Warning: This review contains mild spoilers and discusses rape and sexual assault.
Let me tell you a tale. In the summer of 2015, instead of going home for vacation, I stayed on my college campus to work at the library. It was fun, a great time all around. I was a model employee, and given my bibliophile nature, I was effectively a kid with the keys to the candy store. Literally. As part of my duties I was given the library keys and could come and go as I pleased. And while I took that summer to check out as many books as I could, I also took the time to work my way through various DVD’s that had caught my eye, one of which was a seemingly innocuous film called Wicked City.
When I popped the DVD into my laptop, I confess my expectations were simply of action, synth-music, and not much else. But what I got was my first proper exposure to adult anime, and signaled the start of my journey into unrepentant degeneracy. It’s been a long time since that first fateful viewing though, and I couldn’t help but wonder recently if my opinion on Wicked City would change, now that I am an older, wiser, and kinkier fellow. Would it still hold up? Or would I be embarrassed at my younger self for having ever liked the film as much as I did?
Spoilers: I had less discerning tastes when I was young and inexperienced.
It’s the 80s! In Tokyo! And while the city has largely fallen into the swing of Reagan-era consumerism, there still remains another world, the Black World, inhabited by monstrous beings. For centuries, a tenuous peace has been maintained between the human and black worlds through the efforts of a human organization called the Black Guard. But now the treaty between the worlds is set to expire, and a new treaty must be ratified.
However, there are radicals from the Black World who would prefer this peace to end, and so Renzaburo Taki, a Black Guard agent, is assigned to protect a treaty signatory alongside Makie, a Black Worlder who has abandoned her people to fight with the Black Guard. But as Taki and Makie work together, they slowly start to realize that there is a secret plan being enacted in the shadows, and they are merely pawns in it. Can they figure out what the plan is and hopefully rebel? They’ll have to deal with all those Black World assassins first.
For those who want to watch Wicked City for the plot, said plot is a pretty basic, barebones Urban Fantasy noir. There’s a “normal” human world which is essentially our world, and then there’s the magical Black World, an alternate dimension inhabited by… well, that’s just it. We hear the Black World mentioned in passing, and the villains are Black Worlders, but we never see it or learn anything about it. It only exists as an explanation for the supernatural baddies Taki fights. And even then, the Black Worlders don’t seem to operate under any set rules or logic. This means that while the fight scenes of Wicked City are certainly gory, there’s no real tension, because no two Black Worlders have the same abilities or weaknesses, and battles always end with our heroes pulling some new power out of thin air to destroy the Black Worlders.
The central romance of Wicked City is similarly underwhelming. Taki and Makie are the male and female leads of the film, so it’s no surprise that they end up together. However, I have a difficult time telling you just what the basis of their relationship is. And it’s hard to enunciate this criticism, because I can’t draw your attention to something that isn’t in the movie. But that’s the problem with this romance. By the end of the film, we’re supposed to believe that Taki and Makie have fallen deeply, passionately in love. However, there are no scenes of tenderness or intimacy or any sort of chemistry between the two before their climactic (yes, haha) sex scene at the end.
Taki is physically attracted to Makie, because the movie makes much about how beautiful she is. But you need a little more to sell a romance, especially when the film establishes how Taki is a notorious womanizer who regularly engages in one-night stands and such. If that’s Taki’s main distinguishing character point, and his only real attraction to Makie is physical, then it rings a little hollow when by the end he’s in love with her. Was the sex really just that good?
As for Makie, I can’t really tell you what she sees in Taki, because apart from his womanizing, he has no characterization whatsoever. He is a standard action hero, with no personality, no quirks, no real interests or hobbies or anything. He’s just there to shoot things and be square-jawed. So, Taki falls for Makie because she’s just that hot, and she falls for him because he falls for her. I guess.
