The first Barefoot Gen anime film proved to be a very impactful feature which, if you're not familiar with the previous movie, was a powerful exploration of the devastating effect of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima which shone a light on the immense human suffering it caused as well as other details which are often overlooked. As you might expect, it's hard to imagine a sequel to this film and yet the first only adapts the first four volumes of a ten volume semi-autobiographical manga. Therefore, I thought I'd finish my look at the Barefoot Gen anime films and see how the second holds up.
I'm going to be deliberately vague when it comes to the plot of Barefoot Gen 2, as I don't wish to reveal too much about the developments of the first movie and, more critically, who survived it. What I can say though is that Barefoot Gen 2 is set three years after the events of the first and follows Gen and the other survivors continuing to live their lives. Hiroshima is slowly putting itself back together as markets reopen and school is reinstituted. The concern now is trying to earn enough money to buy food, which is a constant struggle in their lives. Meanwhile Gen ends up encountering an orphan gang who make their living pickpocketing and decides to befriend them.
There is certainly interesting information here as we get a look at life after the dropping of the bomb which is certainly something that we don't often get to see. The development of the black market trade, the continuing struggle to find food and stave off malnutrition, the ongoing effects of radiation poisoning etc. However, I do think it's fair to say that the film doesn't have the emotional impact of the first. The sequence of the atomic bomb dropping in the 1983 film was emotionally devastating and, next to that, nothing from this film can compare. That's not to say that there aren't emotional moments, there are, but I couldn't help feeling that Barefoot Gen 2 was less important than Barefoot Gen. I must also admit that the ending of the film can feel a bit jarring, with a sorrowful moment immediately followed up with laughing and joy, something that always leaves a little bit of a sour feeling in me.
Madhouse returns as the studio responsible for the animation and I would argue that Barefoot Gen 2 features better animation than the original with backgrounds being more detailed and characters moving in more nuanced ways. However, there isn't a standout sequence as technically impressive as the atomic bomb scene in the original and, while the character designs are for the most part visually pleasant, I confess that I find the change in character design of Gen from the first movie to be a little too much.
The music is more upbeat in Barefoot Gen 2 which does complement the change in tone as Gen tries to move on with his life and confront pain with humour. Thankfully, the music becomes much more subtle during sequences that are more sombre.
Unlike the first film, Barefoot Gen 2 never received an English dub so only the Japanese track is available. Characters who survived the events of Barefoot Gen see their voice actors reprise their roles which, considering their great performances in the original, is great to hear. Even the actor who plays Gen, whose voice I found slightly irritating due to the pitch, does an excellent job with his matured voice confidently switching between the humorous and sorrowful moments while the new characters introduced also feature strong vocal performances that manage to traverse that fine line.
As I mentioned in my review of the first film, the Optimum Releasing release contains both Barefoot Gen and Barefoot Gen 2. The first film lacks the English dub that was made for it while, as I noted above, there was never an English dub made for Barefoot Gen 2. Some trailers are included and the box claims that a booklet with information provided by Jonathan Clements is provided but I don't recall my own copy coming with it. The release is pretty barebones overall but I do appreciate the fact that both films are included.
I don't think Barefoot Gen 2 ever had a chance at being as emotional as Barefoot Gen, but it remains an intriguing film to watch with some interesting insights into the aftermath of the atomic bomb.