Most of the animation I watch is either from the US, or from Japan with everything else being a detour. Korea, China, Britain, Russia, and a few others I can name you at least one piece of animation that I liked from those countries. One of the many places I currently can’t do that for is Indonesia. Be it they don’t have much of a animation industry, or they’re just don’t get US distribution makes the experience of watching Battle of Surabaya (also known as November 10th in some places) all the more sour.
Acting more like a cliff notes version of complex politics, and history Battle of Surabaya never finds it footing. This stems from the fact the historical events is merely a backdrop for half of the movie in favor of Musa’s coming of age story. Unless you’re familiar with this portion of this post WW2 history you’re likely to be loss in the all important events that take place. All of it feels rushed since the film doesn’t properly establish a semblance of time when all these events happen. In other cases provides too much information at the cost of a coherent story while rushing through significant moments. Making it difficult to figure how one event naturally lead to another major event.
You have the Japanese, the Dutch army, you have the Indonesian Rebel group, the BKR, TKR, the Allied forces, and the Kipas Hitam. I’m pretty sure I forgot a few other groups involved in the revolution because of how much is crammed in. All the while not including the possibly fictional, and real historical figures used in the story. With all of this going on in the background there’s no time to give important events they need to develop naturally. Instead of recounting history it has a subplot about ninja warfare which as far I can tell from my limited research did not happen. Using all the violent events, and turn Indonesian take to deliver a hamfisted message that war is bad. If the movie didn’t tell me war was bad I would have thought war was good thing seeing how Musa lose so many people close to him in the war.
When the movie is focused on our shoe shiner lead Musa everything is still as clumsy. Consistently being unable to transition between tones properly when shifting from the prominent romance to the background war of Indonesia. There’s a sequence that is setup to imply Musa is being chased by someone who wants to kill him only to reveal it’s his friend/love interest Yumna. This falsely build up tension scene is followed by a cheesy romantic stroll Indonesia with yes a even cheesier pop song. Unlike every other connection Musa has in the movie his relationship with Yumna works in service of the story.
The comedy on the other hand is just plain bad. Taking inspiration from anime for its sense of humor. At best the humor is questionable since what passes off for jokes in the movie will leave one wondering if they were meant to laugh. One sequence includes Musa uncle allowing Musa to fire a gun at a military base. When Musa fires the gun he nearly kills another soldier, and the movie cheery music tries to pass it up as a joke. I find it hard to laugh at a man nearly getting shot dead by Musa considering it also wants me to feel sad when Musa loses people close to him.
There’s another scene in the movie where Musa is running away from some soldiers. During this sequence that is meant to be filled with high tension you’ll get a comedic prat fall out of nowhere. That’s not the only time either, towards the finale of the movie when Musa is being chased by adults who want to kill him the insertion of comedy kills any tension. Why someone thought in the English dub the act of riding a cow was funny is about baffling as to why not all the dialogue is dubbed into English!
The forefront romance is also lacking in being an emotional pull. This mostly falls on Musa who doesn’t have much to him as a character. Musa mother for instant eventually dies in the movie, but Musa hardly spend any time with her making his mother death lack impact. His mother death isn’t delved into, nor does it have much effect on Musa. His love for his country isn’t properly developed since it doesn’t spend enough time on him soaking in the joys of Indonesia. Biggest drawback from this is the lack of progression of Musa losing his innocent view of the world when the war takes everything away from him. He merely accepts it, and that’s all.
Yumna is the only character in the movie who comes out unscathed by the bad writing. She gets a complete arc, a sympathetic backstory, and is more in touch with her love for her country. Providing a clear understanding of how much she cherish Indonesia compared to Musa where it doesn’t come across as strongly. While she might be in a supporting role she has a lot going on in her storyline that doesn’t merely involve her moving around places.
Side characters are typically one dimensional. Resulting in some questionable development that out of left field. One of them includes an adult, Danu, having romantic feelings for a young girl. Don’t worry, the young girl friendzone him, and it’s forgotten about. The film’s villain, John Wright is silly. He’s meant to be the embodiment of someone purely using violence to end all wars. This could have been interesting, but instead there’s a series of questionable decisions that come with all badly written villains.
Lastly, I have to take about one specific scene in the movie because it came out of nowhere. So a group of military soldiers (can’t remember which because there’s so many factions) driving by a food stand. John Wright stops the car, and takes out a type of machine gun. He proceeds to shoot a jar of rice with the word freedom written on it because it’s the quickest way to get across he’s the villain. A regular movie would have stopped here, but the scene continue with John Wright pulling out a grenade, and destroying the food stand! It was unintentionally hilarious, and I laughed in the utter shock of it.
Directed by Aryanto Yuniawan, and animated by MSV Pictures brings us some very choppy animation. You’ll be accustomed to seeing missing frames in animation, characters changing position or size whenever there’s a cut, and can not forget the 3D that sticks out a like a sore thumb. Copy, and pasting obvious 3D models, and multiplying similar looking models to ensure it’s hard to miss.
Rarely does the animation move smoothly leaving plenty to be desired. Especially on the character designs since they lack shading, and details in the hair are regularly missing. It’s an ugly movie to look at, especially in the climax where everything that can go wrong in animation does go wrong. When too much to handle, playing missing continuity adds to the fun. If you’re not distracted by the frequently misplaced, or distorted characters designs in different cuts of the same scene.
The only aspect of the animation that’s remotely passable are the environments. Since the background doesn’t have to move the animators put some details into the background to look okay. Other times the lack in depth of perspective make everything flat, even the characters interacting with the environment.
Aryanto biggest failure aside from the poor mixture of romance, comedy, and war drama is his handling of scenes. Instead of opting for something possible within his studio capability you’ll get some ugly, and ambition scenes. One of these include Yumna in a ninja outfit breaking into a military stronghold taking out other ninja with badly rendered 3D environment. This specific sequence makes it impossible to believe that the 2D character is moving in a 3D plain.
The English dub is downright terrible! None of the actors sounded convincing in their roles. Musa voice actor, Alistair Hendry, can’t figure out what accent to give to Musa changing it every so couple of scenes. Would have been forgivable if he didn’t sound monotone through the whole thing. Surprisingly, none of the main cast are actually the worst actors, but it’s the ones in bit roles. These bit role voice actors come out of nowhere to have some awful line delivery. Generally sounding like they use the first take, and didn’t bother with doing any more.
Indonesian animation is an area that’s completely unexplored for me, but at one point so was anime. In the same way my first exposure to Chinese animation (a movie called 10,000 Years Later) wasn’t a good one I’m still keeping an open mind about Indonesia animation. Assuming I can ever find another animated film Indonesia made with some viewable access. If not, well, Battle of Surabaya still wouldn’t be something I would recommend for anyone.