I watched Violence Voyager in the same way I found the film – new. It’s not the first time I watched anything during the commute. However, considering it does take me around an hour and a half (tops) of commute to do my daily stuff, it does make sense to make use of my time for something worthwhile. Better that instead of, well, the emote soundtrip. (And why soundtrip when you can listen to an orchestra?)
Folks from Dark Coast, Yoshimuto, and Katsu-do asked us to watch Violence Voyager, their upcoming Japanese horror animation, for a short feature. And while I consider myself everyone’s resident matatakutin (scaredy) horror fan, even I found Violence Voyager quite the perplexing piece.
Violence Voyager: A throwback to old school Japanese animation
You get thrust into the oddly familiar world of Violence Voyager early in the film. The film uses a familiar approach to aesthetics we’d usually find in 80s to 90s flicks, especially those set in Japan.
The film takes place in the Japanese countryside, where Bobby – an American expat – and his childhood friend Akkun venturing in a mountain to visit a friend on the other side. They eventually stumble upon Violence Voyager, a weirdly-empty theme park, while trying to find a shortcut. While reluctant at first, Bobby and Akkun venture in Violence Voyager in the hopes of a bit of fun before going to their friend. And like other horror stories, this is the part where things go wrong. And somehow, like any other children’s story, there’s a lesson to be seen.
Violence Voyager originally released back in 2018, and found itself as an entry in different festivals. It won in the Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival 2018 (BAFICI, Special Jury Award), in the Fantasia Film Festival 2018 (Bronze Audience Award), and the Buried Alive Film Festival 2018 (WTF?!? Award). With this in mind, a lot of production choices in the film actually make sense, in retrospect. However, these in no way conceal the fact that it’s still an oddly-bizarre approach to the genres it’s trying to be a part of.
All things considered, how did this film fare as a horror film? In the first place, how did this film get categorized as such when it’s just as equally-entertaining as an adventure film?
Animation stands out from its peers
When pieces of art get your attention, they’re usually worth analyzing. In the case of Violence Voyager, I reckon the art pulls everything together. And in an otherwise ordinary coming-of-age story, it’s the art that forced me to finish the film.
Violence Voyager makes use of two (2) major production elements. Firstly, animators breathed life into the horror adventure using cutouts. Everything in the story relies on cutouts – from movement, to expression, to interaction. Characters transition from one cutout into the next on every scene, making the film seem more of an entertaining children’s storybook than a movie.
Whenever Violence Voyager lives it namesake, the film makes use of its secondary production element: actual effects. Red liquid splashes when characters bleed. Actual fire burns things characters try to burn. It adds a unique visceral element that just screams “gore” to people looking at it.
You’d think you’re watching an experimental take on children’s horror, and I agree.
Violence Voyager hardly fits into the kind of “gore” you’d see in slasher films. It’s no Saw or Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And it’s not too into the surreal either. So this means no Junji Ito and Stephen King.
The animation style, while new for someone like me, isn’t new for director Ujicha. Violence Voyager will be Ujicha’s second time using his unique animation technique “gekimation,” with the first being in his debut The Burning Buddha Man in 2014.
On the outset, Violence Voyager shows itself as a film with an interesting take in storytelling. It’s children’s storytelling with a dark undertone, but geared for children nonetheless. It’s when the blood splatters come and pus appears that signals gears changing from 0 to 100. And it’s the rather quirky animation style that miraculously blends everything together.
Fairly okay dubbing, quite decent music
Violence Voyager, while set in Japan, had a full English voice crew. It’s not clear whether production meant for the film to have an English script, or if it had an original Japanese voice crew. If I were to assume, I’d lean on the former. And surprisingly, we can consider voice work on the animation fairly okay.
Not ” fairly okay” as in “close to bad.” Rather, “okay” as in “makes sense with the medium used.” After all, the cutout animation style in Violence Voyager made no use of mouth movements. This means we get visual cues on character emotions with what the cutouts provide. As they are, voice work might seem a bit too pronounced and exaggerated. However, this approach makes sense considering it’s a children’s story and uses an unconventional animation style.
