First Squad: The Moment of Truth takes place during WWII. The Nazi’s attempts to capture Russia have been thwarted by the Red Army. Both sides have sustained heavy losses in the stalemate and desperation on both sides has turned to far darker means of warfare. The German’s have turned to the Occult, attempting to draw a 12th Century army of crusaders to aid them in defeating the Russians. Meanwhile the Russians, relying on a young girl named Nadya, have found a way to break the plains between the living and the dead and insert Nadya’s consciousness into the underworld where she must track down her fallen comrades and ask them to cross over to help battle the on coming spiritual war in the world of the living. The film is a collaboration between Japanese and Russian artists who have come together to tell a unique story about the war from an interesting perspective.
The release of First Squad is a bit unbalanced due to some factors that I found a bit irritating. The film comes with three separate language tracks; English 5.1/English 2.0, Russian 5.1 w/English Subtitles/Russian 2.0, Japanese 5.1 w/English subtitles/Japanese 2.1. The Japanese language tracks. It also comes in two different versions: A short and a long version. The short version includes the anime straight through and is the only option if you want the Japanese language tracks. The long version of the film is the amine interspersed with live action interviews with Russian soldiers, historians, doctors. Some sources claim that the live action bits are from real people, others suggest their fake using a mockumentary style. In any case when you attempt to watch the long version of the film in English there are no subtitles for the live action parts, hence no point in watching the long version in English.
As far as picture goes First Squad is more artistic then it is Blu-Ray capable. Sure colors and detail, at times, can shine through but the film is more artistically aesthetic. The story delves in-between several worlds including the present, the past, and the world of the dead. Despite the fact that the last two muck up the works a bit, it’s all worth it in the end. If you look at the past sequences, which play like old homemade films complete with scratches, blots here and there, and projector effect it’s simply beautiful work. There were times when I was simply lost in how realistic it all seemed, especially the archive footage of tanks rolling in and planes flying overhead. Brilliantly done. In the land of the dead, as you would expect, colors are a bit muted, detail a bit razzed around the edges with a dream-like fog hovering over the picture. Still, its purpose is obvious and works to draw you into yet another level of depth First Squad has to offer. I’m sure that some people will consider this a bit of a let down when it comes to the whole picture aspect but you really have to realize what you’re getting here with this particular release. To me it’s a wonderful plunge into risk that really pays off, plus your getting the added bonus of an engaging audio experience that has a very atmospheric quality intermixing a deep LFE with every boom, gunfire, or strike with clear dialogue and the DJ Krush score meshing well together for the ultimate in an at home audio sensory experience.
Bonus features are slim at best. Trailers for First Squad and Redline are pretty much it unless you include either variant version of the film. The long version would seem like the obvious choice, if you were to consider it supplemental. I’ve seen reviews of people who disliked the long version because they felt that the interviews halted the flow of the anime itself. I disagree. Most of the comments seemed contradictory to the story which gave you options for perception when it came to the story and gave it depth. In any case it’s well worth suggesting to anime fans who like their anime with an engaging plot that doesn’t fall to the wayside due to fan service. As always final judgment is yours. Enjoy.