Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Review: "Robot Carnival" (1987)

The phenomenon of Japanese Anime has pretty much broken into the mainstream these days (Hell, there's an entire Anime DVD section at Target, for crying out loud). I discovered it over ten years ago when I saw "Akira" for the first time. It was mind-blowing to me then, and like a lot of people drawn to Anime, I was hungry for more. Back then, there weren't a lot of titles to choose from, but there were interesting titles to be found if you looked hard enough.

"Robot Carnival" is an anthology of stories, all concerning robots, from different animators of the time. It's a format that proves to be a good introduction, and was used to great effect with the "Animatrix" DVD released last year. A breakdown of the stories:

"Opening" and "Closing": A wonderfully animated piece that is split in two and placed as bookends for the film. It tells the simple story of a rural country that suddenly receives notice of the Robot Carnival coming to town. But is that a good thing?

"Starlight Angel": A fluff piece of the style that mirrors much of the Anime aimed at the Japanese teen set and younger. A girl goes to an amusement park and indulges in a fantasy where a friendly, brave robot saves her from an evil robot.

"Cloud": In the most arty segment, it shows us the progress of a robot boy slowly walking across a beautifully changing landscape until he's walking into the clouds themselves.

"Deprive": This is an action film and looks like so much television Anime that have been making it to DVD lately. Nothing incredibly interesting here.

"Franken's Gears": A new twist on the "Frankenstein" tale as a sweet, eccentric old man creates a monster who deals both of them a tragic blow from not knowing his own strength. The design of the robot in particular is equal parts frightening and sympathetic.

"Presence": This is my favorite segment and is also one of the most beautifully animated. An engineer who builds a companion for himself to compensate for his rather cold wife finds that it's more than he bargained for. The tale sounds creepy, but it's actually very sweet and sad.

"A Tale of Two Robots": Easily the funniest of the segments, the setting is turn of the century Japan where a festival is about to kick off with the unveiling of a giant wooden robot. However, the five people controlling it (who are all textbook Anime characters) encounter a crazed American with a robot of his own. What follows is an incredibly awkward robot battle that destroys most of the town.

"Nightmare": This segment, about a small robot trying to evade an army of destructive machines invading it's city, aims to be more of a mood piece. It's similar to the "Night on Bald Mountain" segment in "Fantasia", but doesn't measure up to that Disney piece.
Like "Animatrix", this anthology is a very mixed bag. I mentioned "Fantasia" before, and it's also a good comparison as most of these segments are more music videos than anything else. Not that there's anything wrong with a string of music videos to animation. I happen to love both "Fantasia" films, myself. But if you're going to base your animated short films on music, it should be good music. Most of the music here is pretty cheesy 80's elctronica, such as the music for "Starlight Angel". The exception being the music for "Presence", which is as good as the animation itself. The simple piano piece is haunting and fits the story beautifully.

I would say that this is a good intro to Anime, but the genre has grown so much in the fifteen plus years since this was made. As it stands, "Animatrix" is probably a better introduction. "Robot Carnival" remains of interest to those who are really into the genre, and contains three segments that may even appeal to non-Anime enthusiasts.

For "Franken's Gears", "Presence" and "A Tale of Two Robots": Nine out of Ten
For the film complete: Six out of Ten

1 comment:

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