Katsuhiro Otomo

134: Metropolis Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Ambition feels like such a double-edged sword. You can be respected and admired for how far you take your project, but if it doesn’t entirely work out, all of that ambition will fall flat, due to execution. I’ve seen a lot of Japanese animated films, and that tends to happen to many of them. They might have great visuals, a grand scale in their themes, and so on, but due to either not a good director or writer, you end up with a films that feels clunky in their presentation. This is something I heard a lot about with Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis. Directed by Rintaro, and written by Katsuhiro Otomo, this film was based on the late creator’s manga that was inspired by the famous sci-fi film of the same name. It’s noteworthy as well for being one of the first animated features to be submitted to the Oscars for Best Animated Feature in 2001, but didn’t make it, Instead, that awful Jimmy Neutron movie got nominated. With a list of talent like Rintaro directing, Tezuka’s original manga, and Otomo’s writing, this should be a slam dunk. It did get rave reviews, calling it one of the best animated films from Japan, and I do agree with that. However, let’s dive in and see what else we can find.

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Our story takes place in, where else, Metropolis! It’s a high tech city, filled to the brim with humans, rich and poor, having to live with robots that do a mass majority of “lower-class” work. The city is in a bit of a complicated moment in time, as the President, dubbed by Steve McGowan, is presenting a new massive tower, along with Duke Red, dubbed by Jamieson Price, who might have an alterior motive other than just showing how rich he is. At the same time, a detective named Shunsaku Ban, dubbed by Tony Pope, and his nephew Kenichi, dubbed by Brianne Siddall, arrive in the city to bring in a scientist named Dr. Laughton, dubbed by Simon Prescott. The scientist also happens to be working for Duke Red to make a special project for him. On the day that Shunsaku and Kenichi arrive in the city, and with the help of a robot detective named Pero, dubbed by Dave Mallow, they end up getting caught in a much bigger scheme. Dr. Laughton is then shot by an underling working for Duke Red named Rock, dubbed by Michael Relsz, and his lab is destroyed, with only a mysterious young girl named Tima, dubbed by Rebecca Forstadt, surviving. Why does Duke want her? Will the robots and humans find a way to not get into a revolution against one another? What motives does the President have in terms of the massive tower?

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The major complaint I heard about this movie is that the film is very busy. You not only have Tima and Kenichi, the mystery of Tima’s purpose, the lower class revolution, the discrimination against robots, Duke Red wanting to be a God, Babylon references, government corruption, and yeah, when I list all of that, so the film is busy. I don’t know if they wanted to adapt the entire story of Tezuka’s manga, since Tezuka wasn’t alive anymore when this film was made, but it does come off like that. There are different points in the second half where it seems like time skipped ahead, and nothing is filled in. You see the beginning of the revolution, but then it cuts to the end of it a few minutes later. It definitely feels like they could have cut some characters, because some of the motivations for how certain characters, like Rock and Duke Red, act are not fully explained to the audience. It definitely could have used some fine tuning in the writing, as the huge philosophical elements come off as wonky in the final product. Nothing wrong with combining religion and philosophy on what makes you human, but it does make the film overly complicated. It should have stuck with the story focusing on Tima and Kenichi, because while I do think their bond is strong, I wish there were more scenes with the two.

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I know it sounds like I might hate this movie, and I know some people do, but I really love it. I actually love quite a lot about this film, and I do still agree it’s one of the best and most important animated films from Japan. If you watch any clip of this film, you can tell that the combination of 2D animation and CGI is gorgeous. I love seeing Tezuka’s retro designs on a film budget. This entire film is brimming with beautiful animation, a lot of detail, and personality that makes the city of Metropolis thrive and feel alive. It definitely stands out among the animation seen in more modern day Japanese-animated films.

I also love its jazzy New Orleans-style soundtrack and orchestrated score by Toshiyuki Honda and Atsuki Kimura. However, the best song in this entire film is the Ray Charles version of I Can’t Stop Loving You. It makes the ending so much more emotionally powerful as you see what happens with everyone. It’s a song that always sticks in my mind, and I am actually addicted to it right now as I type this. As for the English dub, it’s pretty sweet, and they have a powerhouse of voice actors for the English dub. You have Brianne Siddall, Rebecca Forstadt, Tony Pope, Jamieson Price, Michael Reisz, Steve Blum, Dave Mallow, Simon Prescott, Dan Woren, Doug Stone, William Frederick Knight, and Barbara Goodson to name some of the best talent you can find in anime. Even though some characters could have been fleshed out more, I still felt for them, and was invested in the overall story. The main heart of the film is definitely when Kenichi and Tima are together. They have some of the best scenes and interactions together. Even if I think this film doesn’t handle philosophical themes well, I still admire that it wanted to be more than just another animated film. It’s at the very least, more than you can say about studios like Blue Sky and Illumination, which I would argue have no ambition to be more than just animated features.

