Reviews

“Animator Expo” (2014) and related work:

“Animator Expo” (2014)

Seen in 2016.

Seen on www.animatorexpo.com.

Short films (max. 10 minutes) produced as talent showcases or experiments.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture series

“The Dragon Dentist” (2014) IMDb

Tsurumaki Kazuya (director), Maijō Ōtarō (director).

Seen in 2016.

Revered caretakers of the teeth of living dragons help bring the great beasts to war in the approximate equivalent of the 1930s.

Segment 1. Alt-history adventure; effective as a pilot.

References here: Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Masotan (2018).

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

“Hill Climb Girl” (2014) IMDb

Seen in 2016.

Two high-schoolers race each other to school on bicycles, in contemporary Japan. One of them is inspired by a professional racer’s spurt to the finish. Her victory turns out to be a meet cute.

Segment 2. Sports action comedy. A somewhat impressive technical showcase, with a lot of the usual 2D character CGI bugs ironed out, but it still looks dull. The title song is also not good.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

“Me! Me! Me!” (2014)

Seen in 2016.

A peculiar blend of Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995) references, MTV-like softcore porn and zombie pastiche imagery among other nerdiness.

Segment 3. Hyperviolent house music video double feature. Impressive editing work, more than anything else. There is a readily available reading of this short as negative commentary on Japanese masculine geek culture, because it combines anti-realistic sexuality and violence with images of the sleeping and dreaming protagonist being wounded, screaming and crying, possibly having had a bad breakup or romantic rejection. However, there is no sign of depth or sincerity to such a criticism, and no suggestion of a solution.

References here: “Spring Song” (1931/1932), “Me! Me! Me! Chronic” (2015), “Girl” (2015).

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture music video

“Carnage” (2014) IMDb

Seen in 2016.

Many years after being maimed and having her father(?) hung and shot by ruffians, a woman seeks revenge.

Segment 4. Western revenge story. This attempt to make a compressed and less flashy Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) falls apart on several levels. The protagonist is rarely dressed for no apparent reason, the scratched film look is not done very well, the lighting design is ineffective—notice how the candles in the church produce a steady, fuzzy elliptical mask rather than a natural pattern—and the technology of the setting—with a tiled shower room and a pretty modern semi-automatic pistol—is inconsistent with the mid-1800s Western genre elements of the setting. The only good parts are a few realistic character designs and a flashback scene where every line is spoken in Japanese and subtitled in Japanese to recall the Japanese experience of watching actual Westerns.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

“20min Walk from Nishi-Ogikubo Station” (2014) IMDb

Seen in 2016.

One half of a young couple dreams that she wakes up as a cockroach, but unlike Gregor Samsa, she perceives herself as human, and is only the size of a real cockroach. In the dream, though apparently not in reality, her boyfriend has a phobia of bugs.

Segment 6. Adventure and an adaptation of “The Metamorphosis” (1915). The full title translates as “20min Walk From Nishi-Ogikubo Station, 2 Bedrooms, Living Room, Dining Room, Kitchen, 2mos Deposit, No Pets Allowed.” It’s about the giddiness and initial insecurity of the transformation into living as a couple, though on another level, it’s entirely about fantastic animation.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

“Until You Come to Me” (2014)

Seen in 2016.

Quiet scenes in the ruins of Tokyo-3.

Segment 7. Wordless, plotless apparent sequel to Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo (2012). Worth seeing only for the pretty backgrounds, and even then, probably only if you like NGE.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

“Tomorrow from There” (2015)

Seen in 2016.

A young adult with an egg-shaped phone finds her wings.

Segment 8. The blue-grey digital ink and near-absence of on-character shadows make it look a bit dull, but the theme is quite well done.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture music video

“Lightning Superman Gridman” (2015)

Seen in 2016.

Little more than a very long series of mecha transformation sequences.

Segment 9. Mecha action. Fetishistic.

References here: SSSS.Gridman (2018).

animation fiction Japanese production mecha moving picture

“Yamadeloid” (2015)

Seen in 2016.

Segment 10. A comedic music video crossing the samurai drama and shy romance of Rurouni Kenshin (1996) with the more stylized design and outré plotting of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (2012). A pretty good comedic tone, but not much else is achieved.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture music video

“Power Plant No. 33” (2015)

Seen in 2016.

Kaijuu as a source of electrical energy. Sparks everywhere.

