When you think of a mobile game where you pinball monsters off of other monsters to defeat them, you probably don’t think of classic 80s films like Goonies, E.T., and Stand By Me. But after watching this film, you most certainly will.
Monster Strike is one of Japan’s most popular and lucrative mobile games. Thus, it’s no surprise that it got a net anime series earlier this year. But what is a surprise is that the feature film sequel is not the fourth wall-breaking comedy/monster-battle anime you’d expect from watching the series. Instead, it’s a film that feels like an 80s kids adventure movie–only, you know, with monsters you shoot like pinballs.
The film begins with our heroes Ren, Aoi, Minami, and Akira winning their latest Monster Strike battle at their local mall–only for an evil monster to appear and rip open a time portal. Without thinking, Akira leaps in after the creature. Now trapped four years in the past, Akira must save the world from destruction–along with the group of four children who will one day become his best friends.
Because of this setup, Monster Strike the Movie holds the odd distinction of being both prequel and direct sequel to the net anime–and serves as the answer to the final major mystery of the series.
One of the main plot points in the anime series is that Ren, Aoi, Minami, and Haruma all have a major portion of their childhood memories missing. While there are many hints as to what occurred, the truth is never explained in the series–all we ever see is a single frozen moment of a ruined city at the bottom of a canyon. The film is basically the story of what leads Ren and his dragon companion to that point.
What’s so impressive about it is that the film doesn’t feel like a stand-alone story, tacked on to the end of the franchise. Rather, it’s clear that this film was always planned to be the final chapter of the story. Because of this, there are numerous tie-ins with the net anime–i.e., there are points in the net anime where the characters act on half-remembered memories that we see firsthand in the film. This connection between the works adds to the quality of both, rewarding those who have watched both in unexpected ways.
While the film begins by following Akira, much more of it is actually spent following young Ren, Aoki, Minami, and Haruma. The kids all think they are testing a prototype game. Of course, viewers of the series will know that the monsters are much more than simple programs.
However, when a faction of the Japanese military realizes the potential of summoning monsters into the real world, they attack the facility to gain access to the portal to the monster world–along with its guardian, the Oraternative Dragon. Compressing “Oragon” onto Akria’s future-made smartphone, the children escape as Akira and the adults hold off the soldiers. Alone, the children must then travel across Japan and get Oragon to a second, hidden portal to the monster world, even as they are hunted by both the military and the time traveling monster villain.
The large portion of the film that follows the children on their journey is clearly an homage to the classic childrens adventure films of the 80s–most obviously 1986’s Stand by Me. I mean, just look at the film’s poster.
All you’d expect in such a film is there:, from kids alone on an adventure, meeting people and learning lessons that will help make them into adults, to bad guys with questionable motives trying to reach the “treasure” before our young heroes. It’s like Stranger Things–only with Eleven being a giant dragon instead of a psychic girl.
The final aspect of the film is how it serves to give closure on Akira’s arc as a character. In the series, Akira is the one most against letting Ren into their monster strike team, angry at the idea that the new kid could ever replace their missing member in the group. However, over the course of the net anime, Akira learns that Ren’s not a replacement on the team. He is. In elementary school Ren, Aoki, Minami, and Haruma were already playing the prototype monster strike together. It’s only after Ren moved away that Akira joined the group, effectively taking Ren’s place.
In the film, it is clear that despite all they have been through, Akira feels he is an outsider–not a true member of the team and only a temporary replacement for Haruma. Of course, through the time travel plot of the movie, Akira finds himself there at his friend’s greatest moment of trial as the one person with the knowledge and power to keep them alive.
While this means his role in the film is largely to show up and save his friends whenever they’re in way over their heads, it is a satisfying end to his arc. He was there at the beginning, even if he didn’t originally know it.
While tonally different from the net anime, Monster Strike the Movie is an excellent end to the series. It not only serves to wrap up the series’ hanging plot threads and character arcs, but also has numerous little callbacks that add more flavor to its parent anime series. It’s choice to frame the film as an 80s children’s adventure movie reborn makes the film more than the sum of its parts. If you’re a kid or a die-hard fan of Monster Strike, you’re likely to have a fun time with this film.
Monster Strike the Movie: Hajimari no Basho e was released in Japanese theaters on December 10, 2016. There is currently no word on a Western release.
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