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I find myself constantly coming back to Metropolis. I have seen it probably five or so times now, and I still love it despite its flaws. Unfortunately the original DVD release of this film is entering the $30 range, and I don’t think I would recommend doing that when Mill Creek Entertainment is about to put out a new steel book Blu-ray release of it. If you love animation, the works of Osamu Tezuka, and Japanese-animation history, you should definitely check out this film. For now, let’s take a break from Japanese animation, and move on over to what might be Netflix’s best animated feature since The Little Prince with White Fang. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

Was It Really Our Fault For The Death of 2D Animation?

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial!)

Around the mid-2000s, 2D animated films were struggling, with a majority of the flops coming from Disney and DreamWorks. This was when their 2D animated films were not bringing in waves of delicious greenback bills, and were instead being critically panned, and flopping/underperforming. This list of films include Home on the Range, Brother Bear, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, Treasure Planet, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and you get the idea. The only 2D animated films that were doing really well during this time period were the films made by Studio Ghibli, like Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. When Home on the Range and Sinbad came out, both Disney and DreamWorks told the world that 2D animation was not a profitable way of filmmaking anymore, no one was seeing 2D animated films, and the new profitable form of animation was CGI-animation. This was essentially throwing 2D animation under the bus. So, was it really the public’s fault that 2D animation was dead? Is there a reason Europe and the rest of the world is keeping it alive and not getting wide releases? Well, let’s talk about what was going on around this time period.

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On one side of the spectrum during the early to mid-2000s, the only financially/critically successful animated films that were being made were of CGI, and Pixar and DreamWorks were leading the charge. This was when we were getting films like Shrek 2, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles. All of these films were critical darlings, and are pretty fantastic films. On the other spectrum, you were unfortunately getting Disney and DreamWorks 2D animated films that were not doing well with audiences and the bank. Like I said above, the 2D animated films were not making enough of a profit, and were getting critically panned at the same time. Sure, you would get a film like Lilo & Stich, Emperor’s New Groove, and Spirits: Stallion of the Cimarron, but those films were few and far between in terms of being successful 2D animated films. The point is Disney and DreamWorks were losing money, and the only thing that was bringing in the cash besides their live-action films were their CGI animated films. Not to say that each CGI animated film during this period was a success, since this was when DreamWorks was trying to compete with Disney/Pixar, but the numbers and money talked.

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So, does this mean that 2D animation was 100% dead? Of course not! Even if Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks were moving toward full-on CGI animation, due to the masses leaning more to CGI animation by overall audience appeal, there were a few studios and directors that were passionate or really stubborn about Hollywood’s sudden lack of 2D animation. This was when we were getting a lot of the Studio Ghibli films brought over by Disney, like Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Porco Rosso to name a few. Other directors like Sylvain Chomet gave the public The Triplets of Belleville, one of the best pieces of 2D animation around, and was a critical and Oscar winner. Japan has a multitude of amazing animated films during this time period, and even today we have incredible 2D animated films, like the late Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, Mamoru Hosoda’s Wolf Children, The Boy and the Beast, and Summer Wars, Makoto Shinkai’s The Garden of Words, and of course, Katsuhiro Otomo’s slew of films like Steamboy, and anthology project, Short Peace.  Europe has been rocking the 2D animation, with films from France, Spain, Scotland, and other areas including Song of the Sea, The Secret of Kells, A Cat in Paris, Phantom Boy, Ernest & Celestine, The Illusionist, Nocturna, Wrinkles, and Chico and Rita. Even Disney came back with two 2D animated films, with The Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh. Sure, they didn’t break a gigantic amount of bank, but I love that Disney at first was going to do one 2D film, then a CGI film, and go on like that until they went full-on CGI animated. Even Brazil gave us Boy and the World, one of the most visually amazing films, not just animated films, I have ever seen.

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So, if 2D isn’t technically dead, since the rest of the world and the indie scene are treating it with the respect it deserves, then what really killed it? Well, it’s actually pretty obvious and simple. There is no reason to go into a college-based philosophical journey for the answer. Really, it’s the Hollywood machine, and the studios’ fault for killing off 2D animation.

