FANTASIA FEST 2021: ‘Office Royale’ is an Absurd Battle-Manga

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Office Royale - But Why Tho

Office Royale ~ Jigo-No-Hanazono (Office Royale) is one of those films that prompted me to immediately search and see if it’s based on a manga, and it isn’t. And somehow, that makes the film all the more intriguing and stunning fun. Director Kazuaki Seki and screenwriter put forth a story about battling Office Lady gangs that borrow straight from battle-manga in the best way.

Office Royale tells its story in two converging narratives. The first is focused on Naoko (Mei Nagano), a normal office worker at Mitsufuji, your standard “company that does business.” An Office Lady referred to as OL in the film, Naoko would rather talk about her favorite TV series, her diet, and just standard water-cooler and lunchroom talk. Sitting on the outside and trying to just lead a normal boring life, Naoko actively steers clear of the war between three of the company’s departments, each one led by a fearsome OL proficient in fighting.

While we get to see the OL gang war reach what seems to be a conclusion initially, with one department claiming power over the others, a new OL enters the story: Ran Hojo (Alice Hirose). Ran is strong, and I mean, really strong. With the charisma of a shonen hero, Ran takes each of the OL gang leaders and winds up as the leader of all of Mitsufuji.

In the process, Naoko and Ran become friends, balancing out a fighter and a calm OL looking to just have a quiet lunch. But Office Royale is all about fighting, and with Ran in charge of Mitsufuji, her legend begins stoking a fire, and OLs from other companies begin challenging her, pushing Naoko to the center.

On the whole, Naoko and Ran as shonen heroes of their own kind. One is reluctant, and one visibly owns her power. They balance each other and push a narrative that makes you question who the protagonist is in the best way. By playing with manga tropes, both visually and narratively, Bakarythm and Seki weave together common elements of manga. From rivalries to villain types, and of course, dialogue, Office Royale is extremely aware of the story it’s telling.

Everything about Office Royale is loud and absurd. The fight sequences display manga feats of strength where a punch can send someone into lockers and bend them. Props are everywhere; character archetypes are on full display in their bright gang jackets alá Tokyo RevengersWith a majority female cast, Office Royale embraces tropes, subverts stereotypes, and brings out surprising and hilarious action sequences that are both about fighting with physical strength and with OL office skills.

While the entirety of the film offers bombastic action and a hilarious story, the film’s final act goes even further. The fight gets larger, the story more zany, and the film’s twist pays off. Now, Office Royale has many, many, and I do mean many, fight sequences. That said, there are few that actually showcase stuntwork from the women in the fights. Instead, Seki opts for cuts that show the aftermath and not the actual fight, which can be troublesome for a film all about strong OLs being top fighters. That said, that problem plagues about half the film before Seki switches perspective and gives all-out fights between characters without the well-times cut-away.

Action is at the forefront of the film, but the acting is also something to call out. Each and every woman holds her own on-screen. From intense screaming and intimidating facial expressions, the cast’s chemistry, their environment, and with each other, works perfectly.

Overall, Office Royale is hilarious and vibrant and a damn good time. It embodies elements of manga storytelling that are both self-deprecating and self-referential in the best ways. While this film may not be based on a battle-manga, I would gladly buy every volume of a series adapting the film.

Office Royale screened at the Fantasia International Film Festival 2021.

Office Royale
  • 8.5/10
    Rating - 8.5/10
8.5/10

TL;DR

Overall, Office Royale is hilarious and vibrant and a damn good time. It embodies elements of manga storytelling that are both self-deprecating and self-referential in the best ways. While this film may not be based on a battle-manga, I would gladly buy every volume of a series adapting the film.