Stricken with a mysterious illness President Elgarno (voiced by Mikio Terashima) of Planet Bandor is rushed off by an emergency medical team. It is all a ruse so the President, who mistrusts his own cabinet and military, can meet in secret with the galactically renowned rescue team the 'Crushers.' Team leader Joe (Hiroshi Takemura) and his compatriots: beautiful tomboy space princess Alfin (Run Sasaki), hulk-with-a-heart-of-gold Talos (Kiyoshi Kobayashi), hyperactive kid Ricky (Noriko Ohara) and wacky robot Dongo (Issei Futamata) are tasked with rescuing Major Tanya (Yoshiko Sakakibara) who was captured by rebel forces along with the doomsday weapon Ash. So-called because it can reduce an entire planet to ash. Joe and the gang find themselves in a race against time to save Tanya and keep the ultimate weapon from both rebel hands and those of the Bandorian army.
As the first victims of atomic warfare the Japanese have an ambiguous fascination with apocalyptic super-weapons. From the oxygen destroyer in the original Godzilla (1954) to the psychic prodigies of Akira (1988) such apocalyptic imagery reoccurs throughout Japanese science fiction and fantasy, especially in anime. Japanese animation arguably reached its peak in the Eighties at the same time that the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was at its height. In the midst of all this tension SF anime popularized the notion of Japan, then at the height of its economic affluence and influence, as a global peacemaker. With Crusher Joe science fiction writer Haruka Takachiho took that idea a step further into outer space. "You are a burning flame of hope", President Elgarno tells Joe at one point, a message presumably intended to resonate with young anime fans who felt their nation could and should make a difference in the world.
Crusher Joe: The Ultimate Weapon - Ash was the last of three anime outings for Takachiho's troubleshooting space heroes. While the search and rescue theme made Crusher Joe stand out from most other SF anime this particular installment adds an interesting political dimension with a Cold War subtext. In place of a simplistic good versus evil story (although military stooge Colonel Mardo (Kenji Utsumi) proves an especially despicable character) the story lets both rebels and representatives of order express their ideologies. Both raise valid points but prove equally flawed. Only the Crusher team, in their dogged attempt to preserve the sanctity of all life, exhibit any understanding of the greater good. Even at a mere fifty-five minutes The Ultimate Weapon - Ash has a relatively grandiose scope. It delivers action and spectacle with a distinctly James Cameron feel as both rebel and government forces with vast arsenals of tanks and jet-fighters get taken out by hordes of flying bio-metallic orbs that evolve and self-replicate. Also reflecting Cameron's SF action films is the presence of a formidable female character in Major Tanya. Even when Joe rides to her rescue Tanya stands firm with a take-charge personality and moral conviction. In this instance she arguably makes a bigger impression here than the series regulars.
Fast-paced with dynamic hand-drawn animation, this has suspense and action to spare although its unabashed techno-fetishism and endless explosions occasionally obscure the anti-war message. Nonetheless as with the majority of anime and unlike much western SF satire, this never slips into nihilism and clings fiercely to utopian ideals. After this it was eleven years before Team Crusher returned in a pair of literal manga videos where voice actors read comics aloud. Alas, while there are no shortage of sequels and reboots for Mobile Suit Gundam or Space Battleship Yamato, fans still await a new Crusher Joe adventure.