First Squad: The Moment of Truth – Review
by Miguel Douglas on January 22, 2010
Set during the opening days of World War II on the Eastern Front, First Squad – The Moment Of Truth follows a group of Soviet teenagers with extraordinary abilities; the teenagers have been drafted to form a special unit to fight the invading German army. They are opposed by a Schutzstaffel (SS) officer who is attempting to raise from the dead a supernatural army of crusaders from the 12th-century Order of the Sacred Cross and enlist them in the Nazi cause for world dominance. Only one young woman by the name of Nadya can stop them.
A joint project from the likes of Japanese animation Studio 4°C and the Russian Molot Entertainment Film Company, First Squad is an incredibly frustrating film to say the least. Considering having the incredible backdrop of World War II—careful not to forget that not many anime films or series even touch the Eastern Front as a plot location—it’s creativity for environmental placement is original, but that’s about it. The film contains an obstruction of nonsensical action sequences, shallow character development and worse of all, an outlandish plot that doesn’t respect the scope of World War II and essentially boils it down to a plot of occult-riddled mayhem. Even considering that factually, the Nazi party did indeed dabble in the occult in order to gain supreme advantage during WWII, it still doesn’t add any substantial weight to an otherwise severely weak plot.
This was an extreme let down too considering that First Squad looked at a topic rarely explored within the animation world—the Russian experience during WWII. Given the vast history of the role of Russia during WWII, one could easily expect some form of expression of what it was like to live in such a pivotal time period, but we sadly don’t receive anything resembling reality. It’s seems that the scriptwriters decided that having the plot take place on the Easter Front wasn’t enough to tell an entertaining and historical story, instead treading the path of Nazi-occultism and dimension travel. What? It’s like they didn’t trust that the material was good enough to stand-alone—remind you that very, very few anime series or films even cover the role of Russia during WWII—and the scriptwriters seemingly only wanted to exploit the mere location and time period for the sake of reeling people into their incompetent supernatural plot.
It get’s worse with the actual characters, all which are seemingly stereotypical in not only their appearances, but also personalities. It’s quite rare to find practically the entire cast of an animated film viewed as stereotypical cutouts—animated series I can understand—but that’s what First Squad surprisingly does. The main protagonist of the film, Nadya, is given little-to-know background let alone development, and functions solely as a vehicle to move the story along. The other characters don’t fare much better and really only consist of throwaway stereotypes. And for what possible reason do we have a design such as Nadya, who is viewed wearing an exposed jacket with a dress underneath? This is just baffling considering that the film takes place in the middle of a Russian winter, and doesn’t make any sense to wear a dress—unless it’s purely for aesthetic purposes—which most of this film seems to strive for anyways.
Plot aside, there were some redeeming factors of the film that should be pointed out. The animation is certainly a joy to watch, considering that it does attempt to accurately portray the time period. The usage of Russian and German military attire was excellent, as well as the weaponry used. While the action scenes were sparse, the sequences showcased were well animated and at times highly exaggerated for artistic effect. While the designs of the characters were a hit-or-miss, the majority of them were just plain odd considering the setting in which the film takes place. Another thing to mention would be that of the music, which was done by DJ Krush. While a personal fan of the man’s music, I could also say that it really complemented the film’s atmosphere, even if it was abstract considering the time period of the film. One final thing mention would be that the entire film is in Russian, which was refreshing considering the actual setting of the film and really lent it an air of authenticity.
Overall, First Squad – The Moment Of Truth might’ve seemed promising on paper—Nazi-occultism during WWII? How could you go wrong—but turned out to be a very disappointing film at the end. The potential it had is sorely loss as the film progresses, slowly succumbing to a plot that doesn’t allow it to flourish, characters that are as unoriginal in appearance as they are personality-wise and action segments that seem completely out of place, it’s extremely sad to see its conceptual ideas put to utter waste. Perhaps it’s best to assume that this film was rushed, incomplete, or in the most likely case, both. Either way you look at it, First Squad – The Moment Of Truth misses its opportunity to showcase what anime can offer in terms of historical presentation and instead chooses to indulge in its own mediocrity.