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Yeah, I know it sounds like a hipster thing to do, and blame the bigwigs for killing off a style of animation, but it’s quite frankly the truth. So, during the mid-2000s of 2000-2005 or so, what were the companies releasing during this time that was 2D? This was when Disney was releasing films like Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Brother Bear, Treasure Planet, Lilo & Stich, Emperor’s new Groove, and Home on the Range. On top of that, this was also the tail end of their Straight-to-DVD fling, where they released a bunch of mediocre sequels to their popular Disney films. I’m sure you can find merit and something positive to say about certain elements of these films, but they were really scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of quality with these straight-to-DVD flicks. DreamWorks on the other hand only released about two 2D animated films, with one being a hit, and the other causing the infamous “2D animation is dead” quote with Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and Sinbad. Now then, we’ve got our suspects from the 2D side of things from both companies, what went wrong with the studios making these films? After watching them recently, with the few exceptions that I have mentioned above, the rest feel like movies that were ruined by the higher-ups putting their focus-grouped hands into the mix. Films like Brother Bear, Sinbad, Treasure Planet, and Atlantis: The Los Empire could have been incredible movies, but what you get are films with bits and pieces of greatness and things to like, but then have to get past the elements that are distracting or not very interesting. Most of the time, the biggest blunder these films made was within its dialogue. When the characters talked like they were part of that time or setting, it was great and engaging. You felt like you were there with them. However, when the modern dialogue, Disney whimsy, and hip lingo pops into time periods where it isn’t remotely appropriate, and is only put there because some idiot higher-up thinks everyone would like it, it’s frustrating. It’s like they couldn’t fully stay invested in their own tones. If you want to be dark in Atlantis, then you need to keep the mature tone, and not throw in so many side characters, humor, and a weak bad guy. How much better could Brother Bear be if he didn’t turn into a bear and he was kept just as a human? I could say all of this with the other films like Treasure Planet and Sinbad. These studios, for the most part, would rather throw someone or something under the bus to avoid the honest truth that they made a bad movie that no one wanted to see, or have to admit that they were trying to cater to the lowest common denominator, and it wasn’t working. Oh, and was anyone really asking for Home on the Range? I mean, really?

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Yeah, I don’t buy that 2D animation died because people stopped caring about it. I think it died because studios here in the states kept giving us films that either couldn’t stay in the tone they set out for, higher-ups got their meddling hands into the pie, or were just terrible movies. Luckily, with the huge success of films like Zootopia, The Secret Life of Pets, Finding Dory, and the animated films distributed by GKIDS, animation has become a huge success during 2016, where with a few exceptions; a mass majority of the 2016 big Hollywood flicks are not panning out. Sure, you could argue it’s just the summer movies, but I feel like the animated films and indie films have been getting more of the spotlight and praise. Hopefully, this means that the bigger companies can try and come back to 2D someday, but due to how current Hollywood is run, it will probably take some time. Just remember, it’s not always your fault Hollywood made a stupid mistake. Thanks for reading, I hope you liked the article, and see you all next time.

The Other Side of Animation 33: Japanese Animation Month: Short Peace Review


(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

WARNING/PARENTAL HEADS UP: There is female nudity and violence in this movie. Parental Discretion is advised. Hope you enjoy the review!

Well, I might as well get another Katsuhiro Otomo film project under Japanese Animation Month. I mean, yes, I will be tackling Hayao Miyazaki and Mamoru Hosoda in the future, but for now, let’s take a look at Otomo’s most recent film project known as Short Peace. This anthology film was released back in 2013, and was brought over to the states by Sentai Filmworks. It got some publicity because one of the shorts, Possessions, was nominated for an Oscar for best animated short. Short Peace includes four different shorts, with an opening animated segment directed by Koji Morimoto (Franken’s Gears segment from Robot Carnival, and Magnetic Rose segment from Memories). The other directors besides Katsuhiro Otomo involved are Hiroaki Ando (Ajin, Five Numbers!, and Digital Juice) and Hajime Katoki (Gundam and Super Robot Wars series). So, how good are these shorts, individually? Well, let’s find out!

While not technically part of the four anthology films, the opening animated sequence from Koji Morimoto has a young girl following a rabbit into a bunch of magical worlds.

The first official short is called Possessions, and is directed by Shuei Morita (Freedom, Kakurenbo: Hide & Seek, Tokyo Ghoul, and Valvrave the Liberator). It’s about a lone traveler taking shelter in an abandoned shrine during a rainstorm. Once inside the shrine, he then has to deal with a group of spirits.

The second short is called Combustible, and is directed by Katsuhiro Otomo himself. Combustible tells the tale of a woman of royalty, and her experience with her childhood friend. It’s a tragic romantic story, which centers around traditions and firefighting in ancient Japan.

The third short is Gambo, which is directed by Hiroaki Ando. It’s probably the most violent of the four shorts, with a giant white bear in ancient Japan, who helps a little girl take care of a red demon that has plagued her village.

