Lion-Girl was written and directed by Kurando Mitsutake (Gun Woman, Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf) based on characters created by famed manga author and artist Go-Nagai who also created Devilman, Cutie Honey and Mazinger Z among others and produced by Toei Video. If that sounds like a recipe for a whole lot of weirdness, then you’re right.
The film opens in a Tokyo bathhouse with several nude people staring at a young woman named Botan (Tori Griffith, 20.0 Megaquake, Ice Storm). After, she refuses to be scared by their threats, they begin to transform. They sprout horns and fangs, their faces become brightly coloured kabuki masks as they snarl in anger. A glowing tattoo appears on her back as she turns to face them.
At which point Lion-Girl goes into exposition mode as the viewer learns how a massive “meteor tsunami” destroyed Earth, except for a small area around Tokyo and wiped out most of mankind. The meteors themselves give off rays that are fatal to humans.
Except the ones they mutate into Anarocs who live by stealing the life force from humans. There are also Man-Anorocs like Lion Girl, whose mother was transformed while she was pregnant, much like how Blade became a Daywalker. She is the woman we saw in the bathhouse and all that stands between mankind and extinction.
Set all of this in a dystopian modern day shogunate, Neo Nippon, run by Nobuhide Fujinaga (Tomoki Kimura, Knuckle Girl, A Beast in love) who resembles a certain former US President. Give him a brutal and ambitious chief enforcer Kaisei Kishi (Derek Mears, Friday the 13th, Alita: Battle Angel), and you really do have the making of a live action anime. Action scenes even pause to identify the powers the characters are using. Mitsutake takes that setup and runs with it.
Within the first few minutes Lion-Girl gives the viewer not just the bathhouse scene but a bloody decapitation, an exploding head, fireballs launched from mutant breasts, our heroine practising her fighting kata in a long shower scene and more. It’s like an old school Troma movie, but with better effects.
Unfortunately, just like the first issue of any comic, Lion-Girl has a fair amount of exposition and backstory to deal with, enough to take up most of the film’s first hour, actually. Most of the time, the script handles it efficiently, but there are a couple of scenes that go on way too long and should have been trimmed. Indeed, at one minute over two hours long, the film as a whole could have used some tightening.
Thankfully, it usually doesn’t take long for the pace to pick up again, especially in the slightly more serious second half as Botan, her uncle and trainer Ken (Damian Toofeek Raven, Komodo vs. Cobra, Lazarus) and driver Marion (Joey Iwanaga, Baby Assassins 2 Babies, Tokyo Vampire Hotel) take Herbert (Matt Standley, Don’t Tear Yourself Apart, Fairyland) and Mayumi (Shelby Lee Parks, 2 Live & Die in LA, The Devil’s Ride) to a legendary commune for Man-Amarocs run by Ogi Agan (Stefanie Estes, The Refuge, End Times).
Lion-Girl was shot during COVID, and that along with the budget, I’m sure, means there aren’t any crowd scenes or large action set pieces to be found. We get plenty of smaller battles to make up for it. Unfortunately, despite mention of our heroine’s extensive martial arts training, most of those scenes involve either guns or psychic abilities, a bit of a disappointment from the director of Karate Kill.
But there’s just so much packed into the film, from jabs at COVID and politicians to references to other films including several news broadcasts that could have come from RoboCop or Starship Troopers and a Buckaroo Banzai reference, that it’s hard to be too upset over any one thing being shorted.
While it does have its problems, Lion-Girl is still an extremely fun and entertaining film for those that won’t be offended by all the blood and bare skin, male and female, on display. Considering how the live action version of Go-Nagai’s Devilman turned out, everyone involved with this film should feel proud.
Cleopatra Entertainment will release Lion-Girl on Blu-ray, DVD and to Digital Platforms on November 7th.