Segment 11. Yoshiura Yasuhiro SF. Strongly reminiscent of Ōtomo Katsuhiro’s imagination, with 1980s-size cell phones sparking away and everybody wearing some kind of armour (insulation?), apparently accustomed to occasional robot-monster battles in this mad industrial world. Cf. Cannon Fodder (1996). Boring 3D CGI parts.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

“Confidential: Evangelion: Another Impact” (2015) IMDb

Seen in 2016.

Some time after Tokyo-3’s landscape has become dominated by lakes of blood, a dark Evangelion briefly goes berserk and trashes some more of the city.

Segment 12. Technical demonstration. Aramaki Shinji helmed this near-plotless short, which I can only assume was intended to suggest improvements upon the cel-shaded 3D Evas of Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo (2012) using a wide range of tricks.

References here: “Making of: Evangelion: Another Impact” (2015).

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

“Kanón” (2015) IMDb

Seen in 2016.

A man, Adam, destroys the world with a special cannon, and then tries and fails to create a better one, one person at a time. Ultimately, the spawn of his creations go to war, hating him for their human flaws.

Segment 13; the season 2 opener. An adaptation of the play Adam the Creator (Adam stvořitel in the original Czech, 1927). More strongly reminiscent of European art animation than of anything else in the Animator Expo series. The romantic chibikko character of Lilith, I assume, was not one of the Čapeks’ many original contributions to world literature.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

“Sex & Violence with Machspeed” (2015) IMDb

Seen in 2016.

Sex and violence, which are of course characters.

Segment 14. Imaishi Hiroyuki—Tengen toppa gurren lagann (2007), Kill La Kill (2013)—directs this comedic short in an exaggerated form of the style of his own Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt (2010). That being the case, this one would also have fit in at Animafest Zagreb. I have nothing against Imaishi’s bad taste, but there’s nothing else here.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

“Obake-chan” (2015)

Seen in 2016.

Pre-teen translucent girl Obake-chan (“Little Ghost”) wears a ghost costume and looks up to her senior, Death. She can’t intimidate anyone, but is lucky enough to obtain several copies of Excalibur where a D&D adventuring party—fighter, barbarian, wizard, cleric—do not.

Segment 15. A series of tiny, often-sexual comedic skits patterned after Habanero-tan comics and similar works. Nicely realized. The beige cardboard background gives it a soft and friendly feel. The Evangelion musical cue jokes are particularly nice. The entire end credits sequence is set to an instrumental version of “Komm, süsser Tod” over a montage of unremarkable photos with a ghost edited into them, which is fun.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

“Tokio of the Moon’s Shadow” (2015)

Seen in 2016.

A hero whose eyes produce twinkling dust saves the inner planets from destruction.

Segment 16. Test film. I suppose it wasn’t intended to be taken seriously. Mission accomplished.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

“Three Fallen Witnesses” (2015)

Seen in 2016.

Cops construct and actively interfere with holographic renditions of memory obtained from genetic samples of criminal suspects, looking for evidence.

Segment 17. Very soft crime SF. A stupid supernatural premise. The only interest here is in the atypicality of the cel-shaded character animation: Near-realistically proportioned and relatively deeply shaded adults, directed almost like live action.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

“The Diary of Ochibi” (2015)

Seen in 2016.

A young boy’s innocent adventures through the four seasons.

Segment 18. Mixed-media animation. The mix of digital and analog tools is unconvincing. So much is edited in digitally, over the stop-motion photos of physical objects, that there is very little sense of physicality. I suppose photography was used as some kind of homage to the old masters.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

“I Can Friday by Day!” (2015)

Tsurumaki Kazuya (director).

Seen in 2016.

Rival units of tiny rodent-like aliens use humanoid vehicles to do battle over resources of pan-galactic importance. This is the true story behind what appears to be two ordinary girls from different schools, and their romantic competition over a boy.

Segment 19. This one has everything. Competent cel-shaded 3D animation in an epic sci-fi action romantic comedy. The target substance, ikemesium, comes from ikemen, “hot guy”. A brilliant combination of underdog tank combat with a stereotypical dojikko romance. It’s actually poignant in all its weirdness. Don’t miss the final scene after the credits.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

“Making of: Evangelion: Another Impact” (2015)

Seen in 2016.

Some of the effects work on “Confidential: Evangelion: Another Impact” (2015).

Segment 20B. Literally a set of instruction materials for CGI makers, but only 4 minutes long and with no explanations at all.

animation Japanese production moving picture non-fiction

“Me! Me! Me! Chronic” (2015)

Seen in 2016.

Segment 20A. Aurally more grating and visually more abstract ruminations upon “Me! Me! Me!” (2014). Little new material and little merit.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

“Iconic Field” (2015)

Seen in 2016.

