Judge Geoffrey Miller loves those little number puzz-oh wait...crap.
"There was once a warrior schoolgirl known as the 'Sukeban Deka.' She risked her youth to battle destiny and vanished into legend…"
Sukeban Deka, which translates to "delinquent girl detective," is nearly unknown outside of Japan, but it's been around since the '70s. Starting as a manga, it was eventually adapted into an anime and live-action TV series (where it found its biggest success). As the title implies, it's about a teenage schoolgirl recruited by an elite government organization. What differentiates it from the billion other similar series? Her main weapon is a yo-yo. Sukeban Deka: The Movie is the first film in the franchise, and it's based on the second live-action TV series (simply known as Sukeban Deka II).
Facts of the Case
Saki Asamiya, a.k.a. Sukeban Deka 2, has quit her life of crime fighting in order to go back to school and become a regular student. She's enjoying her new normal life, but a chance encounter with a violent gang on a bus pulls her back in for one last mission. On a small island in Tokyo Bay called Hell Castle, there's a school called Sankou Gakuen. Set up to appear on the outside as a reform school for problem students expelled from their regular schools, it's actually a deadly military camp run by a terrorist organization planning to overthrow the Japanese government. Now, with the help of her friends, she's going to infiltrate Sankou Gakuen, free the captive students, and take down the terrorists.
Sometimes I wonder if the Japanese come up with their story ideas through some strange combination of Magnetic Poetry and Mad Libs. How else can you explain the constant flow of strangely familiar ideas—with an oddball twist—that fly out of the land of the rising sun? One can imagine the creative process for Sukeban Deka involved starting with the "fighting schoolgirl" template, then the magnet for "yo-yo" falling into the "weapon" blank. The rest fills itself in from there, right?
To be fair, the movie is nearly 20 years old, and the franchise dates back another decade further. Surely, the idea of a seemingly innocuous teenage girl who secretly holds deadly powers wasn't quite as hackneyed back then. That isn't to say that, now that it's 2006, it doesn't feel a little like we've seen this all a few too many times before, but it does feel slightly fresher than more recent variations on the theme. That Sukeban Deka: The Movie is a product of the '80s helps it immensely. Unlike modern productions of this type, which are generally slicker but lack soul, it pulses with bad J-pop and awkward charm.
Boiling down Sukeban Deka's recipe is quite simple: Take the girls of Sailor Moon, mix in the kitsch of the '60s Batman live-action series, and roll it all up in the guilty pleasure of low-brow action TV like Knight Rider. As you might expect, it doesn't sport the highest production values. It shamelessly recycles footage (at one point repeating the exact same scene twice), the camerawork is sloppy, and sound effects are likely pulled from some ancient kung fu flick. The hilariously cheap fights all follow the same formula: a canned clip of a yo-yo being thrown at the camera, then a slow motion shot of the victim falling down.
If Sukeban Deka: The Movie sounds more like an extended TV episode than a movie, that's because it pretty much is. It's primarily a vehicle to transition between the second and third Sukeban Deka TV series, which have different heroines (Sukeban Deka 3 is introduced as a supporting character). At times it seems as though it's more concerned with promoting the TV show (and, to a lesser degree, the careers of the J-idol starlets populating the cast) than being a movie. To a certain extent, it's assumed that you're already familiar with the TV series (returning characters jump back in without much warning or explanation), although the story stands on its own. Of course, given that the series isn't available in America, this movie will be the first exposure to Sukeban Deka for most viewers (myself included), which means much of the back story of these characters and their relationships will be lost.
The joy in Sukeban Deka: The Movie comes in the unpredictably ludicrous sequences. When our heroes counter an attack from a helicopter (one of the occupants is firing a rocket launcher, natch) with frickin' yo-yos, it's pretty much impossible to keep a straight face. In the climatic finale, Saki confronts the uber-villain, who turns into a Terminator-esque cyborg without any reason or explanation. Essentially, it's a film propelled by video game logic. (It should come as no surprise that Sukeban Deka was turned into a video game during its '80s heyday.)
In the leading role of Saki, Yoko Minamino exudes pep and youthful exuberance. She's the only cast member to display any memorable personality, and, like many Japanese teen idols, she does double duty, also singing the theme song. The rest of the actors don't fare so well. I'm sure the rest of her fighting allies had been more fleshed out during the TV show, but they amount to little more than cardboard cutouts here. The only other notable presence is Yui Asaka, who's introduced here as the star of the third Sukeban Deka TV series, and that's mostly because she later went on to sing on the soundtrack of cult classic video game Katamari Damacy.
The video quality is quite good, but audio is disappointingly only available in mono. Besides a couple of trailers and an image gallery, the sole bonus is a roughly 45-minute "making of" documentary that was likely shown on Japanese TV before the movie came out. It mostly follows Yoko Minamino and her experiences on set, as well as her life as an idol actress-singer.
Sukeban Deka: The Movie is not good by any means, but it is fun. The script was probably scribbled out on napkins over lunch, the special effects are laughable, and the cinematography is amateurish—all of which add to its campy appeal. If it were in English, it would be an ideal candidate for Mystery Science Theater 3000. To put it simply, it has "so bad it's good" appeal written all over it. Get together some of your funniest friends to make wisecracks while watching, and you'll find a very enjoyable movie.
Guilty of being so cheesy that it could be harmful to the lactose intolerant.
Give us your feedback!
Scales of Justice
Studio: Media Blasters
• "Making Of" Documentary
Review content copyright © 2006 Geoffrey Miller; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.