FANTASTIC FEST 2021: ‘Iké Boys’ Embraces Its Anime And Tokutatsu Roots

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Iké Boys - But Why Tho

Iké Boys is a film directed by Eric McEver, who also co-wrote the screenplay with producer Jeff Hammer. In the final days of 1999, anime geek Shawn Gunderson (Quinn Lord) and his best friend Vik Kapoor (Ronak Gandhi) receive a copy of a long-lost anime film in the mail. While watching the film with Japanese exchange student Miki Shimizu (Christina Higa), the film bestows incredible powers upon the trio. Shawn slowly changes into a tokusatsu hero similar to Ultraman, Vik gains the strength and power of a bearlike kaiju, and Miki gains psychic powers. As the teenagers struggle to control their newfound powers, they learn that the film contained a prophecy that the Old Gods would return and destroy the world in the new millennium-and a doomsday cult is hellbent on making that happen.

This film is a massive love letter to Japanese pop culture, especially anime and tokusatsu. Shawn has drawings and posters of figures including Battle of the Planets and Sailor Moon covering his walls, and his armored alter ego bears more than a passing resemblance to Mazinger Z. And the final fight scene feels ripped from Power Rangers, including cheesy special effects and what is clearly a man in a giant robot suit. The trio even shouts “Henshin!” to transform like Kamen Rider. Part of the fun of watching this film was seeing all the shoutouts to different tokusatsu and anime. As a lifelong toku fan it felt like parts of this film were crafted specifically for me. There’s even animated sequences sprinkled throughout the film that would make this film feel right at home on Toonami’s lineup.

Another element that stood out to me was the 90s era setting. I grew up in the 1990s, and I can tell you that McEver perfectly captured the era. Characters use payphones, there are old school computers, and DVDs were just becoming a thing. Setting the film toward the end of the 90s not only provides an appropriately apocalyptic setting but also serves as a metaphor for the struggles the teens are facing. Shawn and Vik have never known life outside their small Oklahoma town, and their respective superpowers serve as a metaphor for their struggles; Shawn’s armor is a manifestation of his inability to connect with other people including his dad (Ben Browder) and Vik’s embrace of his beastly abilities highlights his struggle to fit in with the popular kids. Another element is that the teenagers are into a culture that isn’t theirs: Shawn embraces Japanese traditions, Vik is trying to fit in with the mostly white popular crowd, and Miki came to Oklahoma to find Native Americans as she wants to go on a vision quest.

Iké Boys truly shines thanks to Lord, Gandhi, and Higa’s performances. Lord is no stranger to genre fare, having played Sam in Trick’R’Treat when he was younger. He gives Shawn a nervous, nerdy, and overall sweet demeanor that is reminiscent of characters like Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Jim Lake Jr. from Trollhunters. Gandhi gives the film its sense of humor and pathos, as Shawn and Vik’s friendship is tested by their newfound powers. Higa has plenty of layers in her performance as Miki as well. Despite being new to America, she is intelligent enough to catch on to the changes that have befallen her newfound friends and even turns the tide when all seems lost. The cast boasts other genre alums including Billy Zane (The Phantom) as Shawn’s martial arts sensei and Yumiko Shaku (Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla) as his wife Reiko.

Iké Boys wears its anime and tokusatsu influences on its sleeve and contains a heartfelt message about embracing your passions in life. If you grew up with any form of anime or pop culture, you need to see this film. Much like the trio of young heroes, it isn’t afraid to let its geek flag fly.

Iké Boys had its world premiere at Fantastic Fest 2021.

Iké Boys
  • 9.5/10
    Rating - 9.5/10
9.5/10

TL;DR

Iké Boys wears its anime and tokusatsu influences on its sleeve and contains a heartfelt message about embracing your passions in life. If you grew up with any form of anime or pop culture, you need to see this film. Much like the trio of young heroes, it isn’t afraid to let its geek flag fly.