The final short is called A Farewell to Weapons. This entry in this anthology is directed by Hajime Katoki. It revolves around a group of men in the distant future that are tasked with destroying robotic tanks that are still lurking around, while finding important items from the past.

So, since these are all individual shorts themed around Japanese culture, how do they all compare? Well, all of them are visually creative, interesting, and impressive on a technical scale. Since this was made in 2013, they used more CGI animation, than the 2D animation with minimal CGI used in Memories. In that film, the CGI was used to help engross you into the world and help out with some of the more technical aspects. Now, usually, I don’t like it when Japan decides to mix 2D with CGI, since it’s always distracting, and never looks good. Sure, the three Berserk films look better than Sin the Movie in terms of 2D animation mixed with CGI, but even after years of technical progression, it’s still obvious to the eyes when they switch between the two. Luckily, in Short Peace, the mixture of 2D and CGI is not horrible. I actually like how fluid it all looks, and while it’s noticeable that there is CGI, it’s balanced out with some really, and I mean really, good art styles. Possessions, Combustible, Gambo, and A Farewell to Weapons are all distinct with Possessions having a beautiful CGI painted look, Combustible looking like those woodblock paintings, Gambo having a rough sketchy style, and A Farewell to Weapons having the more traditional anime that you would recognize. If I had to pick my favorite shorts in terms of overall enjoyability, I would have to choose Possessions and A Farewell to Arms. Possessions feels like a short film made by Mamoru Hosoda or Hayao Miyazaki. It’s charming, and shows what kind of stories can come out of anime when they aren’t catering to the lazy anime tropes we see today. It’s an experience with very little fighting, and that is impressive to me. A Farewell to Weapons is an intense action flick that is based on one of Otomo’s short stories, and has probably one of the most black comedy twist endings that I have ever seen. It really reminds me of the Stink Bomb segment from Memories in terms of endings.

Sadly, I found Gambo and Otomo’s Combustible to be the weaker of the two, but Combustible is definitely the weakest, in terms of shorts. I think the biggest problem with both shorts is that they should have been longer and had more details. Gambo is interesting, but who was Gambo? Was he a God? Was he a spirit? I mean, I can understand Gambo a bit more than Combustible. While elements of Combustible can be thrilling, like the intense firefighting scenes, and seeing what life was like back during that time period, the interaction and connection between the female and male lead is not super strong, and the female lead isn’t interesting. I also found her logic of trying to escape the fire questionable at best. Did she just not want to listen to the guy wanting to save her life?! I want to feel badly for her, but she does herself in by not telling anyone about a fire she started, or getting out of there instead of staying there until the fire got way out of hand. I honestly don’t know if the writers and Otomo wanted to make the final tragic scene something symbolic or not. I always hate saying that Otomo’s segments of these anthology films are the weakest parts, but his “emotional experience over proper storytelling” style does creep up in this film. Not to say you can’t get what is going on, and downright love/adore the unique art style and how it looks like it was all on a scroll, but it’s hard to overlook the narrative problems.

Still, the best part about this movie is that it’s good and very ambitious. In a day and age of CGI animation becoming very similar looking, since most third-party studios want to be the next Disney, DreamWorks, and Pixar, Japan and other countries still want to try out and use different styles, and for the most part, do 2D animation. Short Peace is a great example of both style and ambition to be something different. If you haven’t purchased this movie yet, you definitely should. Even with its shortcomings, it’s still a great watch. Sadly, Japanese Animation Month is over, but that doesn’t mean I am done talking about animated films from Japan, since next time, we take a look at Lupin the 3rd’s first outing in a movie with The Mystery of Mamo. Thanks for reading my work, I hope you like it, and see you all next time!

Rating: Go see it!

The Other Side of Animation 30: Akira Review


(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work with video game reviews, editorials, lists, talk about Kickstarters, interview developers, and review/talk about animated films. If you want to, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview.biz. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

It’s funny, to me, anyway, that I am going to review pretty much everything by Katsuhiro Otomo before I get to anything by Hayao Miyazaki or Mamoru Hosoda. I didn’t plan this at all, but it’s interesting to look at a well-known director’s work, and see his little touches in whatever he is working on. Of course, the casual moviegoer won’t know who this guy is, but if you know anything about anime or animation, you have definitely seen his prized pupil, Akira. This legendary film, based off Otomo’s manga of the same name, was released in Japan in 1988, and was brought over to the states in 1991. It’s considered one of the greatest animated films of all time, and one of the best pieces of Japanese animation around. It’s a landmark title, not only for Japanese animation, but for filmmaking, in general. So, what do I think of the film?  Well, let’s dive into Otomo’s classic, and you will see what’s up.

