First Squad is an animated Russian/Japanese/Canadian co-production. The Russians provided the story and the Japanese provided the animation – what the Canadians did, I have no idea. Maybe they provided the funding? It is a short movie for a predominantly teenage audience about the role of the supernatural in World War II. Nadya is a young girl with strong psychic powers. She was brought up alongside other teens with supernatural abilities, but in some unspecified WWII battle everyone else in this “First Squad” were killed and Nadya lost her memory. Now it is probably a few months later (1942), and an evil Teutonic knight called Baron Von Wolff who died in 1242 has been summoned by the supernatural division of the Nazi war machine, along with his undead army. The secret Russian counterpart division has invented a machine that can make Nadya contact the dead, and she now has to journey to the realm of the dead and bring back the First Squad; i.e. the rest of her former group of superpowered teens, in order to battle Baron Von Wolff and his zombie knights. This will be the battle that turns the tide of the war; a historical “moment of truth”. To prevent the tide from being turned, various Nazi agents try to foil the Russian plans.
The idea itself is not all-bad. However, it is executed extremely simplistically, and there is no characterization of the main protagonists to speak of, except that Nadya is alternately crying and gathering her courage. The historical events referenced might have been interesting if they had been presented in some detail, but unfortunately that is not the case.
The animation, while dramatic, is decidedly mediocre, if even that. Many shots only have a single character moving, while all other characters in the scene are frozen. It seems like the animation budget was not entirely sufficient.
Whether you will like this will probably depend on how much you like Japanese anime in general. To those who are very much into it, this will probably seem better than it does to someone like me, who only appreciates the very cream of the crop from that industry, i.e. mainly the Studio Ghibli movies.
The Blu-ray has no extra features, but the main feature can be heard in either Russian, English or French audio.
Director: Yoshiharu Ashino, Aljosha Klimov and Misha Shprits
Cast (original Russian voices): Elena Chebaturkina, Aleksandr Gruzdev, Sergei Aisman, and others.
Runtime: 59 min.
Country: Russian / Japan / Canada