What Violence Voyager might lack in voice work, it heavily makes up for sound design. Effects that come with certain scenes sound very realistic, and music used seem theatrically fit for the scenes involved.
I’d like to give special mention to the very shounen ending song, too. I can totally see a 12-episode Violence Voyager miniseries with that song as its opening theme.
Nevertheless, the seemingly-awkward fusion of appropriately-theatrical music with a somewhat exaggerated voice cast do add to the film’s “odd” vibe.
Eccentric, unique for the genre
It took a while for me to be able to put Violence Voyager within a description because of it’s, ah, “odd” nature as a film. I can’t exactly call it “eccentric” because for me that implies some deeper meaning. Especially since it’s with Violence Voyager‘s honest approach to its identity that sets it apart from its peers.
We usually see horror film in one of two (2) ways. We either see a film that takes us headfirst into a wild and horrific ride into the hopelessness of human nature. That, or we take a deep dive into the unknown and hope to survive. When we encounter horror films that deviate from any of these norms, we call them “amazing.” Violence Voyager takes this subversion on with its interesting approach – being and not being both kinds of horror at once.
One might compare Violence Voyager to works of Otomo and Cronenberg because of themes like body transformations. However, the idea in itself is undoubtedly Ujicha’s – and Violence Voyager sets itself apart not just with its concept, but execution as well.
The film doesn’t “demand” that much looking-into – which in itself seems very unlike usual the nature of “festival pieces,” and all the more highly unlike a genre such as horror. When something like horror visits the very depths and boundaries of human morals, you’d expect its material to demand explanation. Violence Voyager doesn’t do this.
And yet, I’d still call it a horror film. Well, a coming-of-age horror-adventure film. Very precise, but I think apt for the film.
Is it still horror if you win?
What perhaps made Violence Voyager set its mark in me would be its capacity to make me watch a full-length horror film. Violence Voyager marks one of the very few times I watched horror because I wanted to – the first being Trick r’ Treat (2007). That in itself tells a lot about the film as a whole.
No, kidding. What makes Violence Voyager unique to me is how it tells a single story in two (2) completely different yet oddly-compatible formats.
Violence Voyager sees itself as a horror film perhaps aesthetically and conceptually. Themes and things like blood, gore, and body transformation find themselves common across the film – perhaps too common that one could easily categorize the film within the horror genre. And the fact that all this gore, blood, and violence find themselves superimposed in a perfectly-normal children’s story in itself can be unsettling.
And yet, Violence Voyager can be a perfectly legitimate coming-of-age adventure film. Minus the blood and violence (ironically), Violence Voyager tells the tale of growth, acceptance, and maturity despite transformation. It talks of how things have consequences, how mistakes often lead to necessary sacrifice, and how growth and transformation can make us strong.
Whatever Bobby found in Violence Voyager, he prevailed against it. He did so against all odds, and with sacrifices. This in itself – a story where a protagonist, much more a child, wins – can be very new for a horror film. And yet… the concept works.
The Verdict: Violence Voyager takes you on a strange take on coming-of-age
I ended my viewing of Violence Voyager during my evening commute. I snap back into reality as soon as the ending song rolled in, as though the film was telling me it’s a children’s adventure first, horror second.
And while I still need a few days to wrap my head around what I’ve actually seen, I’d honestly say Violence Voyager was a fun trip. It’s not something I’d immediately watch for a second viewing, as it takes a very unique approach towards its medium and its genre. However, I wouldn’t say I wasted my hour-and-a-half for the film.
Violence Voyager doesn’t demand “looking” into. It sets itself as a horror film with a coming-of-age story, and that’s that. It’s not like My Little Pony with its references for adults. And it’s not Gravity Falls, Adventure Time, and Stephen Universe that have adult-geared stories inside its cartoony facade.
If you find yourself in need of an interesting horror film, or if you want to entertain kids with some light horror, this might be for you.
And if you’re already seen the film, I think you’d agree when I say: Violence Voyager is to “weird Japanese children’s horror” as Goosebumps is to “unsettling Western kids’ horror.”