The story takes place after Japan was hit by a large explosion during World War III, and it is now 2019. One of the many plots that go on in this movie revolves around a young biker named Tetsuo Shima, voiced in the redub by Joshua Seth, who is in a gang with his friend, Shotaro Kaneda, voiced by the lovable Johnny Yong Bosch. One day, after picking a fight with another gang, Tetsuo crashes his bike in front of a small blue-skinned boy with white hair. This somehow unleashes the psychic powers that were inside Tetsuo. After gaining said powers and being experimented on, he goes on a bit of a rampage to find a being that these psychic children (like the blue-skinned one that I just mentioned) know as Akira. Now, the entire city is after Tetsuo, including the government, a military organization, a terrorist group, a cult that worships an individual known as Akira, and even his own friend, Shotaro. On top of all this, you also have a huge rebellion going on inside the city that is causing mass destruction, with the main goal of taking down a corrupt government.

Before we get into what is wrong with this adaptation, let’s talk about the good stuff since there is just so much to love about this movie from a technical point of view. For Japanese-made animation, it is truly breathtaking. Knowing that a lot of this had to be done by hand is just a feat that is herculean, since cel animation is expensive work. It’s so smooth, and not herky-jerky like anime was in the past. This was during a time where anime was getting slightly better in terms of being able to move every single part of the character, but Akira was the starting point for anime to start looking like it had a budget behind it. I also adore the music. I know it can be made fun of, but it sounds emotional and primal. It helps immerse you in this film that is definitely about emotion, as the overall experience felt like a volcano just building up and ready to explode.

Too bad that volcano’s explosion is no more than just a bunch of nothing. Yeah, as much as I love watching Akira for its visuals and pristine animation, the story is not well put together. I mean, there is plenty of it, but since it’s 2016, it’s time to start laying down the fact that the film version Akira is a poorly put together adaptation. Basically, it pulled an Age of Ultron and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice by having way too much going on in it. You see what’s going on, but don’t understand it. I have watched this film four times in my lifetime, and each time I have watched it, I always felt a bit confused about certain elements. Sure, I could go read the manga that is 2000 pages long, and look up the facts on the internet, but an adaptation should stand up on its own without having to know the source material. Films like Mary Poppins and the How to Train your Dragon series are a blast to watch, and you don’t need to have to know about the product at hand to enjoy them. It’s an argument I never fully agreed with since this is a movie, and what we see should be good, first and foremost. Make sure the story/characters are good, then worry about everything else. It’s quite obvious Otomo didn’t really know how to tell the entire story properly. It’s something I have known/heard about Otomo, where he’d rather make a film as a more emotional experience than a “set in stone” story. It’s an interesting quirk about him that you see in his films, like his directed segments in MemoriesRobot Carnival, and Short Peace.

With how condensed and cut up the story feels, it leads you with characters who are not really interesting. Why should I care? What the heck is going on? Why does Tetsuo’s change from arrogant biker punk to psycho feel a little out of left field? Why do they want the kids with the psychic abilities? I was asking a lot of these kinds of questions during the film’s two-hour runtime. While I do enjoy longer movies, due to how the story was set up in this movie, it personally feels a tad too long. A lot of the second half and final third is basically Tetsuo cleaning house with the military, which could have been used to either show or dump exposition on the world that this film is set in. Here’s an idea, why not make Akira into two movies, or not make it a movie at all? Sometimes, the source material is not made or set up to be turned into a movie. Or at the very least, Akira should have been two movies instead of one. You don’t really learn why the public is turning to terrorism, or a bunch of little details that could help explain elements better about the psychic abilities, and so on. The ending is such a non-ending, where I overall felt cheated out of something that so many people praise as an all-time classic. Nothing is more infuriating than having so much potential built up, and it all falls flat in the end. It makes this film tedious to watch.

Listen, I’m not saying Akira is a horrible movie. Sure, its story is denser than 15 hummers crushed into one giant metal cube, but there is something to admire about the movie as a whole. It’s an animated marvel, and I never want this movie to lose its legacy just because I didn’t care for the story. It deserves the legacy that it brought with it, and should be checked out if you haven’t seen it. It might be a mess, in terms of storytelling, but it’s a film everyone should see. It just reminds me how great Japanese animation can be when it’s done well, and not the usual male gaze-filled tripe we see today. How about for the rest of April, we do a Japanese Animation Month!? Next time, we will be looking at REDLINE. Thanks for reading this article! I hope you liked it, and see you all next time!

Rating: Rent It!

