For those of you who don’t know, Evangelion director Hideaki Anno’s Studio Khara, in conjunction with media company Dwango have been running a cool little project called Animator Expo (there is an English language version of the site) for the past couple weeks. 30 short anime productions are planned for the Expo, with a new one coming out every week starting on November 7, 2014. So far, 5 of the 30 shorts have aired, so here are my thoughts on them. Rather than giving them a standard rating, I’m just going to go with a [bad/decent/good/great] scale.
On Animator Expo as a whole: It’s definitely a cool project—feels a bit like the Anime Mirai project that produced Death Billiards and Little Witch Academia—geared specifically for promoting anime as a medium. I started this post before watching the first five, so at the beginning I was pretty curious about the quality of animation and the quality of content that would come out of the project. As with anime in general, it’s been a mixed bag.
#1. The Dragon Dentist (11/7/14)—Great
It doesn’t surprise me that this comes from a novelist, because this really felt like a contemporary American litfic short story—albeit with some really neat fantastical elements worked in. It’s an ethereal, almost surreal piece, but somewhat grounded by the youthful energy of the viewpoint character. There’s also an almost Ghibli-esque sense of scale and whimsy to the whole thing; I was reminded of Spirited Away more than once. I didn’t really feel like I “got it” on my first watch, but I really enjoyed it in spite of that and am looking forward to coming back to it a few times and slowly unraveling the layers of this little short. The art style struck me as somewhat SHAFT like, so I wasn’t surprised to recognize a few of SHAFT’s bigger key animators in the credits. Definitely a cool concept and a cool watch. (Watch it here.)
Staff Notes: Written and directed by Otaro Maijo, who is actually a novelist known for heavily using his Fukui dialect (remember Chihayafuru’s Arata?) in his writing. He also writes and illustrates flash movies. Kazuya Tsurumaki, who worked with Maijo on the storybaords, has FLCL and Diebuster! to his credit as a director at Old Gainax.
#2. Hill Climb Girl (11/14/14)—Decent
This is a cute little piece. While it was fairly unambitious—just a high school girl racing against a classmate on the way to school—the protagonist, Hinako, is instantly likable and her little daydream in the second race is a lot of fun. I’m not totally certain, but I’m pretty sure the entirety of this one was done in CGI. While it’s a little disappointing to get CGI work after the beautiful hand-drawn animation of The Dragon Dentist, this was some of the best CGI directing (and character designs) that I’ve ever seen. Some of the full body shots looked kind of robotic, but those were pretty limited so overall the CGI isn’t super intrusive. With more CGI inevitably in anime’s future, it’s nice to see that there are people who can use it and use it pretty well. (Watch it here.)
Staff Notes: Director Azuma Tani is also responsible for the NyaruAni flash shorts (which are quite funny, by the way), and also has a few credits for script, series composition, and screenplay to his name. I don’t recognize any of his titles other than NyaruAni, but I thought he did a really good job here. Yasuyuki Sasaki’s music was a big highlight in the short for me; I couldn’t find anything else he’s worked on, but there were probably three tracks that really stood out to me in the 7-minute span of the short, which is a really good rate.
#3. Me!Me!Me! (11/21/14)—Bad
On a production level (music, animation), this is pretty good stuff. But, as I know I’ve said before, if your content doesn’t merit the quality of the visuals, you’ve got a problem. Me!Me!Me! is ostensibly about a guy after a really bad breakup, and while it does a pretty darn good job of capturing the whirlwind of negative emotions that come after a relationship goes down the toilet, I have to take issue with psychological position the short appears to justify. It’s in the title—this piece is about “me,” how “I” feel, “my” pain, “my” anger. It’s incredibly self-centered and the presentation is designed to direct the audience’s sympathy towards this guy. It’s not that I don’t understand the emotion—I’ve had my own painful breakups—but I don’t have much sympathy for someone who wallows in a mess of pathetic self-pity, and even less tolerance for a piece of art that indicates the way he’s managed his emotions is worthy of my sympathy. (Very NSFW, no link.)
Staff Notes: This piece was directed by Hibiki Yoshizaki, who has the AKB0048 Next Stage and Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta OPs to his credit. Again, I can’t fault his technical skills—it’s the content (he’s credited for planning and original work, by the way) I’m taking issue with. Teddy Loid’s music was the other big factor in the short. If you liked the tunes, you can find his YouTube channel here.
#4. Carnage (11/28/14)—Bad
As expected, Carnage is a pretty neat little stylistic experiment—but like Me!Me!Me!, I have problems with the content again. It seemed pretty obvious from the previously released visuals and the name of the piece that this was going to be a revenge Western, and so it was. Lots of violence, lots of blood, some nudity, some pretty provocative use of Christian and specifically Catholic visuals. The whole point, at least as far as I understand it, of a revenge Western is to show that revenge doesn’t do anything more that perpetuate the cycle of violence. Because of the short runtime, Carnage doesn’t really become anything more than sensation…and for someone like me who doesn’t find violence for the sake of violence to be entertaining or interesting, there’s nothing else Carnage has to offer me other than style. And that’s just not enough. (NSFW, no link.)
Staff Notes: This is Akira Homma’s first full-blown directing/storyboarding effort (at least as far as you can call a 7-minute short “full-blown”); he’s got a few animation director credits to his name with shows like Dennou Coil, but the majority of his work has come as a key animator on anime films (Eva 3.0, Hal, From Up on Poppy Hill).
#5. Gensatsu Gundam (12/5/2014)—Good
So, this one isn’t actually a short, but a collection of key frames from the original Mobile Suit Gundam shown next to the final version of the show. From the description on the page for the short, it seems like this clip is dedicated to two important animators from the show—Yoshikazu Yasuhiko and Ichiro Itano. The whole video is definitely a cool little artifact of one of the most popular franchises in anime history, but I suspect it holds a lot more interest for big Gundam fans and people who are really interested in the making of anime. Personally, I’m pretty awed by this stuff. Having no talent myself for drawing, the fact that people have been making TV shows with merely the pictures they draw by hand is still mind blowing. The page for the short also has a lot more information on the video itself, so if you’re interested in the details of what’s actually on screen, be sure to check it out. (Watch it here.)
Staff Notes: The description on the show page says the two animator featured in the short were huge influences on getting Hideaki Anno to start his own career as an animator. Anno directed the short, as well as handling composition and editing himself, which I think says quite a lot about what this small project meant to him.