Raven Tengu Kabuto: The Golden-Eyed Beast
A mysterious warrior named Kabuto returns to the place where he was trained, only to find that the fiefdom has been usurped by the woman Tamamushi and her minions. The rightful princess of the castle, Ran, has been imprisoned, and it is up to Kabuto to save the day.
Honestly, anime plots don't get much more simplistic than this.
Kabuto is a straightforward ninja action film that is a tribute to creator Terasawa Buichi's obsession with explosions, tight outfits, and naked women. It is so strikingly self-indulgent that Kabuto looks suspiciously like the anime version of Terasawa himself, minus sunglasses. Unlike other "labor-of-love" projects like Porco Rosso, however, it is impossible to take Kabuto remotely seriously, because it doesn't have any sort of merit whatsoever.
The (largely unintentional) comedy begins within the first minute, when a tumbleweed flies across a dusty street. If this were a Western movie, I'd buy it, but unfortunately this is medieval Japan. We are introduced to the lead character, Raven Tengu Kabuto, and anyone who knows a lick of Japanese starts to laugh, because we are presented with a hero named "Raven Spirit Helmet".
Anyway, the wild-haired Kabuto apparently has several super-cool ninja powers, including the ability to fly using his "raven wings" (Birdman, anyone?), the ability to make things explode, and the ability to change his hair color from blonde to black to blonde again in a moment's notice without any sort of explanation. He comes into town and almost immediately invokes the ire of the transparently evil Tamamushi ("Jewel-Bug", nahh, she couldn't be a villain, never!) and her personal army of costumed Roman guards, all of whom are hamstrung by Kabuto. We never get to see Kabuto actually hit these guards, or anyone else for that matter, because the animation is too cheap to depict this, resorting instead to flashes of light and explosions.
In the meantime, a bunch of well-meaning good-guy ninjas (ie red shirts) led by Kazuma try to lead the beautiful Princess Ran to safety. Tamamushi sics her Gadget Master (go go Gadget Master!) on them, and he uses a giant metal robotic armor (with a cool and heavily overused glowing eyes sound effect) shaped like Ganesha to make mincemeat out of them. Kazuma and Ran manage to escape, only to be surrounded by puppet warriors controlled by mask-shaped insects (kinda like face-huggers), who are carrying anachronistically modern spotlights.
Of course, Kabuto comes in to save the day, leading to a set of amazingly stilted flashback sequences in which Kabuto promises to keep coming back to save Ran's bacon no matter what. (Hilariously, Kabuto still sports the deep voice of Matsumoto Yasunori as a teenage boy, kinda like the Moviefone guy.) It doesn't help that the scriptwriters tend to ruin any sort of tension by inserting lame one-liners; just as you think Kabuto might actually turn around, someone opens his or her mouth. The writing is really just that poor.
So Kabuto covers Ran and Kazuma's retreat by invoking the legendary ninja mantra (kuji-in) which apparently has the added bonus of blowing things up. At this point, the director cues in an absolutely cheesetastic "heavy metal" anthem singing the praises of Kabuto.
Of course, Kazuma and Ran don't really escape ... Jinnai (the Gadget Master, remember him?) chases them down by using the entire top of the castle, fitted with helicopter rotors (Baba Yaga's Flying Hut) and capturing them with a gigantic vacuum cleaner (an apt metaphor for this entire anime).
Now Kabuto must now defeat the Ganesha-bot and a host of other ninjas before rescuing Kazuma and Ran from the clutches of Tamamushi. Tamamushi, by the way, claims to be using the bodies of young women to preserve her youth ... but this minor plot point is nullified by a remarkably stupid trick ending that makes you wonder why they even bothered explaining her. Needless to say, after a few action sequences that look like they were paced for a Super Famicom game, the good guys win, the bad guys die in a blaze of stupidity, and the credits roll, while a ballad sings the undying praises of Kabuto.
So how about that animation? It looks fine for 80s-grade anime, but unfortunately this was filmed in 1992. It looks to be barely on par with television quality animation, and with all the cheap animation tricks used, it just ends up coming off as tawdry. The art style doesn't help, as Terasawa's character designs are straight out of the "big hair era". Imagine Warrant as ninjas.
The music and voice-acting fare little better. No less than three times are we subjected to absolutely terrible songs spouting platitudes about Kabuto. As Kabuto, Matsumoto Yasunori (Gourry Gabriev, Slayers) is submitted to all manner of indignities by reciting a ludicrously written script that horribly misuses him as a voice actor. The cast includes such favorites as Tsuru Hiromi, Wakamoto Norio, and Ohtsuka Akio, but none of them deliver any sort of noteworthy performance. It's all really rather depressing when you stop to think about it.
All in all, with the horrendous script and numerous plotting problems, Kabuto comes off as more of a B-grade laugher than a true failure. The flashbacks and exposition indicate that there was at least some attempt to introduce character development, though the 45-minute runtime plainly makes this impossible to execute properly. There's a *ton* of anachronistic technology that is simply pawned off with the excuse that "ninjas can do anything". It's good for a rental and a few cheap laughs, but little else.
Frankly, I'm not surprised that when L.A. Hero went under, no one scrambled to re-license this in North America. It's really not worth it.
Get rid of
Sloppy, mediocre, and outmoded, Kabuto is best left purposely forgotten. — Carlos/Giancarla Ross
Recommended Audience: Teens and up. The action gets somewhat bloody, with decapitations and dead bodies lying around, and there is some frontal nudity. The effect comes off more as cheesy than offensive, though, thanks to the substandard animation.
Version(s) Viewed: VHS, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Raven Tengu Kabuto: The Golden-Eyed Beast © 1992 Terasawa Buichi
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