The Other Side of Animation: Robot Carnival Review

 
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(If you like what you see, go to camseyeview.biz to see the rest of my work. If you want to, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. Thanks for reading and enjoy the review! )

Here we are with another anthology film. This specific anthology is known as Robot Carnival, a nine-animated short film experience that has an impressive pedigree behind the multiple directors of the shorts. For example, before making Akira, Katsuhiro Otomo worked on this film and the extremely hard-to-find Neo Tokyo. When I say a pedigree of Japanese animation directors who worked on some very famous anime in some way, shape, or form, I really mean it. You have the likes of Koji Morimoto (Memories: Magnetic Rose segment, Animatrix: Beyond segment, Catherine, First Squad), Atsuko Fukushima (Giovanni’s Island, Memories, Roujin Z),Manabu Òhashi (Metropolis, Neo Tokyo, The Dagger of Kamui, Barefoot Gen), Hidetoshi Òmori (Batman: Under the Red Hood, Princess Nine, Angel Cop),Yasuomi Umetsu (Lily C.A.T., Mezzo Forte, Sol Bianca: The Legacy), Hiroyuki Kitazume (Megazone 23, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ), Hiroyuki Kitakubo (Roujin Z, Blood: The Last Vampire, Black Magic M-66, Golden Boy), and Takashi Nakamura (Yatterman, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Akira, Tetsujin 28-go,A Tree of Palme, Harmony, Fantastic Children). The best part about all of these directors is that a lot of them had never directed anything before this project. For these directors’ first times, this is some really visually impressive animation. Does it have its flaws? Well, let’s take a look at these short films.

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I’m going to talk about the shorts in order of when they appear, but will combine the opening, ending, and epilogue short in the first part of this section of the review. The Opening, Ending, and Epilogue shorts were all directed by Katsuhiro Otomo and Atsuko Fukushima. They tell of a deserted world that has had the unfortunate encounter with the infamous Robot Carnival, a titan-sized piece of machinery that was once a sign of excitement and joy, but now unintentionally causes mass destruction onto any innocent villages that happen to be in its way.

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The second short is called Franken’s Gears, which is directed by Koji Morimoto. It’s the tale of a mad scientist spending a dark and stormy night to bring a massive robot to life. It’s basically a sci-fi version of Frankenstein.

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The third short is called Deprive, which is directed by Hidetoshi Omori. This is one of the more anime/sci-fi intense stories. It’s about a massive alien robot invasion that has destroyed the world. One group of robotic foot soldiers has kidnapped an android’s human friend/companion, and the android ventures off to rescue her.

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Up next is the fourth short, titled Presence, which is directed by Yasuomi Umetsu, and is one of two shorts in Robot Carnival that has dialogue in it. It’s the tale of a man who is obsessed with a female robot that he has created to make up for a lack of any close emotional ties with his family. One day the doctor realizes his robotic creation has developed a mind of her own, not as a result of anything that he intentionally did.

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The fifth short is called Star Light Angel. This section is directed by Hiroyuki Kitazume, and is another short that is very anime-ish. It stars two girls who are having a great time at an amusement park, only to have heartbreak happen with one of the girls finding out that her boyfriend is dating her friend on the side. Upset by this, she runs to this virtual reality ride, and ends up making nightmarish creatures appear, but is then saved by a robot.

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The sixth short is probably one of my favorites. It’s called Cloud, and is directed by Manabu Òhashi. It’s a story about an angel that brings a robot to life. It walks through the life and evolution of mankind, represented by the visuals in the background.

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After Cloud, we have the seventh short titled Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner’s Invasion. This section is directed by Hiroyuki Kitakubo. Basically, it’s a giant robot fight between one that is heavily inspired by Japan, and another robot that is inspired by the west. It’s a fun, goofy, and over-the-top brawl between the east and the west.

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The final short before the bookend of the film, and quite possibly, my favorite sequence in the entire film, is called Chicken Man and Red Neck. It’s directed by Takashi Nakamura, and was inspired by two different Disney shorts, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and Night on Bald Mountain. The story of this sequence is basically a giant, devil-like robot that comes out during the night in Tokyo, and brings forth a red cloaked robot named Red Neck. Red Neck then helps bring robots and machines to life for a night of havoc and partying, with only a single drunk human named Chicken Man awake during this whole night of chaos.

