saying something greater about the horror B-movie genre itself; something that I would have expected from a film such as this.

The ending of the film is the only aspect that has any sort of resemblance to a thematic message, which is being able to persevere through the difficulties that life continues to face us with. However, this brings about conflicting qualities when thinking about the film as a whole, especially when considering its genre and narrative. With the entire film being centered around the most grotesque elements and horrible things happening, having such a positive message thrust upon the audience near the end seems a bit hollow and almost comically in poor taste, considering that the difficulties the characters face are way beyond what I would consider any sort of realistic.

Depiction of Children in Violent Situations

One of the main issues that I had with this film wasn’t with the narrative elements themselves, as that’s part of the genre that this film seemed to be aiming for, but with how it decided to go about telling its story. Depicting children in the ways that this film did is by far one of the most uncomfortable experiences that a film has provided me with, and in some ways, that can be justified given the genres that the film is built upon. Despite that fact though, the amount of these scenes in contrast to what purpose these scenes served in the overall context of the film felt unnecessary in plenty of ways, to the point of creating a dissonance between those scenes and the rest of the film as a whole.

If this film was to create an experience of horror and dread with each scene, having entire scenes dedicated to showing nude children for no narrative reason and having them endlessly slaughtered in some scenes feels a bit excessive in terms of what story the film was trying to tell. This creates plenty of awkward tension to the film itself and not necessarily in a way that’s positive for the film’s audience, nor positive for its depiction of its characters in general. 

The Mysterious Target Audience

Many times throughout the film, I questioned who the target audience of this film was. At first glance, the film seems to appeal to a series of niches that I can’t imagine would have a large audience. However, the film seems to serve that audience well, as well as being able to service each of those niches on their own by feeding into exactly what those audiences enjoy the most, despite not a part of many of those audiences myself. 

The film isn’t egregious enough to make it completely unwatchable to someone that wanted to watch this film for the particular aspects that they enjoyed, although particular aspects of this film definitely would be uncomfortable for some of those audiences involved. Within the plethora of genre overlap that this film taps into, there are plenty of interesting narrative ideas and aspects that allow for honing in on particular aspects of it from those audiences, giving each of them something to enjoy.

Production and Aesthetic Choices

If there was a highlight of the film to me, it would by large be the animation and composition of it within the show itself. The art style is something that truly was a delight to me, something that couldn’t be captured in traditional Japanese animation or traditional cinematic film as well. It creates this sort of art-house type of film, something to watch to appreciate the care and time taken to have the animation tell the sort of story that this film aims to tell its audience. Even during scenes where it felt like the animation was done in a way that could’ve initially felt lazy or uninteresting, there was always a purpose behind the movements of the paper-crafted style of the film; something that was endearing in of itself. 

This gekimation style allowed the film to express itself in a unique and quirky way; one that fits the genre overlap that this film was seemingly aiming to hit.


Tofu

Similarities to Horror Films and B-Movies

For myself as a viewer, it would be incredibly difficult for me to watch this film and not feel an incredible sense of deja vu. So much of what Violence Voyager owes itself to is aspects and elements of B Movie Horror films – the odd, disorienting, and sometimes revolting sound design; the consistent sense of dread that is sometimes offset by the film’s sheer degree of camp; and even the unconventional visual design and gruesome special effects all find some home within this realm of cinema. Really, I don’t know what else to consider Violence Voyager except for a horror film. There is a certain degree of comedy that is present to help offset the brutality of the film, but it ultimately is done in such a way that it just feels out of place and disorienting. 

That ability to horrify, humor, and disorient all at once, to me, is one part that this film excels at. It’s a film that plays on a whole spectrum of emotions, leaving me consistently unsure of what I just watched, or how I felt about it.

Thematic Elements of the Film

Given the horror-esque elements of the film, it’s an interesting approach to have it come in the form of child protagonists. Some of the themes that Violence Voyager looks to touch on are interesting to consider for a film that’s filtered through a weird, childlike perspective. One of the most prevalent, for instance, being that life can be cruel, and terrible things can happen for no real discernible reason.

Our main character Bobby, for instance, comes out of the film with a bizarre, alien body, and loses his father, several of his friends, his cat Derek, and his youth. Everything is stripped from him, and the narrator pretty explicitly states that Bobby is just going to continue to encounter difficulties in the future. But it’s okay, because the narrator says he’ll overcome it, and his mom tells him to hang in there, and that he can do it; he can do it! And that’s great and all, but again, to reiterate, he’s a grade-schooler who has lost almost everything, and he has a life of suffering and perils to overcome ahead.

It just all feels so pointless in the end, which, perhaps, is the point. Or maybe the point was to just make the film. It just feels absurd and hollow, which, given the film and how it carries itself, might not be too off point.