Plucky guy-girl pilot team with ancient mecha versus some kind of bio-horror Darth Vader.

Segment 21. Mecha action. I agree completely with ANN’s Kevin Cirugeda. A lot of the details are beautifully crafted, but the whole thing is thrown together like a teaser for a movie that was neither written nor supposed to exist, and it shows.

animation fiction Japanese production mecha moving picture

“On a Gloomy Night” (2015)

Seen in 2016.

Japan is Balkanized, apparently by Chinese expansionism and the withdrawal of US support. Much of the remaining country comes to be controlled by a charismatic pro-business politician who sells off underperforming regions to other nations, despite having been propped up by a righteous protagonist protester who was chemically castrated following some of the early Anpo riots.

Segment 22. Dystopia based on a novel, Sakaki Ren’s The Faceless Dictator. The story recalls A Spirit of the Sun (2006) and is probably a commonplace thing in political Japanese SF. At face value the premise isn’t very well implemented, but I would have been curious to see a feature film based on this short, it if it hadn’t been for the stereotypical women: The dark femme fatale sleeping her way through politics versus the unattainable, light, artistic girl on the balcony of a classicist country house. A fine but threadbare choice of music: The degradation of Japan in a new age set to “Auld Lang Syne”.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

“Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen” (2015)

Seen in 2016.

The impossibility of romantic success among early-20th-century Paris prostitutes and their clients.

Segment 23. Barely animated trailer for an Anno Moyoco comic, here boringly adapted to a medium for which it is ill suited. When I think of era brothels, I think of Black Venus (2010), not this cleaned-up abstraction full of beautiful people. The Shirō Sagisu music is OK though.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

“Rapid Rouge” (2015) IMDb

Seen in 2016.

Soldiers try to liberate the jailed shōgun of Yatsushima—i.e. Japan—from the Aestern realm—i.e. the West—which covets its water, or so says the Animator Expo exposition. These heroes of Yatsushima wear Tokugawa-style lamellar armour and fight with swords, while the Aesterners have guns and bayonets, though the guns apparently fire something like crossbow bolts. Both sides have radio technology and computers. The leader has in fact surrendered, refuses to be liberated by force and urges the team to analyze the situation and seek a peaceful solution. The soldiers do not listen, getting their leader killed.

Segment 24. Alt-history steampunk action. The alternate history is weak with this one, and the thematic fulcrum is tossed away when the continued fighting is shown as though it were heroic. With his dying breath, the shōgun urges the sole survivor to use his death—which she caused—for political advantage, when it would have been more pragmatic and clever for her to surrender by his command. Unimpressive cel-shaded 3D animation.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

“Hammerhead” (2015)

Seen in 2016.

A criminal superhero with half a brain fights anything strong, as a means toward suicide. When it finally seems that he’s got his wish and is no longer able to repair his broken body, government forces step in and revive him once again to fight a skeletal titan menacing the city.

Segment 25; season 3 opener. Gory superhero drama. Notice how the daughter character is never bloodied, an obviously deliberate break from the realism of the animation. This is well written and brilliantly animated but more idealistic than the great Western interrogations of the genre by Moore et al. I am reminded more of The Running Man (1987).

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

“Comedy Skit 1989” (2015)

Seen in 2016.

A mob assassin contacts his twin brother, also a mob assassin, to give him some bad news.

Segment 26. Sketch comedy. Watchable, but notable only by the low standards of a one-man show.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

“Bubu & Bubulina” (2015)

Seen in 2016.

Two sisters in an absurd candyland run into trouble with a cursed pair of shoes.

Segment 27. An homage to Catnapped! The Movie (1995), which also has a mean character named Buburina, in a similar setting.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

“Endless Night” (2015) IMDb

Seen in 2016.

Figure skaters train and compete.

Segment 28. Good use of manga-style dot-pattern overlay shading in this sports bromance. I was hoping the shading would be used for moiré effects, but alas, it’s just competent figure animation thrown away on a disinteresting subject.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture music video

“Bureau of Proto Society” (2015)

Seen in 2016.

Historical committee members meet in a version of the war room from Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) to interpret scanty archives of the doomed aboveground civilization which preceded their own, not knowing that a lot of the videos they have unearthed are fiction films.

Segment 29. Comedy. The seriousness of the war room characters is a good starting point, but the jokes never take off. Poor tone and timing.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

“The Ultraman” (2015)

Seen in 2016.

Segment 30. SF action. A nostalgic tribute to Ultraman (1966). Not being a fan of 1960s tokusatsu I see little on offer here, but I am somewhat impressed by the effort expended on the old style in the new media.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

“Girl” (2015)

Seen in 2016.