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For Robot Carnival being a first-time project for some of these big names in animation, it’s interesting to see what they came up with. It’s like giving a first-time animator/director the funding to make a short film about whatever they want. What would they come up with? What kind of story would they want to tell? Of course, some of the shorts lean more on 80s anime-style themes, and look like Deprive and Star Light Angel, which look like anime from the time, but then you see some truly outstanding anime that I personally never saw during that period of time of the anime scene. Segments like Cloud and Chicken Man and Red Neck are prime examples. To me, anything from Disney, Dreamworks, Pixar, and anime in general, is at its best when they have a story to tell, and not cynically make the film/show just because some higher-up execs want to sell a lot of merchandise or try way too hard to appeal to the average Joe. I don’t like anime that is blatant fan-service, or tries to cater to one crowd. When you use the medium of anime/animation to tell a story, and give the viewer an experience they can all get into, then everyone wins. Cloud is just experimental for anime, and Chicken Man and Red Neck is just an intense, but crazy ride that is a joy to watch. Some of the other shorts can also be emotionally gripping, like Presence, where you see the surprise, fear, joy, and sadness throughout the entire short when the inventor realizes his creation has gained life in a way he was not prepared for. I know there are probably some underlying tones and themes with a couple of the shorts like how Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner’s Invasion is themed around Japanese World War II propaganda, with the west invading the east, but in the end, it’s fun to see a creative giant robot fight.

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To me, the animation is amazing throughout the entire film. This was impressive-looking visuals from 1987, a few years before Akira changed the face with how anime is, well, animated. It’s all very expressive, and it shows why anime from the 80s to the 90s was so cool. Anime these days is very paint-by-numbers, clean, and very predictable looking. Anime during the 80s and 90s had much more varied-looking male and female characters. I think one character out of the entire anthology that is a good example of this Chicken Man. He was very expressive, kind of goofy-looking, and was probably inspired by the movement and mannerisms of Ichabod Crane from Disney’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow. His response to everything that goes on around him is complimented by the great musical score and the really creative visuals. Of course, Cloud might be the most visually interesting, since it’s basically something so anti-anime that it looks like it could fit right in with the original Fantasia. I know I talk about a few of the shorts in more detail than others, but that doesn’t mean that shorts like Franken Gears, Deprive, or Star Light Angel shouldn’t be commended for being fun and interesting, since they both look like something ripped right out of the 80s, with a huge slice of 80s music cheese, and not to mention Deprive’s villain, who has one of the goofiest hairstyles I have ever seen.

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If I had to pick a major complaint with the anthology, it is, of course, the problem with most anthology films, in that some shorts won’t be as good as others. Granted, it’s not as bad as Halo Legends, but I don’t know anyone who said that Star Light Angel and Deprive were the best shorts on the disc. I also found the English dub part during Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner’s Invasion to be slightly stereotypical for the Japanese side of the short’s conflict. It almost sounds like Mickey Rooney’s character from Breakfast at Tiffany’s stereotype. Granted, I purchased the older DVD version from Vscape Enterprise, but now Robot Carnival is owned by Discotek Media, and I can’t find a way to know if the Discotek Media version is just the same dub or not. If you do watch this short, just watch it in the Japanese dub with English subtitles, since the short is unique with the west speaking English, and the east speaking Japanese.

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Robot Carnival is a fun and visually exciting experience. I can’t recommend this anthology film enough for not only anime fans, but fans of movies and animation should make sure to obtain this movie. Like I said above, there are two versions of the DVD to find. You can get the Vscape Enterprise version, which just has the English dub, Japanese dub, English subtitles, and the theatrical trailer. It’s a region 0 DVD. It’s probably the version you will find the most on Ebay. Oh, and it’s an import, and thankfully, not a bootleg. However, if you would rather have a nicer more prestigious-looking cover for your DVD box, and a more official American release version, then go get the Discotek media version. I am personally probably going to do that in the future. Unfortunately, depending on which one you get, the DVD itself lacks content, which is a really big disappointment, since I would have loved to have seen the individual directors talk about their inspiration for each of the shorts. It’s amazing to know that this film came out a few years before the groundbreaking Akira, but has been unfortunately forgotten by the mass movie-going public. Again, if you want to see some of the best animation/anime that the 80s could offer, and love animation, you owe it to yourself to own this movie. Well, we are getting close to the 20th animation review. If you want to see me review either Delgo, Cool World, or Triplets of Belleville, make sure to put a comment below the article, send me a message on my Facebook, or send me an email. For now, we need another movie to pass the time. How about we talk about the first mainstream Spanish-animated film with The Book of Life? Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation: Memories Review


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After 10 reviews of nothing but European and American animated films, I am finally talking about one of my favorite animated films, Memories, from the land of the rising sun, ramen, anime, and Godzilla. This series of short films is by famous animator Katushiro Otomo, the mind behind famous and popular animated films/manga like Akira, Neo Tokyo, Robot Carnival, Steamboy, and Short Peace. The three short films that we are going to review today are based on short stories that Otomo himself has written. Let’s dive in and check out these three individual short films.

