A Time Slip of 10,000 Years: Prime Rose
In 1983, an mysterious object known as the "Death Mask" falls from orbit, obliterating Dallas, Texas and the seaside town of Kujūkuri in Chiba Prefecture. However, the Time Patrol knows the truth : the inhabitants of these places have been shoved forward in time 10,000 years into the future, and agent Gai Tanbara. Gai and his stowaway brother Bunretsu take a time machine to the far future: a step too far, as they land in a post-apocalyptic wasteland full of dangerous mutant lifeforms, and come upon the oppressive nation of Guroman, where slaves from the subjugated nation of Kukurit toil to make stone statues honoring a demonic figure. Gai happens upon the beautiful Emiya as she attempts to escape, and she is forced to watch as her fiance Taro is executed for their defiance of the ruling Prince Pirar, while Gai is enslaved and partially blinded for his trouble. Emiya is exiled to the wastes, where she is rescued by the kindly Jinba, who trains her in the way of the sword and reveals her true identity: the Princess Prime Rose. Both must overcome great adversity in order to find justice and create a lasting peace in this hostile new world, and ultimately defeat the being responsible for unleashing the Death Mask.
It's time for us to take our own "time slip" back almost thirty years, back before the internet, cell phones, and digital everything. Prime Rose is an odd time capsule that initially starts out looking like a sci-fi show, but actually turns out to be more of a swords-and-sandals fantasy epic, complete with fire-breathing dragons, an aged blademaster, and a damsel-in-distress turned skimpily-clad badass with a vengeance (proving that fan service is an anime trope older than dirt).
There's a lot of merit to what we see here: the basic story of suffering and redemption is a compelling one, and the art and animation look good considering their by-now extreme age. This was clearly intended as something like a feature film, and while it ended up airing on television instead, the high production values certainly presage the soon-to-come golden age of the OVA. The lead characters are interesting enough, and it's sort of nice to see the point of view split up between Gai, who in any other film would be the invincible hero, and Emiya / Prime Rose, who quickly reveals herself to be the kind of strong, determined female character who we simply don't see often enough in anime.
With the datedness of this film, however, comes a lot of handicaps for modern viewers. Technology that seemed futuristic in 1983 looks embarrassingly dated today: the Death Mask is loaded with gratuitous Engrish digital text which at least is close to its intent, but extraneous buttons and flashy lights. Then we have Gai jump into a time machine, then pull out a film camera (when's the last time you used one of *those*?). The animation, too, while state of the art for its day, relies a lot of stills, pans, speed lines, and in at least one case, oddly caricaturish crowd scenes that look more 60s than 80s.
Even the storytelling feels dated. For example, character injuries and deaths are accompanied by a certain wailing and gnashing of teeth that feels maudlin and passe by today's standards. I've mentioned this before in my review of Bagi: The Monster of Mighty Nature which was released the year after this work, but as Tezuka's work predates a lot of modern storytelling conventions, so there's much less nuance to the way characters act. Character designs are, correspondingly, very broad-brushed - you can tell who the bad guys are just by looking at them - and the inclusion of Gai's annoying, perverted little brother Bunretsu as a comic relief character in what is essentially a post-apocalyptic fantasy is a massive headscratcher. There's a particular scene with him trying to catch gigantic butterflies while in some sort of wood and paper winged contraption that he managed to cobble together in the space of literally ten seconds that seriously qualifies as the most out-of-place scene in a serious dramatic anime, pretty much EVER. And this happens immediately after he's just finished peeping on Prime Rose bathing naked in a spring. Yeehaw! Though, in what must be some strange back-handed compliment, Prime Rose is one of the vanishingly few Tezuka characters where fan service and nudity actually feel "welcome".
Hold on while I rewind that scene again just to double check ... yep, that bit of animation does look pretty good for 1983.
Another bit of nostalgia: back in the 1980s Japanese creators felt little compunction about swiping Western characters wholesale without any serious fear of copyright infringement lawsuits, so fans in the 2010s may be alternately bemused and amused watching Gai take his Time Patrol orders from none other than Spock. (Live long and prosper, I guess.) And let's not get started on the music, which is every bit as subtle as Prime Rose's outfit is modest. On the other hand, Tezuka fans will notice the stars of his other series showing up in cameos (I noticed Dr. Black Jack in a crowd scene without even looking too hard, and both Dr. Kiriko and Shunsaku Ban have credited voice parts, the former becoming rather important in the late going).
Ultimately, despite some interesting twists here and there, Prime Rose very predictably ends up involving several deus ex machinae (including Prime Rose suddenly gaining a rather bizarre superpower based on an event that happened three or four scenes prior), a perfunctory love story (something I'd sort of hoped they'd avoid) before the final fight with the true culprit behind the Death Mask phenomenon and the final ride off into the sunset (I'm pretty sure a five year old can guess who's going and who's staying behind).
All in all, Prime Rose is a fairly well-told story, and the title character is certainly fun to watch, but ultimately, this will appeal mostly to Tezuka completists and old-school fans, especially seeing as I'm not even sure there's an English translation currently available. It may not be one of the very best or most accessible of Tezuka's stories, but it's definitely worthwhile for patient viewers and anime history buffs, not to mention the two or three weirdoes who want to know what a Tezuka character would look like out of her clothes.
Yeah, you know who you are.
This Time Slip may not have wide appeal for today's fans, but it remains a solid tale for folks willing to forgive conventional storytelling from decades past. In its heyday, perhaps an easy four star rating, and old school diehards may just give it that additional star anyway. — Carlos/Giancarla Ross
Recommended Audience: There is a fair amount of violence in this, including several onscreen character deaths - not even Bunretsu is spared mortal danger. After Emiya turns into Prime Rose, she is never seen with a whole lot of clothes at all, and there's a fairly extended nude scene where she's relaxing in a spring until Bunretsu gets caught peeping on her, which certainly counts as fan service in 2012, much less 1983! Teens and up - despite the cartoony character designs, this is far too intense for younger children.
Review Status: Full (1/1)
A Time Slip of 10,000 Years: Prime Rose © 1983 Tezuka Productions Co., Ltd.
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