Robot Carnival (Robotto Kānibaru)

Robot Carnival (Robotto Kānibaru) 1987

This anthology really started something great and while for me, it’s not as strong minute-to-minute as one of Otomo’s later anthology-releases Memories, it’s still a must-see for fans of anime history, or science-fiction anime.

Just like with all anthologies out there, not everyone will enjoy every single short in the collection, but out of the nine here you’ll definitely find something to like if you dig robots. For most people, a short called Presence tends to be the favourite but I’ll come to that in a little while.

Instead I’m going to quickly mention (with spoilers for shorts 4 and 8) something from each of the other pieces, some of which basically focus on the exploration of the medium and technique, rather than narrative (but that’s not necessarily a negative at all):

1 Opening

At times, the Opening (and Ending) evokes a demented, terrifying Fantasia and as impressive as it is, it’s a kinda depressing first note.  

2 Franken’s Gears

Obviously a mechanical Frankenstein – like many of the pieces here it reveals a fantastic level of detail. And, like a few of them it’s played a bit like a silent move in terms of dialogue at least.

3 Deprive

This one feels like a straight up action sci-fi (and it is) – short and to the point, I’d have loved dialogue but all the storytelling is still there and there’s some great character designs.

4 Presence

See below 🙂

5 Star Light Angel

Watching this today it kinda feels like the perfect film-clip to a city-pop love song, and the existing music in the episode already gives off that vibe, actually. Elsewhere, musical giant Joe Hisaishi ranges from action-synth or haunting piano pieces.

6 Cloud

Occasionally folks report this animated series of illustrations as their least favourite and sure, it’s not action-packed but it has the most intense visual representations of a storm; it’s worth seeing for that passage alone.

7 Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner’s Invasion

This one plays as a kinda goofball comedy or parody of a propaganda film (and most of the cast is amusing) but the lead hero is pretty tedious, as his answer to every problem or question is essentially to shout “shut up”.

8 Chicken Man and Red Neck

This is fairly harrowing and again evokes a more sinister Fantasia as robots in a futuristic city rise up to party during the night – it’s incredibly complex and often frenetic, and another highlight.

9 Ending

(As above :D)

4 Presence

And finally the most compelling of the stories, for me and many folks over the years it seems, which is Presence by Yasuomi Umetsu.

Now, there’s lots to like the fourth short film, from the clever introduction to the world and its robotics, to the lush colours and distinctive character design or the memorable storyline, but I think a lot of reviews miscategorise this one as a tragedy.

For me, it’s more of an extended vignette of a villain and a coward.

The protagonist is an ungrateful sap who has refused to accept the things which should make him happy, and attempts to replace his loneliness with a robot companion. Whether the girl (whose design is reminiscent of Holiday-era Madonna) provides companionship, sex or both, becomes almost incidental as the story takes a turn.

Once she dares to request a life of self-direction, he freaks out and attacks her. After this act, he seals his creation away and just returns to his life, continuing to ignore all the things he has and worse, things which he denied to the girl he built.

At the end, after a couple of time jumps, he commits his final act of cowardice and cements his role of villain, as someone truly worthy of the viewer’s contempt.

And that’s part of what makes it such a great short film – it evoked a strong response 🙂

Okay, there we go – spoilers over! And can you believe that I set out to make this a short review? I suck at that lately!

4 Stars

Kurogane Communication (Kurogane Komyunikeishon)

The first thing that struck me about Kurogane Communication was how clearly it evokes great robot-focused films of the past. There’s obviously a nod to Terminator in the form of Reeves (and maybe Robocop for Honi) but Ghost in the Shell is probably the text that’s referenced most often – from Major to the Puppet Master and even to the OST at times (maybe no surprise considering Kenji Kawai was involved there).

Kurogane Communication (Kurogane Komyunikeishon) 1998

Yet Kurogane Communication is probably pitched at a younger audience – it’s far brighter visually and fairly optimistic tone-wise, and most of the violence is centred around robots. (Somehow, the show evokes Astro Boy, though perhaps only vaguely). Most interesting to me, in terms of pinning down the target age group, is the fact that each episode is around 15 minutes (a little less without opening and closing). For me, that sorta had two effects – one was to give the impression of a show built for pre-teen audiences and their (perceived) shorter attention spans and the other, it seemed to compress the storytelling really well.

Each episode is a tightly constructed with a distinct problem being introduced and solved but slowly the bigger picture is also revealed and by the last act it’s a single, larger issue that faces the team. The show does squeeze in some characterisation too, and while the leads generally embody famous archetypes, there’s an interesting touch to some of them for sure. Part of the draw for me is the post-apocalyptic aspects and the mystery there – I think I am a little obsessed with imagingings of the future, and stories where humanity manages to persist in the face of its own grievous errors.

At times I think it was clear the anime didn’t have enough screen-time to set everything up, and if you give this show a shot, you’ll noticed a fair few things that feel like plot holes or unexplained conveniences. For one thing, for a while there the plot only moved forward if Haruka just ran off into danger despite solid reasons not to – but I was able to look beyond those problems easily enough. I will say that the anime worked the ‘accidental pervert’ trope far too hard for a young lead and the other bits of fan service didn’t seem to fit the tone of the show or the given scene.

Still, despite those things Kurogane Communication has heart; Spike is cute and the ending is sweet and welcome, there’s some touching moments throughout, a compelling setting, a steady pace and Angela’s backstory was a real highlight – in fact, I’d be more than happy to see a spin-off series about her life as a duelling robot 🙂

3.5 Stars