Robot Carnival

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


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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: Robot Carnival Review

 
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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