Depiction of Children in Violent Situations

Now, here’s the thing. I like horror and horror-adjacent films. Horror is a fascinating subject for the many ways in which it can explore elements of the human condition in ways that other kinds of media simply are not able to competently do. The exploration of the brutality and sheer unfairness of life, for instance, is explored in such an interesting way in this film. Honestly, depending on the film, I can even get down with a fair bit of gore if the ideas and narrative of the film genuinely benefit from its inclusion in a way that is not exploitative.

That being said, the decision to take this idea of a campy, gore-filled horror film and have its ire and those themes of unfairness and brutality inflicted continuously on children is not something that I can really get down with. 

See, the thing is, when you’re watching horror films, you should honestly have somewhat of an expectation about these kinds of things – not every horror flick is just going to be a psychological thriller. Sometimes, people’s heads are going to get a mallet taken to them, or some limbs and digits are going to be separated from their bodies. I’m not the biggest fan of it, because sometimes it is just gratuitous for no real reason aside from shock factor. But regardless of my feelings about it, when it is present, the constant seems to be that it always happens to adults – even in some of the most gruesome films I’ve seen, the violence is never enacted on children.

It’s somewhat of a taboo, and for good reason. But with a title like Violence Voyager, I suppose I should have seen that coming. It’s just ludicrous how much child violence is in this film, really. Kids being bisected, having their faces melted from their skulls, having their bodies be experimented on and made into grotesque new forms – it’s just so many different ways to brutalize kids that it kind of makes your head spin. The only thing it seems to be missing is tossing a toddler into a wood chipper.

Being the kind of film that it is, however, there’s definitely a subset of viewers who will not take issue with this, and I understand that. I am not one of those viewers, however.

The Mysterious Target Audience

Let me preface this with perspective: as I mentioned above, I can understand why some folks would enjoy this. Violence Voyager is a unique piece of film, both in how it is crafted, as well as the sort of story it is trying to tell. Everything about it feels consistently like it’s an homage to B Movie Horror films in some way, from the low-tech special effects to the consistently campy story and premise. I’ve discussed a lot of this in my previous sections, and I can pretty comfortably say that I’m a fan of a lot of what the film does. I think it is wildly successful in creating a consistent sense of unease and dread, which is difficult for many films like this to do in our current climate, it seems. It’s a very specific brand of gory, campy action-horror, and for some folks, this could scratch a specific film itch.

That being said, for a lot of viewers, I do not think that Violence Voyager would serve that purpose as fully as it would want to. The film is so raw, brutal, and bizarre that I think it might turn away many viewers who have a low threshold for the kind of gore and, for lack of a better word, violence that this film seems to portray. Again, for myself, the biggest disconnect comes not from the violence itself, but its targets of that violence, and the aftermath and overall pointlessness of it inflicted on its almost exclusively child cast.

If this is not an issue for you, however, I think this might just be a film you will absolutely need to watch as a horror fan, or at least as a fan of bizarre, definitely-not-mainstream art-house horror flicks.

Production and Aesthetic Choices

I think what maybe shines the most about Violence Voyager is its design elements as a whole. The artistic choices made in the creation of this film are fascinating – the cardboard “gekimation” style is incredibly unique, and I genuinely can’t say that I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. That, combined with the general overall art direction, gives the film a very distinct vibe that makes it stand out from any other kind of unconventional style of animation. Everything combines to result in a very uncanny, deeply unsettling tone for the film, which is honestly a pretty delightful effect under the right circumstances.

It makes for a deeply campy experience, which I love and have found myself thinking about quite a bit over the days since I’ve watched this. It’s clear that this was a passion project of sorts – a lot of time and effort went into making this thing, and it shows in all aspects of the film.


Mythos

Similarities to Horror Films and B-Movies

The grotesque nature of this reminds me of “gore porn” style movies.  It’s less the blockbuster Saw type and more of the B movie variety, where there’s plenty of practical effects and gallons of red corn syrup.  I think these can be fun, if that’s what you’re going in for. For Violence Voyager, the oddball mix of both extremely horrific and weirdly funny matches up perfectly with that campy B movie flavor of fun.  The odd faces, awkward movement, and seemingly intentional hamfisted voices also give it an element of intentional strange and mildly humorous tone.  It very much does not seem to be a story that takes itself seriously, though the subject matter is incredibly dark and gruesome.

