Distributor: Manga Ent., Molot Entertainment
Genre(s): supernatural, alternate history, action
Age Rating: TV 14
Runtime: 75 minutes
Release Date: 01/17/2012
What if, during World War II, the USSR had a legion of genetically superhuman kids to fight against Hitler and his undead army? If such a fantasy has ever entered your mind, great news! There's an anime for that.
First Squad: The Moment of Truth is a full-length Japanese animated feature set in an alternate 1942. Germany is struggling to advance into the USSR and both sides are suffering heavy losses.
Hitler calls upon members of his occult forces to raise the spirits of 12th century knights to fight for his cause. Meanwhile, the Soviets has been training an army of teenagers with superhuman abilities to counteract Hitler's supernatural offensive. When German soldiers manage to invade their base, all but one of the teens are killed.
After escaping yet another close call, she makes her way to find the Colonel. No one seems to know that the man exists, however (or perhaps, simply doubt a young girl would know him).
But the next thing we know, Colonel Belov rescues her from detainment in a hospital and after some explanation, she remembers at least some of her past.
Nadya had close friends as her comrades, with the eldest of them as her boyfriend as well. They were all killed in the ambush on their base. Nadya, paired her psychic abilities with the knowledge of her being the last of the special teenage task force still alive, is given a mission to strap into a strange device that would allow her to pass into the realm of the dead. As First Squad continues, the girl's goal is to find her dead friends and ask them to essentially come back into the world of the living to help defeat the dead knight army the Germans were summoning.
The dead can't just come back into the world of the living whenever they want, however. A phenomenon known as "the moment of truth" -- explained as an exact moment defining a significant turning point in circumstances -- briefly connects the world of the living and the dead. This opens a portal through which the dead can pass through. Hitler's occult forces were planning to have this undead army (with a grudge) appear at "the moment of truth" during a big battle on the eastern front.
After a brief and intense battle, which seems frozen in time amongst the living soldiers, Nadya and her friends are successful. There's no celebration, however, when she finds herself alone again in the snow in the middle of the living's battle.
The film simply ends at this point, in true Japanese animated feature style. We are given hardly any details about exactly what the "First Squad" was, although it is hinted they were all genetically altered. We're given no background on Nadya's comrades, and almost no time to get to know them. Why they were hanging out in a type of purgatory, I'm not sure.
The opening credits give you the assumption we're going to really get to know these characters, but aside from their fortuitous appearance to help save the day at the end, the entire movie is almost entirely centered around Nadya. If the other characters had supernatural powers, we never see evidence of it. It's implied that the leader of the dead army is a significant leader from history with a big grudge, but we don't really get to know him or exactly why he's angry, either.
Despite First Squad's flaws in background and resolution, it is a beautiful film. The animation is very well done with some striking character design. As for the English voice acting, Michael McConnohie as "Colonel Belov" was the weakest of the cast. It sounded like he was trying too hard to be an epic movie trailer voice-over. Otherwise, the rest of the English voice cast was decent.
First Squad: The Moment of Truth certainly has a lot of flaws, but it is still a relatively enjoyable movie with fast-paced action and historical references that don't "info dump" on the viewer. It may not be a "must-own," but is definitely a "must-rent."