I have never seen the Highlander movies before. In fact, I didn’t find out that Highlander: The Search For Vengeance was based on an existing franchise until the guy I was watching it with mentioned so. Going in blind together with somebody who is already familiar with the franchise did make for an interesting viewing experience. And, fortunately, we both ended up enjoying this anime adaptation well enough.
The plot follows the vengeful Scotsman Colin MacLeod. In ancient times, Colin’s clan was wiped out by the Roman legions while his wife was crucified atop a hill and forced to watch the slaughter unfold. Colin himself had his head split open by the Roman commander Marcus Octavius and promptly died. At least, until he suddenly awoke days later with his wounds all healed up.
A mystical druid then informs Colin that he is immortal, as is Marcus Octavius. The only way for an immortal person to die permanently is for their head to be cut off. Thus begins Colin’s quest for vengeance, in which he chases Marcus across the world for centuries; clashing with him again and again as the most pivotal wars of human history happen around them.
The final stage of this epic battle takes Colin to New York City in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic era. As Marcus reigns over a futuristic mega-city, Colin teams up with a rebel force that occupies the ruins and dilapidated railways of The Big Apple.
Now that’s a real rivalry right there. I enjoyed the setting quite a lot and regret that we didn’t get a TV anime to further flesh out the many battles between these two. It could’ve been a lot of fun seeing what Colin got up to across all of human history. The brief glimpses we do get of these conflicts are cool, but there’s a lot of untapped potential in this idea.
My friend also noted that the plot deviated heavily from the original Highlander movies. It added some 1600 years to Colin’s age and other plot beats were very different as well, resulting in a movie that has little semblance to the rest of the franchise. When pressed, however, my friend added that this wasn’t really much of a problem—the later Highlander movies sucked anyway—and they quite enjoyed this anime version of it.
In terms of action, Highlander is quite fun even if it finds itself in precarious situation. The fact that it released in the same year as Sword of the Stranger makes comparisons between the two inevitable, in which case Highlander is at a steep disadvantage. Its action scenes are simply nowhere near as robust as those of Bones’ samurai classic.
If you judge the movie purely on its own merits, it fares alright. It’d be remarkable to somehow make a film about a samurai Scotsman fighting the fascist robo-police boring, especially with the amount of talent on board for this project. The final few battles between Marcus and Colin are especially well-done, though this is balanced out by some other fights visually cutting corners.
I also wasn’t too fond of how Highlander is obsessed with sex. All the female characters in the plot are exceptionally eager to get their tits out, with Colin eventually teaming up with a red-haired, gunslinging prostitute who reminds him of his second-century Scottish wife. Marcus also has his own female counterpart, who exclusively wears combat lingerie and always speaks sensually. It feels forced and uninspired.
Highlander is alright. It’s not going to blow your mind, but it’s fun to watch and has a cool setting to it. If you’re short on time I would never recommend it over Sword of the Stranger or even Madhouse’s own Ninja Scroll. On its own though, it’s a cheesy and likeable sci-fi action movie.