‘Yakitori: Soldiers of Misfortune’ (2023) Review: This Should’ve Been A ‘Love, Death & Robots’ Short


Over the past year or so, we’ve been inundated with live-action adaptations of books. Some of these titles include The Terminal List, The Peripheral, Pachinko, Reacher, The Essex Serpent, Daisy Jones & the Six, Drops of God, and countless Marvel shows. And I have mentioned it before, and I’ll mention it again; most of them are pretty bad. The reasons can range from the producers, OTT platforms, and writers’ rooms to the source material not being meaty enough to be told in an episodic format. Yet they are being green-lit because people are reading the books and turning them into best-sellers because they have bad taste. Now, it seems like this plague has reached the novel-to-anime pipeline as well, thereby leading to what can only be described as a colossal waste of time, i.e., Yakitori: Soldiers of Misfortune.

The Netflix series directed by Hideaki Anbo is split between two timelines. In the flashback sequence, we see the emergence of the Trade Federation, which is an alien species made of sentient dogs and cats, on Earth and their not-so-subtle takeover of the planet because of their technological and intellectual superiority. Humanity becomes a source of expendable soldiers who can be used in the Trade Federation’s ongoing colonization operations. And we follow Akira, Yáng, Tyron, Erland, and Amalia as they evolve from nothing to elite soldiers. In the present timeline, we see the Trade Federation trying to occupy a planet called Barka, whose native population resembles rats. The armies attacking these rats feature frogs, dogs, ostriches, and elephants. Amidst them, there’s also a team of humans called Yakitori (which is a Japanese dish where grilled chicken is served on skewers), who’ve been put there by a recruiter named Vasha Pupkin, whose job it is to ensure the “peaceful” takeover of Barka. However, within a matter of seconds, things go from bad to worse, and Akira, Yáng, Tyron, Erland, and Amalia are forced to come up with a solution that’ll make or break their unity.

I am not going to sugarcoat this, but the dialogue writing and plot of Yakitori: Soldiers of Misfortune are rough and paper-thin, respectively. If you have watched a good amount of science fiction, the subtext of colonization and how humans are now being treated just like animals won’t be lost on you. But instead of focusing on that and empathizing with the plight of the Barkans, Mitsuyasu Sakai chooses to focus on how the Yakitori’s humanity is stripped away, and they’re essentially treated as weapons, i.e., property of the Trade Federation. That is some relevant commentary on the military, which is regularly used for invading politically or economically weak nations, where they commit all forms of war crimes and then never face their repercussions, legally speaking. However, instead of showing all that in a negative light, Sakai starts to romanticize it and probably tries to get the audience onto their side. I’d love to think that this is a self-aware parody of military propaganda, much like Starship Troopers, but I have a hard time drawing that parallel. Because Paul Verhoeven’s film had a dead giveaway regarding what it is with its final advertisement, while Sakai’s show doesn’t even flinch while treating his agents of genocide as heavenly heroes.

That said, Yakitori: Soldiers of Misfortune does exist in a time when Top Gun: Maverick, a very obvious piece of military propaganda, is one of the highest-grossing films of the year. But here’s the thing: Maverick wasn’t successful because of how well it managed to establish that the U.S. Navy is the best in the world. It simply gave us some of the best action sequences of all time and propped up Tom Cruise as the greatest actor in the history of cinema. Yakitori fails at being the least bit entertaining. The character designs and animation always feels awkward and unappealing. You can say that it’s an acquired taste all you want, but to me, it’s awful. Anbo and his team don’t deliver a single action sequence that you’ll remember. The portrayal of the horrors of war is done so poorly that you never understand the magnitude of the crime that’s being committed. And then there’s the pacing, which makes the substance-less plot seem all the more hollow. Hence, in my opinion, this probably would’ve worked better as a Love, Death, and Robots short. However, I have my doubts if it would’ve made the cut because the Tim Miller-led series has some standards.

I don’t want to bash the voice actors of Yakitori too much because they’ve been dealt the worst cards here. I can only wish that they were paid handsomely for their work. With that out of the way, I do want to ponder the insanely difficult job voice actors have when it comes to animated projects. In a live-action projection, even if the writing, the direction, the lighting, the editing, and every other aspect of the audio-visual medium are bad, an actor can try to stand out by elevating the material they’ve been handed. In animated shows and movies, they are at the mercy of the animators and the director. If they don’t present a character properly, then the voice actors’ efforts are going to be ignored, regardless of how much of themselves they put into the character. Well, all I can do is hope that others, who are more talented than the makers of Yakitori, recognize the talent of the voice actors and hire them for projects that accentuate their abilities in the best way possible.

In conclusion, all I want to say is that, please, read better novels so that we don’t have to suffer through horrible adaptations like Yakitori: Soldiers of Misfortune. Yes, I have stopped blaming those who are in charge of adapting any kind of text anymore because there’s only so much they can do when the text that they’re adapting is atrocious. And I’m putting the onus on book readers who are hailing the most mediocre piece of literature as the best thing in the world. I mean, Robert A. Heinlein’s 1959 novel on this very topic was right there. Didn’t you all read it? If you did, there’s a good chance you would’ve noticed all the cracks in Carlo Zen’s novel and stopped it from becoming a 6-episode series. Also, what’s up with everything being turned into a show? What happened to just making a movie? Where’s this confidence coming from that any story can be stretched over the course of multiple episodes just so that you can hold a viewer hostage on your streaming platform? Either come up with stories that have so much substance that they won’t fit in multiple seasons of a series, or make a movie and move on. So, unless it isn’t clear yet, no, I don’t recommend Yakitori: Soldiers of Misfortune. Watch better movies and series, and read better novels and books.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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