First Squad: The Moment of Truth
by Tim Georgi
Victory at any cost.
Europe is engulfed in World War II and the forces of the Third Reich were in the middle of an offensive into the Soviet Union after turing on their former allies in the summer of 1941. As the war comes to a standstill on the Eastern Front, the Nazis and the Soviets are making plans to ensure their victory in the battle for the Russian landscape.
The year is 1942. With the Nazi forces stalled in their fight with the Red Army, they turn to the Ahnenerbe, a secret Nazi occult organization inside the ranks of the SS. The Ahnenerbe has determined that the next "moment of truth," a rare moment where the actions of a single individual can determine the outcome of an event. They believe that an anonymous Soviet officer that is ready to begin a battle with the Nazi forces is that individual, and if he's not eliminated, the Soviets will gain a significant advantage and possible change the face of the war.
To eliminate him, members of the Ahnenerbe summon the long-dead Baron von Wolff, a 13th century knight and his deceased army, from the world of the dead. To counter this plan, the special occult branch of the Soviet Intelligence, called 6th Division, deploys its best agent, the 14-year-old psychic Nadya, the only survivor from the special operations unit of 6th Division called the "First Squad."
Nadia, meeting back up with her old commander, General Belov, must now find a way to use the technologies of the 6th Division to re-unite with her now dead friends, the other members of the First Squad, and enlist their help to help fend off Baron von Wolff and save the life of the Soviet officer before the Nazis can change the Eastern Front of the war. Nadia is able to travel into the world of the afterlife where she meets up with her friends and tells them of the situation with the Nazis and the return of von Wolff. Knowing that Nadia can't take on von Wollf and his otherworldly group of zombies by herself, the members of the First Squad must use the same methods to return to the world of the living to halp Nadia defeat the Baron.
First Squad is a simple storyline that provides a good mix of drama and action. Using the backdrop of World War II, the story does a good job of making the story seem like something that could have happened during the war. In the vein of doing whatever you have to do to win, turing to the occult, while something that would be unlikely in reality, is presented in a way that seems plausible. The character development is lacking as we're only given small glimpses of Nadia's life but very little for any of the other characters that come along. As a result, it's a bit hard to get behind the characters in their fight. Having a glimpse of the hard life that Nadia has had gives the viewers more of a reason to cheer for her when she's fighting, but the quick pace of things leaves little time to delve into character development. In some ways it would have been better to have either a longer feature or find a way to do a multi-part film. Toward the end, it does seem to be a bit rushed, though we are left with a bit of a cliffhanger, so there is potential for a follow-up.
The animation is top notch. Studio4ºC has a history of animation-rich productions, with shows like Spriggan and Memories on the feature film side and things like the new hit re-imaging of the classic Thundercats series. First Squad's animation is nothing less than their previous efforts, combining the traditional cel animation with CGI generated graphics in an effective mix that worlks well. Also, the use of muted colors adds to the atmosphere of war throughout the film.
Overall, First Squad is a good action piece, especially if you like period pieces. It's a good change of pace with the Germans versus the Russians in a World War II setting. Keeping away from the typical Germany/Japan versus the United States is a great change and adds to the story. With the open ending that was left by the end of the film, there is hope that Studio4ºC will continue this one and give us more reasons to love Nadia in the future.