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

Memories 1995

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Memories (1995)

Katsuhiro Otomo had been involved with two other anthologies (and one afterwards) prior to Memories, and while I’m still hunting down Neo Tokyo, I’m pretty confident in saying that Memories will remain my favourite.

And maybe there’s a certain amount of nostalgia in that – some of the stuff we see as teenagers seems to cling to us for decades after, right? Well, this is one of those titles but I think most anime fans would enjoy at least two out of the three shorts in this anthology regardless of the production context or their age.

Actually – let me re-phrase, if you like science-fiction and a bit of light horror, maybe some dark comedy or allegory, then Memories has you covered.

The anthology is made up of three pieces – all based on Katsuhiro Otomo’s short manga works, and features three directors. For me (and for most folks it seems) the stand out is Magnetic Rose (dir. Kōji Morimoto), which is as haunting as it is beautiful. Everything about it is top notch and I’d recommend seeing Magnetic Rose if you had to choose just one. Now, I’m definitely biased as there’s a lot of involvement from some of my favourite industry figures – there’s the Otomo source material and a screenplay by Satoshi Kon and music by Yoko Kanno, but the nightmarish search of the ruined ship and its decaying memories really is mesmerising.

The other two stories, Stink Bomb (dir. Tensai Okamura) and Cannon Fodder (dir. Katsuhiro Otomo) are just as well put-together but for me not quite as good as the opener – Stink Bomb has some moments of dark comedy but it’s closer to a tragedy in the end, and features some great animation too. The final short is easily the more distinctive when it comes to art style, but perhaps due to its allegorical nature the message seemed stronger than the story; it came closer to being a vignette actually.

I actually would love to see more of the anthology format, as it seems to have resurface only occasionally across the last twenty years. Or maybe it’s more that I’ve missed them? Obviously I remember Short Peace from 2013 and I was also excited to see that Studio Ponoc’s second work is also an anthology (Modest Heroes) so the anthology approach isn’t ‘gone’ but it did seem like it was no longer in fashion for quite a while there.

4 Stars