The first film up is Magnetic Rose, directed by Koji Morimoto, who is also well known for his work on games like Catherine, and anime like First Squad, Mind Game, and one of the segments in The Animatrix. The screenplay was helmed by one of my favorite animation icons, the late and always great Satoshi Kon, who worked on Tokyo Godfathers, Perfect Blue, and Paprika. The story revolves around a four-person team in a salvage freighter, as they are traveling around in space. Upon finishing one job, they get an SOS, and head to this graveyard of salvage, into what looks like a giant metal rose. Of course, as they go inside, the SOS might be more dangerous than they thought.

The second film is called Stink Bomb, which is directed by Tensai Okamura. He is mostly well known for doing storyboards for a lot of well-known anime like Samurai Champloo, Wolf’s Rain, Soul Eater, and worked on films like Neo Tokyo, Ghost in the Shell, and Jin-Roh. Stink Bomb is a black comedy revolving around a young lab technician named Nobuo Tanaka. Including him and everyone in his town, a serious cold breakout has been doing a number on poor Nobuo. Instead of doing the sensible thing and going home, one of his coworkers suggests he try a new prototype pill in their boss’s office. After taking the pill and resting his eyes, Nobuo wakes up to find everyone dead. This alerts the Japanese Government and, unknowing to Nobuo, the “experimental pills” Nobuo took caused a gas to permeate from his body that kills anyone or anything within a certain distance.

The final short is called Cannon Fodder, which is directed by Katsuhiro Otomo himself. The story is about an entire city that does nothing but prep cannons, and fire said cannons at an unknown enemy.

So, what is so great about these three short films? Well, each film has their own vibe, and are grand in scale in their own ways. Magnetic Rose is obviously everyone’s favorite due to how much of a complete story it is. At first it starts out as an atmospheric sci-fi tale, but then two of the crew members, Miguel and Heintz venture forth inside the location of the distress call. It then turns into a ghost story, with the giant metal rose-like location housing multiple European architectural pieces, holograms of the European countryside, and a large portrait of what is apparently the owner of said abandoned structure. I won’t spoil what happens in this short film, but it’s truly one of the best examples of not only animation, but anime.

Stink Bomb is just an epic black comedy with well executed animation and rather humorous sequences. Seeing so many soldiers and people run to the hills, because of one oblivious and uninformed idiot who took a pill that just happened to make him the symbol of death, is hilarious. It’s like the epic comedic scale you saw in the first Blues Brothers movie. The poor guy took an experimental pill that turned him into a walking cloud of death, and he is unaware of it all. Like I said, what makes this short film work is that it’s a huge epic black comedy. It is definitely a very humorous tale with some top-notch animation.

Unfortunately, the weakest, but most visually impressive short of the three is the one directed by the Otomo himself, Cannon Fodder. It’s an anti-war message, since the people in this city have been fighting for so long that they honestly don’t know what they are attacking. Granted, they do a lot to build up this short’s universe, and how everything works, and the many positions and jobs these people have. What it lacks in length and story, it makes up with personality. Some parts can be dramatic, like how the only person on the deck to fire the cannons is the one who pulls the trigger, and if your loading team messes up, they have to stand right by the cannon that could potentially blow up on them. It’s an interesting world, but there isn’t enough time spent in it to match the first two animated shorts.

Let’s get back on track with the positives! Like I said, the animation in all of these shorts is grade A quality. Even after 10 years, it holds up incredibly well. Even if Cannon Fodder is the weakest of the three shorts, it’s the most visually striking, with animation that looks like something out of the most talented artist’s sketchbook with its grungy, but at the same time, bright colors. The music in all three shorts is fitting, with ambient epic scores for Magnetic Rose, quirky off-beat music for Stink Bomb, and mechanical/military sounding music for Cannon Fodder.

Memories is a work of art, and one of the highest caliber pieces of animation to ever come out of Japan. Sure, you could argue that Stink Bomb and Cannon Fodder are more like visual experiences, since their plots are not as in-depth as Magnetic Rose, but I feel like that is being unfair to the other two shorts. All three offer varying and uniquely different experiences, and they all work in their own right. My only real complaint is that we never got an English dub of the three, but in the long run, it probably doesn’t matter. I would love to see what company would grab this, and what English-speaking actors they would choose, but they would have to make sure they put in perfect performances to match what is happening on the screen. If you haven’t picked this film up yet, you should. It’s easily one of the best anthology films around, and easily worth your time. Well, how about we move onto another ambitious piece of animation for the time of its release, with Fritz the Cat? Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials