Black Fox, An Anime Film So Unoriginal It’s Actually Charming

Anime has a reputation as being weird or generally different from a lot of western media and in a good way, providing plenty of originality and tropes unique to Japanese culture that draw people in. But not even the most tried and true tropes of Japanese media could stop Black Fox from feeling like the most unoriginal anime film to come out in years.

Black Fox is a 2019 film from director Kazuya Nomura and Studio 3Hz, the makers of Dimension W, Princess Principaland SAO: Alternative. It tells the story of Isurugi Rikka, a young girl caught between her family’s legacy as ninja and her dream of being a super cool scientist like her father, until bad guys kill her family and send her on the path to becoming a superhero. Perhaps at the height of the Marvel Cinematic Universe craze, this film would have had more appeal, but as it is now, at a time when superheroes are feeling worn out, this film is just a collection of tired tropes. The film doesn’t just suffer because it lacks originality but also because the tropes it draws upon to construct the foundation of the story are as basic and by-the-numbers as you can get in a superhero origin story, much less an action film .


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The Animation & Sound

It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that this film was entirely constructed as an excuse to create sakuga. The animation itself is good, littered with snappy and well-directed action and punctuated by decent sound design that follows the modern trends of bass-boosted impacts and intense ringing blade clashes. If anything holds the experience back, it’s the art design at large.

The backgrounds, detail, and all-around color of the film can seem too bright, and more fitting of a cutesy feel-good TV romance than an action film. Some artwork looks striking and sharp while other subjects look cheap, sketchy, and ill-befitting for a film with such a dramatic score. Masaru Yokoyama did their best to elevate this film with a soundtrack that imitates the epic scores of other films that this movie would very much like to be.

“Inspired By,” Not Inspired

When someone calls something “inspired” it tends to imply that the subject has clearly paid homage to other notable works or genres and has crafted something unique that stands on its own. And while Black Fox‘s DNA is traceable back to numerous plots and points of inspiration, nothing about the execution injects new material into the equation to differentiate it from its competition.

At times, it feels like this film was made as a pilot; the jumping-off point for a full series or more movies. Characters and settings that seem ripe for episodic plotting are injected only to feel like they were added to meet a checklist of tropes that would endear an audience to a plucky young superhero.

And the worst part to admit is that when the action picks up the cool gadgets and spy/ninja aesthetics take hold, it can be captivating. Just the simple act of Rikka saving a cat was given so much flair that it was hard not to enjoy. After the lackluster opening prologue, a lot of the film becomes more palatable because of how much it indulges in the fun of its premise.

The Story of Black Fox

Rikka changes her name to Lily and investigates the evil scientists who killed her father and stole his research. Along the way, she comes across an android companion and a girl with psychic powers who’s the villain’s daughter. It’s the makings of a superhero trio, albeit with high tensions on account of Mia, the psychic, having been involved in the assault that killed Rikka’s father.

The film gets pretty exciting after the prologue when Rikka is doing her vigilante work, investigating the bad guy, and coming home to have dinner with her cute roommate. The scenes between characters are more fun and the buildup of relationships creates just enough stakes to make the conclusion more interesting.

It doesn’t help the villain, though, who fits the role of mad scientist and abusive father, but who doesn’t do anything nuanced or complex with the character. While crazy villains can be entertaining, the character’s presentation is unfortunately too bland to make an impression.

A quick aside: Rikka has three robot companions in the shape of animals: a falcon, a dog, and a squirrel. Squirrel is the correct term, but despite looking nothing like a rat, the film insists on calling it a “rat,” which is maddening to no end. The author of this article felt it necessary to vent their frustrations on this point.

The End of Black Fox

by the end, Black Fox admittedly achieves a level of hype comparable to a mid-level MCU film, maybe from Phase 1. It’s an origin story that ends with a glorious suit-up, a bombastic fight, and a foreshadowing of more action to come, but in the three years since this release, the film didn’t garner enough attention to warrant even the suggestion of a sequel.

Despite that, it felt worth mentioning because the movie feels so odd. It was released in the west through Crunchyroll at the same time as its theatrical release in Japan and got a decent amount of promotion through Crunchyroll’s site as if the producers wanted it to be big. Perhaps it was an attempt to cash in on the superhero craze and create some cool action in the process.

Were it that sakuga and cool character designs alone could carry the film, this would certainly be remembered as a stellar hit, but it simply can’t justify itself, to say the least of its presence in a bloated market. Animation as an excuse for cool stuff can make for entertaining stories, but the stories themselves have to have more bite to them, and this fox just can’t sink its teeth in.

Black Fox is available for streaming through Crunchyroll in North America

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