As sequels go, Crows Zero II picks up pretty much where Crows Zero left off. Genji has conquered Suzuran but is still dissatisfied with his repeated failure to defeat Rindaman and prove himself totally. The uneasy alliance between those at the top of Suzuran’s ladder seems to be holding but the younger guys are chomping at the bit for some action and starting to question their leader's orders to keep the peace. It’s only a matter of time before someone stirs things up again.
Moving the camera sideways a little, at another school not dissimilar to Suzuran, the students are still mourning their leader killed two years ago in a rumble. The boy responsible was a student at Suzuran and is about to be released from Juvenile detention. Ever since the terrible incident there’s been a truce between the two schools, Hosen and Suzuran, but the guys at Hosen are starting to get hungry for revenge. So when some of them run into Genji, spoiling for a fight, this truce isn’t exactly their top priority. It’s not just leadership of Suzuran that’s at stake now, it’s Suzuran itself. Can Genji, Serizawa and the others put their differences behind them long enough to crush Hosen before they finally graduate high school?
Yes, Crows Zero II is largely more of the same. There are some new faces getting pummelled and some new fists doing the pummelling but generally speaking there’s still a whole lot of pummelling going on. The fight scenes aren’t quite as interesting as they were in the first film, but Miike still manages to keep the excitement levels high even if the constant brawling starts to get a little repetitive. There’s still a cartoonish unreality to the situation where no-one really gets hurt, but this time around things have taken a leap in the other direction with characters becoming more and more bloodstained until their white T-shirts have taken on a distinctly reddish hue. Even if the fighting itself has taken on a slightly more realistic form the usual lone warrior against a horde of bad guys style clichés still rear their heads, but as in the earlier film it’s all in good fun.
Tonally, Crows Zero II feels much more serious than its predecessor. The fighting builds at a more gradual pace and there’s much more time at the beginning of film to spend on delving a bit deeper into the characters and their relationships. Even if the film feels a lot darker, there are still a lot of laugh out loud moments that are at times even funnier than Crows Zero.
It’s a shame that in expanding the scope of the Crows universe by introducing the other school, some of the characters from the first instalment end up being squeezed to the edges. Tamao Serizawa, for instance, excellently played by Takayuki Yamada, has much less to do in this film compared to the first. His conflicts with Genji (Shun Oguri) may be more or less settled but given that it was the relationship between the two that drove the first film it’s a shame that Serizawa ends up being sidelined in favour of exploring Genji’s journey towards becoming a true leader rather just a champion fighter. The new sub-plot involving previously useless yakuza Ken and his efforts to coach another young yakuza wannabe sometimes feel a little like a rehash of the first film, except that it straddles a slightly awkward tone while ending up in some much darker places. It’s also fair to say that the boys from Hosen aren’t really as interesting as their counterparts from Suzuran.
The biggest problem with this film is that the novelty has begun to wear off and Crows Zero II doesn’t really do anything that Crows Zero hadn’t already shown us. Still, even so in its own way Crows Zero II is just as much fun as the earlier film. The rocking soundtrack is still present with a very welcome return of the film’s theme song, I Wanna Change by The Street Beats, which brings with it a sense of over the top, youthful energy. The pop punk anarchic sensibility of both films is one of the things that makes them so much fun and Crows Zero II does indeed feel equally punkish. It goes without saying that if Crows Zero did nothing for you its sequel - which almost feels like the second part of a two part film - won’t ignite a fire in your heart either, but for fans of the earlier outing more of the same is no bad thing at all.