As such, the plot of Wicked City will probably leave most viewers disappointed. But the smut? That may be the movie’s greatest strength, which makes sense, given how Wicked City is largely remembered for its adult content. Wicked City understands that it takes more to make a sex scene erotic than simply showing two naked people on top of each other. And with each explicit scene in the film, the lighting, the camera angles, the music, everything is adjusted and modified depending on what the movie wants to convey. The first sex scene has erotic camera angles and sensual dark lighting, but there’s also an unsettling hum in the background, reflecting how we know there’s something wrong here, but Taki hasn’t caught on yet. The soapland sex scene involves a very beautiful woman, but a really ugly, horrible troll of a man, and the sense of unpleasantness this creates has a similar effect on alerting us to how something bad is about to happen. And the last sex scene, where Taki and Makie proclaim their love for each other, is presented as almost angelic, with bright white lighting, soft, pleasant music, and even taking place in a church.
That’s all done well. Less well-done though are the rape scenes. See, Makie gets raped twice over the course of the movie, but in the first case, the focus is on how, despite her putting up a fight, her womanly body betrays her, and you can see from how she moans and how wet she gets that she’s secretly into it. In the second case, while the lighting is now an uncomfortable red, and the rapists are shrouded in shadows to highlight how menacing they are, Makie herself is still shown to be enjoying her rape. There is pain and distress in this scene, but it’s not Makie’s, it’s Taki’s. He’s the one we’re supposed to empathize with, because now his love interest is being sullied by filthy Black Worlder hands. Makie is the one being raped, but she is less important than the angry impotence her rape causes Taki.
Now, obviously many people out there do genuinely enjoy rapeplay, the fantasy of being ravished by a rough, forceful attacker. So if you’re someone who is into that, you may have no problem with what happens to Makie in the movie. However, if you’re someone who can’t handle rape scenes for whatever reason, you’ll probably want to steer clear of Wicked City. And even if you do enjoy rape fantasies, the film’s depiction of women secretly enjoying groping, harassment, and rape (and being uppity bitches if they don’t) might still rub you the wrong way.
This reflects the larger issue with how sex itself is conceptualized in Wicked City. Men want to stick their dicks in holes and get their rocks off, and that’s about it. What women want is not really worth thinking about, because whatever men do to them, they’ll eventually enjoy. So, for a movie known for its wild and raunchy smut, Wicked City actually has a rather pedestrian idea of what sex even entails. Even if things are explicit in the film, they’re never really erotic, and the only deeper lessons the viewer could learn about sex and sexuality is that the baby-making kind is nobler and better than any other kind, and that certain scary vaginas want to devour men (literally, in the case of our heroes).
The biggest issue with Wicked City though is its central theme, that being how, if humans and Black Worlders decided to fuck instead of fight, the conflict between their worlds would end. The film assures us that once the two sides of a centuries-old racial conflict start having babies, that will lay said conflict to rest. And, maybe I’m just cynical, but this is an idea I have a hard time believing. Historically, the reaction to learning that different races can have babies isn’t love and peace and tolerance. It’s blood quantum laws and racial segregation and ethnic cleansing. Also, when you consider how the only ones keeping conflict alive in Wicked City are Black Worlders, with all the humans wanting peace, and how the only good Black Worlder is one who has jettisoned her ethnic and cultural identity entirely, so that she can make babies with a human man, at that point the message becomes not “Love will destroy racism”, but instead “We humans shall breed out the savagery of the Black World, to create a new future of peace.”
So, as a story Wicked City is pretty basic and unexceptional. As a message it rather shoots itself in the foot. And as smut? While it may understand how lighting and mood play into a scene’s eroticism, that’s about all the movie has going for it. Wicked City might have been shocking to me as a naive and sheltered 20-year-old, especially considering how I hadn’t gone in expecting the bawdy bits. But as a kinkier and more critical viewer now, I honestly find the smut sub-par. This isn’t even that good of smut, to be frank. You’d be better off reading some hentai doujins instead, and you’ll probably be getting a better plot in the bargain too. Still, at least the film does have that sweet 80s synth music. That’s just as good as I remember it.