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Craig R. Baxley
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Lone hero with lethal punches featured in ultraviolent anime
RIKI-OH (1989-90) is a two-part Japanese anime adaptation of the manga (comic book) by Masahiko Takakumi about a superhuman young martial artist and his adventures in a near-future Japan marked by social and political breakdown. It's a violent, gore-filled, hard-action story that owes a great deal to the ROAD WARRIOR-inspired anime TV series "Fist of the North Star" and its feature film spin-off, both of which featured similar head-busting unarmed combat in a chaotic, lawless future. Part 1 of RIKI-OH, "The Walls of Hell," focuses on the title character's stay in a corruption-ridden maximum security prison, while Part 2, "Children of Destruction" follows Riki's search for his long-lost twin brother, which leads him to a remote Japanese town dominated by a well-armed religious cult. (Both parts are reviewed here because there is no IMDB entry for Part 1.)
In Part 1, Riki has landed in jail for assaulting a gangster and proceeds to fight his way through the various cellblock bosses until he uncovers the secret operation he'd gotten himself into jail to ferret out. This was the same story that was dramatized in the notorious live-action Hong Kong gorefest, THE STORY OF RICKY (1992), which featured its hero punching fists into opponents' chests, bellies and heads and doing very explicit damage. Although the animated Riki is just as powerful as his HK counterpart (and far more muscular), he pulls his punches when necessary and refrains from knocking bad guys' heads off, making the anime considerably less gory, although bloodshed is still plentiful.
Part 2 tells us more of Riki's past, as we flash back to his childhood to learn the terrible fate of his mother and how he himself was taken away from his twin brother Nachi during a game of hide-and-seek, with Nachi's plaintive cry of "Are you ready yet?" haunting him through the years. Riki has a six-pointed star emblazoned on his hand, while Nachi has a swastika on his, the significance of which go unexplained. Riki finds himself in the town of Misaki, dotted with illegal nuclear power plants and run by a religious fanatic military organization called "God's Judgment." He is taken prisoner and made to fight in gladiatorial matches in a sprawling arena. He finds his brother, whose special powers have given him the name of "Savior," but his reunion with his resentful sibling turns sour rather quickly. Part 2 is much gorier than Part 1, with Riki smashing his fists into numerous soldier opponents with far less restraint.
The harsh tone of the setting is pounded home with dark colors, overcast skies and oppressive rundown locales. The character animation is generally stiff, except in the fight scenes, although the characters are all well-drawn, with most of them designed in fairly straightforward fashion with bold lines and strong features. Key villains, however, are made to look particularly grotesque, such as Sugiyama, the prison warden in Part 1 who boasts a sharp metal claw where his left hand should be, and Washi-Zaki, the demonic-looking general in Pt. 2. One hulking gladiatorial opponent in Pt. 2 has a steel jaw and torso and other metal parts, but becomes a sympathetic character when he is moved by the fact that Riki sees him as a human being. Overall, the look and feel are similar to other anime titles from the mid-to-late 1980s, a period when ultraviolent elements began to turn up in anime, from the "Fist of the North Star" (aka "Hokuto no Ken") TV series (1984) and movie (1986) to such other notorious titles as LEGEND OF THE OVERFIEND, WICKED CITY and VIOLENCE JACK.
Part 1 of RIKI-OH is 48 minutes, while Part 2 is 46 minutes, which means that the action is severely compressed, resulting in climactic battles that end rather quickly and storylines that end abruptly. Part 2 ends as if a sequel was in the offing, but it never came to pass. Still, both episodes are very dramatic looking and full of action and incident and should please fans of hard-edged violent anime.
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