Ghost in the Shell was a monumental work in the history of anime, especially as it relates to the medium finding worldwide acclaim. The 1995 movie, which went on to inspire Western productions like The Matrix, was directed by Mamoru Oshii, who has quite the lengthy filmography. One entry in that list was 1999’s Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigadewhich, much like Ghost in the Shellwas based on a previous manga — in this case Oshii’s Kerberoes Panzer Cop.
Though Ghost in the Shell is still lauded and highly regarded by many, Jin-Roh doesn’t receive nearly enough acclaim. From its storytelling and themes to the animation quality, The Wolf Brigade was a landmark movie in its own right. It was also representative of the zeitgeist that was going on in anime that allowed it to reach a wider audience than ever. Here’s why another of Oshii’s works deserves more time in the spotlight.
What Was Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade?
Based on Oshii’s manga and also written by him, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade was actually directed by Hiroyuki Okiura, though it has all the hallmarks for the former’s works. The movie is set in an alternate world wherein Germany, not America, bombed Japan during World War II, leading to a much different version of the 1950s. The protagonist is Kazuki Fuse, a member of the Kerberos Panzer Cops. The unit — namely Fuse himself — are discredited after a young girl detonates a bomb, killing herself in an act of terrorism.
Distraught over what happened, Fuze meets Kei, the supposed sister of the girl who detonated the bombs. Together, they uncover the truth surrounding the girl’s actions, as well as that of the Panzer Cops themselves. Allegiances change and conspiracies are revealed in a world where the truth is constantly hidden from the public, with unrest being the only constant. Originally meant to be an OVA, Jin-Roh became a movie after production was finished on the Ghost in the Shell movie. Given some of their thematic similarities and artistic beauty, it’s a shame that only one of these works is particularly well-known.
Jin-Roh Should Be Just as Acclaimed as Ghost in the Shell
Though not quite a cyberpunk setting — namely due to taking place in an alternate version of the past — Jin-Roh is very similar to Ghost in the Shell in terms of themes and story. Both have societies full of unrest, unease and protest, fueled mainly by the government and bureaucratic red tape that keep their everyday citizens from the truth. Nothing is as it seems, with even the main character being constantly bewildered by plot twists and secret information.
Jin-Roh‘s tone is a haunting one where everything feels tense and morose, giving weight and purpose to every action. It’s all bolstered by downright beautiful traditional animation that blows most Western productions at the time out of the water. Writer André Mazzone noted that this was indicative of a different culture in Japan, where animation in film had a much greater amount of creative freedom.
Speaking of which, it’s for this reason in particular that the movie is such an underrated gem. like Ghost in the Shellthe dark and brutal Jin-Roh released at a time when animation was still almost entirely seen as “kid’s stuff” in the West. The Western home video success of Ghost in the Shellthe MTV-fueled popularity of Ninja Scroll and the inarguable fame of Akira helped to turn this tide, with anime showing that animation could also be used for mature adult-oriented fare as well.
Sadly it hasn’t had the same longevity as Ghost in the Shellwhich still gets sequels to this day. Jin-Roh‘s lack of connection to a hugely popular franchise also means newer anime fans might not have it on their radar. Nevertheless, its legacy is still felt in Japan, where the movie was and still is highly regarded. It even received a live-action remake in South Korea under the title Illang: The Wolf Brigade. In time, it may receive the same recognition in the West, with those looking at the retro anime classics of yesteryear rediscovering what made Jin-Roh such a beautifully great production.
Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade is streaming on Tubi TV.