“First Squad: The Moment of Truth” DVD & Movie Review

What happens when you take a group of ragtag supernatural soldiers battling against the forces of evil and mysticism, and put it in the backdrop of World War II? You get the first Hellboy movie. But, beyond that, you also get “First Squad: The Moment of Truth,” an anime directed by Yoshiharu Ashino, and released by Anchor Bay. Anime is a fickle genre at times, especially when it starts to mix in real-life dates and events. Does this edition of “First Squad” hold up in combat, or does it fall to its knees and cry that it wants to go home? Check out the review to find out!

Set during the opening days of World War II on the Eastern Front, 14-year-old Nadia (because every anime needs an adolescent girl) has a strange gift. An oprhan who travels with a sideshow act around Russia to entertain soldiers, Nadia has the power of clairvoyance, but none of that can help her regain her lost memories from her childhood. While performing for some troops, the camp is attacked and everyone is slaughtered, except for her. She is rescued by an old man in the woods, who manages to return her safely to the city where she meets a familiar General who explains who she is, what she can do, and why she is the last line of defense the world has in stopping the invading German army.

Nadia is part of a special group of children who were trained to be psychic soldiers, as well as the gun-toting kind, and it is up to her to retrieve her dead friends from the underworld so that they can battle the Nazi’s supernatural army of crusaders from the 12th-century before they turn the tides of the war forever.

The concept of “First Squad” is pretty clever, and has an excellent set-up to lead you into being interested in Nadia, since she is the focus of this hour-long OVA. From the start, we see a cold and emotionless girl who has no idea why she has these cursed powers, who is outcast from society because of it. After being pursued by a pair of busty blonde Nazi women, one of my favorite cliches of all time, her life begins to resume normalcy (as much as possible) as she opens up and is able to find her friends.

Unfortunately, this anime tends to drag a bit. It’s a very slow 60 minute movie, and takes its sweet time in the first act to establish everything that is happening. By the second half, things pick up quickly and it becomes a very tense and great final act, but viewers will need to suffer a bit to make it through the opening.

The animation is smooth and wonderful to look at, sometimes violent and sometimes beautiful. The scenes on the battlefield are exciting, but the underworld is probably the most creative, with hordes of murdered soldiers of different eras marching across their own private hell. Interspersed through the anime are spots made to resemble old newsreel clips, which add some realism and depth to the film, and help flesh out the time period better to make the viewer more involved.

DJ Krush provides much of the music heard through the film, helping to set the right mood for each scene. His sound contrasts the imagery and setting of the movie in a perfect balance, leaving me wanting a way to grab a copy of the soundtrack to this anime.

There is not a ton of action in the film, but what is there is exciting and makes for a good pay-off. I just wish more time was given to Nadia’s friends, who do not make a notable appearance until the second half, and do not do much until the last 10 minutes or so. The ending was a bit anti-climatic, but that leads me to believe this anime will be a series and not just a one-episode wonder… at least, I hope it becomes a series, otherwise I will be disappointed since I just got started liking these characters and want to see what craziness they get into with the Nazi’s next!

Overall, “First Squad: The Moment of Truth” is not my favorite OVA of all time, but it’s a good one and worth giving a watch. My main complaint is that it just sort of ends with not enough closure, and leaves a huge gap that must be filled by a sequel. It is a slight let-down that this entire DVD is just the hour-long film and a few trailers for unrelated things, leaving me wanting much more out of this DVD which I clearly am not going to get anytime soon. However, for a one-shot film, it does the job, and does the job well.

You can pick up “First Squad: Moment of Truth” on Amazon for around $18-20.

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