Animator Expo Impressions (Part 3)

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 a while now. 30 short anime productions are planned for the Expo, with a new one coming out every week starting on November 7, 2014. So far, 15 of the 30 shorts have aired, so here are my thoughts on the last five of them. Rather than giving them a standard rating, I’m just going to go with a [bad/decent/good/great] scale.

Previous Posts: Part 1 | Part 2

On these five shorts as a whole: Not quite as strong a group as the last batch. “SEX and VIOLENCE with MACHSPEED” is the only in the group that I’d really consider to be an animation showcase and “Kanón” grew a ton on me after a couple watches, but it’s kind of just a lot a middling stuff with one standout.

Animator Expo

#11. POWER PLANT No.33 [1/30/15]—Decent

Very cool ideas sometimes can get a little too large for their own good, and I really feel like that’s what happened with this short. The setting—a futuristic society whose electricity is gathered from a slumbering electro-dino—is super neat and the whole aesthetic of the short really worked well for me. However, this is the Animator Expo and once again we see a lot of CGI that, frankly, I’m not all that excited about. Unlike the earlier “Hill Climb Girl,” which I thought used its CGI pretty well, the CGI in “POWER PLANT No.33” feels clunky and heavy beyond the necessary weight for the two fighters. A smaller concept, one that perhaps stayed in the human world of the main character, would have, I think, better explored the setting, been more aesthetically graceful, and actually provided opportunity for more 2D animation.

Staff Notes: Art director Yuji Kaneko has a pretty scattered resume, with his biggest credit thus far coming from his work as art director for Trigger’s Kill la Kill, where he also worked on background art. Kaneko also has some key animation credits, something I’m sure is not entirely unusual, but also something that I haven’t often seen. Like the rest of his resume, those credits are scattered, although he did do key animation work on the sixth episode of the popular Pet Girl of Sakurasou. (Watch it here.)

#12. evangelion:Another Impact (Confidential) [2/6/15]—Bad

Maybe it’s because I haven’t seen Neon Genesis Evangelion yet, but all these Eva shorts are starting to rub me the wrong way, especially one like this that seems to have entirely dismissed the whole “animate” part of the Animator Expo. It’s fine if Anno and Studio Khara want to keep riffing on Eva and do it in CGI, but don’t do that in the middle of a project billed as a showcase for animation talent. This is just not interesting to me in any sort of way. Moving on. (Watch it here, although I don’t think it’s worth your time.)

#13. Kanón [3/13/15]—Great

“Kanón” is perhaps the most intellectually interesting short I’ve seen come out of Animator Expo. Where “tomorrow from there” resonated with me on a personal and emotional level, “Kanón” expresses a lot of interesting, unresolved thoughts on the relation of man to god and godlike powers, as well exploring such concepts as individuality versus conformity, emptiness versus fullness, unfairness versus fairness, ideals versus reality—and it does it all while managing to squeeze in a squeaky-voiced moegirl and having a dark sense of humor. That’s quite an accomplishment for a short piece of work like this. It also helps that the artstyle and animation is vibrant and engaging on its own, matching the quick pace at which the dialogue and ideas flow. This is probably actually my favorite short since “tomorrow from me,” passing over “The Dragon Dentist” for second place overall. (A bit NSFW, but very worth it—watch it here.)

Staff Notes: This short was based on the play (the Animator Expo site incorrectly cites or translates it as “novel) Adam Stvořitel (Adam the Creator) by Czech writer Karel Čapek, written in 1927. A writer in many different forms (plays, criticism, novels, essays), he passed away shortly before the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia. His play R.U.R. changed forever the face of science fiction writing by popularizing the term “robot.” Čapek also wrote against facism, militarism, and general “irrationalism.” Definitely a fascinating and influential literary figure, one I’d never heard about prior to this short.

#14. SEX and VIOLENCE with MACHSPEED [3/20/15]—Decent

Unlike “Me!Me!Me!,” the other Animator Expo short to which I’d imagine “SEX and VIOLENCE with MACHSPEED” will draw the most comparisons, this latest indulgent dive into…well, sex and violence feels far less toxic to me. Yes, it’s totally crash and actually kind of offensive (the main female character has literally been made into a sex toy and named after her primary function—bleh), but there’s a juvenile, sort of naive bent to it that makes it somewhat more palatable. It’s still pretty gross in the way that it delights in sexuality and violence without any sort of restraint, but at least it’s honest about what it is. I mean, it’s right there in the title. It also helps that the short is quite stylish, has a neat aesthetic, and has some cool bits of animation thrown in. (Extremely NSFW, no link.)

Staff Notes: Rather than writing about the obvious choice, director Hiroyuki Imashi (who also did key animation and worked on the original story), I want to write about the two voice actors who lent their talents to a short entitled “SEX and VIOLENCE with MACHSPEED.” As it happens, both Koichi Yamadera and Megumi Hayashibara voiced characters in the recent trash anime Cross Ange, so it seems neither have qualms about voicing characters in a show with, uh, loosely constructed attitudes on sex and violence. I don’t know how either feel about machspeed. Incidentally, both have been around for quite a while, with each of them beginning their TV anime careers in 1986—Yamadera with Bosco Adventure and Hayshibra with Maison Ikkoku.

#15. [3/27/15]—Obake-chan [3/27/15]—Decent

Well, the short itself went out with a bang (very reminiscent of Nichijou), even if the whole short wasn’t quite as engaging, pensive, or poignant as I’d hoped. Much like the recent Kokkuri-san, “Obake-chan” felt like a great chance to explore in a kind of happily dark-comedic way the loneliness of a young child trying to take on an identity as something other than human and while the short did toy with the ideas, I never felt like it really went for them, instead getting bogged down in sketches that occasionally jumped into typical “anime” moments. The structure actually recalled Nichijou‘s tendency to mix skits with short, happily vapid moments, a format I’ve always enjoyed. The aesthetic is nice, too, with the tan background adding a gently simplistic vibe to the whole short. In the end, though, it never felt like the quality of the tone was watched by the quality of the content. (Watch it here.)

Staff Notes: More Trigger-connected staff in Animator Expo! Shigeto Koyama, who did storyboarding and character design for the short, has a number of design credits to his name, including work on the mechanical design for Baymex from the recent animated Disney blockbuster Big Hero 6. Koyama’s got some interesting titles to his name, including the Eva movies, Captain EarthGargantiaGurren LagannHeroman, and Gundam Reconguista in G. In a bit of an outlier, he also has credits for the script for 4 episodes of Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt. I’m sure it’s been done before, but this is the first time I’ve seen a staff member on the visual side who wasn’t a director also have credits on the writing side or production.

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