Sigma 99, a satellite supercomputer orbiting the Earth, goes haywire wiping out cities in Japan and America. But instead of being killed, the occupants are catapulted ten-thousand years into the future. Time patrol agent Gai (voiced by Yu Mizushima) and his mischievous kid brother, Bunretsu (Ayako Hori) arrive in this post-apocalyptic future overrun with freaky mutant animals and divided in two primitive kingdoms: peaceful Kukurit and the warlike Guroman. Although Gai is not supposed to interfere, he still comes to the aid of beautiful Emiya (Mari Okamoto), a young Kukirit woman out to avenge her fiancé’s death at the hands of cruel Guroman tyrant, Prince Pirar (Shuichi Ikeda). But Prince Pirar intends to make Emiya his bride. He imprisons Gai in a slave labour camp. Meanwhile, Bunretsu is rescued by a mysterious elderly ninja master named Jinba (Katamasa Komatsu), who makes contact with Emiya offering to help hone her martial arts skills. After Emiya proves herself by slaying the fearsome Fire Dragon, a dying Jinba reveals she is really his daughter, Prime Rose, rightful ruler of Kukurit, and is destined to save the world.
Post-apocalyptic science fiction made a comeback in the Eighties as the Cold War escalated between America and then-Soviet Russia. Although Mad Max (1979) and its sequel The Road Warrior (1981) from Australia and Escape from New York (1981) from mainstream Hollywood remain the defining artefacts of the era, almost every film industry around the world made movies with leather-clad rogue heroes romping around radioactive ruins. Not least Japan, where anime such as Go Nagai’s nightmarish Violence Jack (1986, based on his superior manga from 1973) and Toyoo Ashida’s fan-favourite Fist of the North Star (1986) wrought hellish visions of a scorched Earth ridden with rape, torture and ultra-violence, where martial values were to the fore. However, with A Time Slip of a 10,000 Years: Prime Rose, anime’s guiding light: Osamu Tezuka delivered his own, typically quirky, humane and lyrical take on an often fashionably grim subgenre. Tezuka pushes his usual anti-war themes to the forefront, examining the Cold War from the perspective of those caught in the crossfire between super-powers. Rather than preach he fashions a rousing adventure that draws fascinating parallels between dystopian sci-fi and Biblical epics, with humanity cast forward in time but reverting back to pre-Christian values before our plucky heroine and time-travelling sidekicks restore reason and civility to the human race.
As was the case with Cleopatra (1970), Tezuka’s wildly offbeat fusion of softcore porn, sci-fi and historical biopic, the time travel conceit is a little awkward, but nonetheless adds a fascinating and fresh dimension to what actually ranks among his most straightforward adventure yarns. Its melodramatic plot twists and scenes where heroes hone arcane martial arts skills (as when consuming the Fire Dragon’s heart enables Prime Rose to turn herself into stone) are not far removed from old kung fu movies, while Tezuka draws more heavily upon classic pulp adventure - the likes of Edgar Rice Burroughs (the John Carter novels especially), H. Rider Haggard and Robert E. Howard - and the grand costume spectacles of Cecil B. DeMille than he does from Mad Max. As co-director, Tezuka paired up with Osamu Dezaki, master of macho anime epics like Golgo 13: The Professional (1983) and Space Adventure Cobra (1982). Conversely, Dezaki also handled the shojo (girls anime) landmark The Rose of Versailles (1978), although even that concerned a heroine who disguised herself as a man. Dezaki brought to the project his skill at crafting visceral and grandiose action sequences alongside his fondness for using airbrushed freeze-frames to underline an especially intense and dramatic moment. Monster fans will relish an abundance of outlandish creatures, including the particularly well-animated and grotesque Fire Dragon, while Tezuka and company also indulge a penchant for in-jokes. Such as the then-impending release date for Return of the Jedi (1983) that flashes across a computer screen, or having Gai’s time patrol boss drawn to resemble Leonard Nimoy in his guise as Mr. Spock!
Fast-paced and inventive with a surprisingly appropriate disco score from Yuji Ono, the film is the usual quirky Tezuka mix of wacky humour and weighty drama that might prove jarring for some. One moment a hero suffers an unexpected arrow in the eye, the next the focus switches onto Bunretsu’s comedy antics. The horny youngster ogles a naked Prime Rose while she bathes in a lake and gets distracted by her shapely bottom whilst climbing along a rope. There is indeed a large amount of eroticism and nudity here that might suprise those unaccustomed to Japan’s relaxed attitude towards incorporating such risque elements into children’s films. Much like Go Nagai’s Cutey Honey (1973), the most iconic erotic heroine in anime, Prime Rose is equal parts selfless mother figure and provocative sex goddess. With a name derived from the old English pronunciation of “primrose”, Prime Rose proves a compelling heroine with a gratifying character arc as she progresses from meek damsel in distress to outspoken rebel and eventually avenging Amazon in red thigh-high boots and battle bikini.