All that said, while I think the gore is very well-done and graphic, the humor tends to fall short and unlike something like Evil Dead 2, in which Sam Raimi knew exactly what he was doing and infused the film with a very self-aware style, Violence Voyager fails to feel aware, and instead, seems to come across as very run-of-the-mill, falling into typical tropes and narrative plot points.  The movie also has an odd situation where it starts as relatively realistic sci-fi, but jumps the shark pretty hard by the end, with an Avengers squad of animals coming to save the day as well as many characters really not having a reason to be in the story except to add to the body count.  All of this severely hampers an incredibly clever and interesting art and animation style.

Thematic Elements of the Film

Personally, it felt to me that the themes of this film were thought about second to the unique art style.  The narrative seems to be more of just an excuse to show us the quirky animation and interesting paper art.  There seem to be aspects of loss that the villain attempts to circumvent, refusing to deal with his own grief.  There’s also Bobby’s last moments in the film where he must go on even after dealing with trauma and incredible grief, with his mother encouraging him, stating that he’ll make it through this. 

I assume it was supposed to be a message of hope that we can make it through even the worst and still keep on living. However, both of these themes, Bobby and the doctor, are very surface level, with not a lot of development or story dedicated to exploring either of them.  Because of this, and other issues with narrative, it seems this was more of an experiment with a unique and clever art style rather than an exploration of any particular theme.

Depiction of Children in Violent Situations

This was a huge tipping point for me.  While I understand that violence is literally in the name of this movie, and we are talking about a horror film, the extremes of its usage depicted on children, and the blatant exploitation of them, with full nudity of children and insanely grotesque body horror, I felt like it was way too much for me, and arguably too much in general.  These are elementary school aged kids. It’s super unnecessary, as there’s nothing specifically in the story that dictates the need to have children since teenagers or young adults would serve just as well for a story about being lured in by the odd charm of a dilapidated amusement park.

Because of this, it was a hard “no” from me. I couldn’t find any reasoning for the abuse and exploitation of children for this narrative and just how insanely young these kids are to be going through all this.  It’s gross and not good. Exploitation only begins to define how messed up some of this stuff is.

The Mysterious Target Audience

This is the type of movie for lovers of gory and campy films, possibly for the fans of bad horror movies of the 70s and 80s.  That said, I can’t personally recommend it because the random plot holes and pacing issues make this movie drag on, even if the audience is wanting to see this and laugh.  There’s also the massive issues we mentioned above with the child nudity and exploitation. 

For me, it was way too much and obviously done to try and up the ante of what the artist felt they could do and get away with.  This seems even more evident by the random vomiting of the children in some scenes just to increase the gross factor, like when the children who have already been around a mutated character for over twenty-four hours decided to start vomiting when we, the audience, saw them for the first time. 

The film is intentionally attempting to ride some existing line of “too much” but drives off that cliff real quick.

Production and Aesthetic Choices

This was a gold star from me for this film.  Well, silver star. The papercraft is ingenious and I loved all the extra little details of the art and drawings.  It’s such a unique idea and the art and animation behind this are done so well. The style added to the feelings of weird and creepy aspects the studio was going for.  It seems like a lot of shots were composed with a foreground, background, and then the middle ground that the characters traveled on. This helped add a feeling of depth and was used interestingly when objects interacted between these planes, with pop-up book style doors and other effects showing the three dimensions that characters were in.

And because everything was in these cutout paper presentations, this helped to make the other elements, such as the blood and other liquids used be that more unnerving, with splashes of blood, unknown alien-like goop, and puke adding to the grotesqueness of the scenes.  These were all things I enjoyed seeing in this type of horror as the added oddity of the liquids was a nice contrast to the papercraft, creating very uncomfortable and freakish looking scenes that played both on disgust and humor.

For the most part, the sound design follows suit, with interesting and very real-sounding effects that help to suspend disbelief that we’re just watching little pieces of paper on sticks.  However, while it gets most of it spot on, there were some issues, with squishy footsteps for shoes on metal floors, literal N64 Goldeneye silenced pistol sounds for water guns and other weird choices that sucked me out of the moment when they happened.  Luckily, the issues were spread out and not nearly as common as the otherwise solid sound work.

All of this makes it such a shame that there are huge issues elsewhere because the artistry behind it all is obviously there.


Final Thoughts

Again, thanks to those at TriCoast Studios that allowed us to review Violence Voyager! It was a different experience for us to write about from our typical journeys into Japanese animation and this film was something that we might have never gotten to watch if it had not been for this.

For those that are interested in the film itself, the film is announced for release on October 21st on digital streaming platforms such as Amazon, Vimeo on Demand, Fandango, and others!

It’s definitely a film that’s worth watching for yourself, especially if you’re interested in the film’s creative and unique animation style. I hope that these reviews by us at the Backloggers gave you a better understanding of what this film is about as well as sparking some interest in watching this film for yourselves.

And as always, thanks to those who read our takes on this!

Leave a message for senpai...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s