A love letter to the influences that birthed it and the time that forged it
While being about as hyper specific as you could possibly get for a coming of age story, Eric McEver’s Iké Boys charmed the hell out of me when it screened at Fantastic Fest — probably because it hit rather close to home. The film follows two midwestern anime fans, Shawn (Quinn Lord) and his pal Vik (Ronak Gandhi) in 1999 right before their Christmas break, when a shy exchange student Miki (Christina Higa) arrives from Japan, which also happens to the be plot of just about every high school anime ever. Their attempt to impress Miki with an anime deep cut, accidentally unlocks a prophecy that was foretold by the director of said forgotten gem. For those that didn’t live through Y2K, it was kind of terrifying due to the imminent fear that some computer bug would take out the world’s burgeoning interconnected computer network.There was a whole cottage industry built into Y2K: the fear, the paranoia and the preparedness that Iké Boys digs into for its dramatic doomsday scenario as it counts down to New Years.
Another component of the story that hit hard for me as a lifelong anime fan, is at this point in the late 90s, anime wasn’t quite what it is now. A generation hadn’t grown up with the likes of a Pokemon and the world wasn’t quite as interconnected and open minded as it is today. There was a very outsider and almost creepy designation to fans of these “weird Japanese cartoons”, which were usually written off as porn by most, because video retailers like Suncoast Pictures stocked and sold a whole lot of hentai. It’s the fictional anime director Daisuke Ogata’s troubled 1969 prophecy disguised as an animated Kaiju film Go! Great Decisive Battle at the End of the Century with Rainbows that, upon watching it, leaves our three protagonists imbued with powers based on the film, which was missing its ending. After having seen my share of Anime DVDs of dubious origins back in the day, missing endings or no subs were most definitely a thing.
In an ambitious spin thanks to the Rainbows, Vik is given the power of a Kaiju, Shawn, a robot and Miki is imbued with the strength of a mystical being. They are then charged with stopping a doomsday cult bent on summoning the “Old Gods” who would bring an end to the world. Doomsday cults, unsurprisingly, were another very real part of the Y2K phenomenon. This all transpires while the trio deals with the typical high school day to day, which is stressful enough, IE: dating, racism and bullying. While the boys are obsessed with Japanese culture the film puts a fun spin on Miki the exchange student, who came to the US because she is obsessed with Native American culture. This puts forth an interesting running gag since she requested to be placed in an Indian residence in the midwest, she didn’t anticipate the difference between Indian and Native American. It’s an interesting dynamic and a way to mirror her male counterparts cultural obsession.
Given the high concept ideas, the film itself is modestly budgeted and sometimes that’s jarringly apparent. It does have a lot of heart, though, and that definitely causes you to overlook some of its shortcomings. You not only root for the characters, but the filmmakers as well, as they attempt to tell this epic story through some creative methods, like animating certain more ambitious action sequences. The actors here do their share to help sell this and more often than not they are successful. While the kids play it straight, it’s Billy Zane as a redneck Karate instructor who treads a fine line of comic relief and villain/father figure to Shawn. It’s a completely bizarre mix that has the severely underrated Zane (who is careful not to steal this thing from underneath his younger costars) doing some interesting things with what could have simply been a larger than life caricature to most.
Iké Boys is a lot of fun. I may be partial, but if you grew up that weird kid in the late 90s like me, you will have a lot to love about this weird little film. What it lacks in budget, it more than makes up for in heart and it does so while having some important things to say about friendship and growing up. It does all this while also staying knee deep in the tropes and trappings of the many genres of anime, kaiju and Tokusatsu that inspired it, while surprisingly not losing itself in its own nostalgia in the process. Iké Boys is a love letter not just to the influences that birthed it, but the time that forged it.