Based on a novel by Carlo Zen, already author of the cult Saga of Tanya the Evil, Yakitori – Soldiers of Misfortune is an anime set in a dystopian future that stages a controversial path of militarist redemption with laser rifles and orbital bombings. Available on Netflix.
Faced with works in which it is not so simple to draw the line between good and evil, or between right and wrong, those who write a review can act in different ways. For example, he can take sides openly and openly, supporting or contesting the thesis proposed in the work. Or it can limit itself, as far as possible, to the “cold news”, leaving the final judgment to the reader. For the analysis of Yakitori – Soldiers of Misfortune, anime miniseries now available to stream on Netflixwe opted for the latter choice, trying to explain what makes this dystopian sci-fi action story so morally ambiguous and even disturbing.
Unfortunately this implies that, in the part in which we will try to analyze in more detail the work written by Carlo Zen, a Japanese writer who was already the author of the cult Saga of Tanya the EvilWe’ll have to do some spoilers…
Mission: Obey orders
Il First Contact between humans and aliens it didn’t go so well for us. It doesn’t take much for Earthlings to discover that the other species of the galaxy are on average much more advanced, technologically and economically.
Suddenly the entire planet Earth is downgraded to an “underdeveloped world”, with its inhabitants reduced to poverty and forced to adapt to the crushing financial bureaucracy of the “New Galactic Order”.
At the expense of this new reality, among the billions of others, is Akira, a Japanese boy who is stripped of any possibility of a decent future. Forced to enlist in the UN military corps, Akira discovers that the Earth army is now reduced to the role of mercenary tank for the galactic corporations in their work of colonization of other worlds, used as mere disposable tools and with rates of very high mortality. Like the famous Japanese grilled chicken skewers, the Yakitorieven human soldiers are a low-cost product and intended to be “cooked and consumed”, without much remorse.
The story develops on two timescales: In the past with flashbacks of the training of the K321 Yakitori team, consisting of Akira and four other Earthlings, all selected by the smooth-talking Mr. Pupkin. Akira will therefore be joined by the Chinese Zihan, the English Amalia, the Swedish Erland and the American Tyrone, in deadly training sessions to learn how to work in a team. And then, in the present, the mission on Barkha: a planet inhabited by a race of anthropomorphic rodents, the last in order of time to fall under the clutches of the galactic corporation. But the combative inhabitants of Barkha have no intention of giving in to the commercial blackmail of the cynical corporations and rebel, forcing the armed forces on the planet into furious clashes. Considered expendable by their own companions and engaged in increasingly desperate missions, Akira and the other Yakitori will be forced to make extreme decisions in order to survive.
The army will save us
From now on we’ll have spoilers on the plot, so we recommend that you complete the vision of the miniseries.
Yakitori – Soldiers of Misfortune is based on a novel written by carlo zenadapted by the screenwriter Mitsuyasu Sakai and directed by Hideki Anbofrom the animation studio Arect, a young studio but already involved in important projects such as the final season of Attack on Titan. The technical system is discreet, with unmemorable but functional action scenes and a good narrative progression, which unfortunately sacrifices something in terms of deepening the characters.
Instead, the rendering of the aliens as anthropomorphic versions of terrestrial animals has to be interpreted: we have dogs, cats, rodents, birds, elephants and so on. However aesthetically and potentially interesting this choice is never explained, remaining at a rather elementary metaphorical level: cats are cowards and opportunists, dogs are loyal and faithful, rodents… rather prolific.
The same goes for the setting and the background of the story which, although functional and defined, remain just mentioned without going into details or insights which, however, could have been interesting.
The music is curated by Ken HerDJ and producer well known in the Techno circuit, who enjoys deconstructing and remodulating the great classics of Mozart, readapting them, in an evidently obsessive, paradoxical way and in open contradiction with the rest of the soundtrack, to the exaggerated tone of the story.
The first, forgotten victim
Just the tone, or better still the final message of the story, is an element of interest. In a famous film about the war in Vietnam it was rightly said that the first casualty of war is innocence.
In Yakitori – Soldiers of Misfortune this statement is brutalized: not only is innocence the first casualty of war but, according to the authors, it is also a minor casualty.
Far from being spotless heroes, the protagonists of the miniseries are solely devoted to survival. After a long and difficult adaptation process, in which the trump card of the K321 team will prove to be “old-fashioned” military training instead of the brain implant of war techniques, once in the heat of battle Akira and the other Yakitori will be, in for better or for worse, forced to make decisions that can be categorized as real and heinous war crimes.
But if all possible ethical and moral doubts are left to the viewer as consequences of these choices, for the authors the ambiguity does not last long. There is certainly a condemnation of the dehumanizing and humiliating mechanisms set in motion by the most unbridled capitalism, and if initially it may seem like we are watching an animated version of Starship Troopers through the distorting lens ofbitter irony and of vicious parodyit doesn’t take much for us to realize that in Yakitori this lens is abandoned in favor of a much clearer and more precise and politically and ethically aligned final judgment.
Indeed, if it is true that the institutions are corrupt, if the only interest of politicians and financiers is the wild enrichment and the unrestrained exploitation of the poorest and most defenseless, it is also true, for the authors, that the only moral anchor lies in the honor of military bodies, in the brotherhood and respect that are created between fellow soldiers who fight and risk their lives on the battlefields, side by side.
This is why the last episode is probably the most emblematic and controversial of the entire series: having almost miraculously survived the suicide mission that had been assigned to them, the Yakitori are tried for war crimes, because their request for a satellite bombing, the only way they had to find a way out, it exterminated a large part of the civilian population, contravening the military “rules of engagement”.
But the Yakitori, thanks to the support of the military and the man who recruited and trained them (specifically with this goal) are still acquitted because, literally, they are “just tools”. So they can’t be held accountable, any more than you can charge a gun with homicide.
With a clear mind, it is a chilling leap of logic. What’s worse, then, is that there is no remorse evident in the protagonists and having caused the deaths of thousands of civilians seems not to affect them in the slightest. They simply do what it takes to survive.
Right? Wrong? We leave it up to you to decide.
Our review of Yakitori – Soldier of Misfortune closes with a big question mark. From a technical point of view we are dealing with a medium-level product, a sui generis science fiction action, effective and at times interesting. The psychological study of the characters in hiding and the world building would perhaps have deserved further study, but the story proceeds quickly and enthralling, albeit with the ballast of an abuse of flashbacks. Instead, let us leave the judgment to posterity, so to speak, on the position taken by the authors towards the military forces, considered, despite being forced to obey orders, as the only and last noble bulwark against greed and the dehumanization of capitalism.
Because we like it
- A solid sci-fi action that flows fast and addictive.
- Good technical realization, and interesting choice of music.
- He takes a very clear and decisive position on a difficult moral doubt…
- … but, in fact, he takes a very clear and controversial position in relation to a difficult moral dilemma.
- The characters and the setting would have needed more study.
- The heavy use of flashbacks alters the balance and pace of the narrative.