Anime Review: 'The Mystical Laws,' - Holy Moley

"The Mystical Laws" has all of the hallmarks of being a vanity project with the added bonus that its producer/writer is a self-professed living Buddha (no, really). This bizarre near-future story of Westward expansion of a evil, Chinese-based empire, aliens, and space gods flits back and forth between sci-fi and philosophy (with a wee bit of nationalism thrown in). Also, there are carnivorous lizard men, but that comes later in "The Mystical Laws'" bloated, bizarre two hours running time.

Our hero is Sho Shishimaru, a physician with the Doctors Without Borders-like Hermes Wing organization dedicated to helping the sick around the world. And their help is essential in the wake of the rise of the Emperor Tathagata Killer, who rules the ever-expanding atheist-fascist nation of Godom with an iron fist and strange super technology given to him by the mysterious Ms. Laika Chan. Godom has set its sights on Japan, and it's up to Sho, who is declared the reincarnation of the Buddha by a group of monks to save not only the island nation, but the world from foreign invaders.

"The Mystical Laws" is the kind of bad sci-fi/polemic that's so scattershot in its execution, and baffling in its aims. It takes a buffet-style approach to religion, picking out elements here and there to inform the plot, (we learn that Sho is not only the Buddha, but also a the reincarnation of an Incan deity), just piling stuff on until it gives way and just says, "forget it--here are a couple of CG dragons fighting in space."

If you told me that the disc that I saw simply received joke subtitles, I would believe you. How else can you account for lines like "We sought permission for your Earth god to immigrate to your planet?" This, by the way, would be from a refugee from the planet Vega whose made an unwise deal with the Emperor to supply the maniacal ruler with tech in exchange for Africa.

Also, I should mention that the Mandarin-styled Emperor is always seen in his porcelain, Vega-style mask, even when he was just a soldier in the military. This is never explained. Why did I mention it? Because the movie makes a point of not making a point of it. Nor why the plot keeps dropping in new factions to the drama as the story barrels onwards toward its ridiculous conclusion.

From a technical standpoint, it's a mess: the character designs are simple enough, but the actual animation is stiff and limited. The handful of CG scenes bounce between "competent" and Win 98 CD-Rom (a standout is the battle involving the CG soldiers).

It's an end of days story like "Left Behind," with enough paranoia about godless fascists to win over the doomsday fetishist set, right down to its final scene where, if the world just believes hard enough, they can avert global catastrophe. It's Buddhism's "Battlefield Earth," the product of a mind with a hazy sense of spiritualism (at least based on what's onscreen) with an us vs. them siege mentality.

I almost want to recommend you seek out "The Mystical Laws," but I really don't want to encourage its makers. Tellingly, in the press notes, the filmmakers hoped that this feature would be considered for the Best Animated Feature category in the Oscars. I think it's more likely CG space dragons will attack and kill us all.

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