Segment 31. A second follow-up to the popular “Me! Me! Me!” (2014). The critique against introversion and sexual commodification that could be read into the original is gone here, replaced by Nakamura Chieko’s purely escapist, ultra-feminine dreamworld designs. The female protagonist, named Meme in the original concept art, is now almost expressionless, until emotionally crushed by the sight of the original male protagonist with Hana, the other girl from the original, who has none of her menace in this version and no longer collaborates with Meme. What this implies is unclear.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture music video

“Neon Genesis: Impacts” (2015) IMDb

Seen in 2016.

Three friends in a Tokyo-3 high school are in a band. Divided by the civilian evacuations, they upload their last song to Nico Nico Douga (as stated in a blurb accompanying the video), where it plays while the last girl stuck in the city sits alone in one of the shelters.

Segment 32. Musical romance. A spin-off of Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995). A poorly executed romance with no meaningful connection to NGE, despite the theme of loneliness.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

“Ragnarok” (2015)

Seen in 2016.

The Japanese contribution to an international robot exhibit runs amok. The other exhibitors—the US, UK, Russia, China and Germany—all have single robots of the same size. The crowds cheer and place their bets as the unexpected battle escalates.

Segment 33. Escapist mecha action. A lot of good detail work, especially with the various civilians. Design drawings even include a pair of 白人ナード, meaning “white nerds”: foreign mecha fans. There is obviously no point to this beyond Sontag’s “aesthetics of destruction”, but do note that Dandai’s offices are destroyed in a disaffected reference to Gundam’s Bandai, and in a brief cut of animation, even a weeping, armless version of Okamoto Tarō’s “Tower of the Sun” takes a hit.

References here: “Cassette Girl” (2015).

animation fiction Japanese production mecha moving picture

“Robot on the Road” (2015) IMDb

Seen in 2016.

A woman travelling alone with a large mobile home picks up an old robot, who claims to need maintenance. Actually, it’s got a creep blog.

Segment 34. Sleazy SF comedy. The opening recalls Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou and the whole thing is so beautifully designed and animated that it’s worth watching for that reason alone. In its sincere celebration of the robot, who takes risqué pictures without permission and posts them on the Internet with obvious selfish malice, this film is genuinely creepy. The victim is fooled by a third, obviously fake, layer of sob story. It is hard to imagine anything this sexist getting made with these production values in contemporary Europe, or even the US. Fortunately, it is impossible to take anything seriously in kitsch SF where humanoid robots, as in Star Wars (1977), have near-human mentalities and go hitchhiking alone without anybody lifting an eyebrow.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

“Cassette Girl” (2015) IMDb

Seen in 2016.

Segment 35. In “20XX”, a treasure hunter scavenges for Betamax tapes in the ruins of a city wiped from history, specifically Nagaoka.

Sci-fi action. Going well beyond the recycling of the “Tower of the Sun” in “Ragnarok” (2015), this one is built almost entirely on reference: it is the “remix culture” of “Bambi Meets Godzilla” (1974) with production values. The credited cast is Hayashibara Megumi and Kōichi Yamadera, both giant stars relative to the size of the Japanese animation industry. San-kun is a Studio Nue Starship Trooper from 1977, as used in the animated Starship Troopers (1988). Yuri transforms into the bunny girl from “Daicon IV” (1983), including a flying sword vehicle. She’s got little mascot versions of a Maschinen Krieger and an NGE Asuka clipped to the handle of her gun. I can only see Asuka clearly in the design drawings, which also feature a pizza made up of Imperial Star Destroyers from Star Wars (1977), not included in the final film. The villain appears to be some combination of the Ideon from Space Runaway Ideon (1980), Optimus Prime from The Transformers (1984), the Gunbuster from Aim for the Top (1988) and many other giant robots painted black like Darth Vader. Lots of video covers form a list of further references.

In a reference I was not clear on myself, the 2-Dimensional Champions tentatively identify the final few frames as Anno Hideaki dressed up as Ultraman à la Blue Blazes (2014) in Rei’s LCL tube from Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo (2012), to which I would add that he seems to be wearing Gendo’s glasses and plotting to make a fourth film. The bunny-girl portion of the battle is reformatted to 4:3 with a filter to get the right distortions, just the way it should be, and before such filters got overused ca. 2018.

The joy of it recalls the similar homage embedded in FLCL (2000). Unfortunately the focus on T&A is heavier than it was in the classics, and the slightly choppy 3D animation does not remind me of the good old hand-drawn stuff.

animation fiction Japanese production mecha moving picture