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DIRECTED BY: , Atsuko Fukushima, Kôji Morimoto, Hiroyuki Kitazume, Manabu Ôhashi, Hidetoshi Ômori, Yasuomi Umetsu, Hiroyuki Kitakubo, Takashi Nakamura
PLOT: Robot-themed animated shorts are assembled under the banner of a traveling “Robot Carnival.”
What do you call a robot made out of all kinds of things?
It’s a dark day when the “Robot Carnival” comes to town. In a windswept desert, a young boy finds the torn remains of a poster. Who can say what the year is? All that is on display is a little village peopled by survivors: survivors who immediately suss the danger of the coming attraction. They flee to their homes, nail jagged bits of wood across doors and windows, and wait out the menace. The menace is in the form a gargantuan machine chuffing its way to the center of town; chuffing and crushing, leveling half the homes before the true fireworks begin. Yes, the Robot Carnival is here: featuring a full band, with rocket trombones; bomb-dropping ballerina-droids; and a fireworks display that will leave you flattened.
This dark whimsicality is Robot Carnival‘s opening salvo. Among the collection’s attractions is the nebulous “Clouds” segment (dir. Manabu Ôhashi), the most non-traditional of the spectacles. A series of old-photograph sections come to life, as a robot boy travels ever leftwards with meditative, and possibly mythic, imagery playing in the background. “Presence” (dir. Yasuomi Umetsu) is the longest of the bunch, and starts off with a gang of hooligans severing the head of a passing toff to use as a football; rest assured, the decapitated automaton minces no words about his displeasure at being kicked around by these young jackanapes. The tone shifts to tell the story of a steampunk toy maker who crafts a robotic companion, and who then makes an immediately regrettable decision which haunts him the rest of his days.
The crème-de-la-crème (or whatever a robot-preferred dessert substance may be) is “Nightmare” (dir. Takashi Nakamura), a beautifully eerie fantasia with a cartoonishly comic undercurrent. A strange ‘bot astride a hovering mono-cycle travels the night, zapping power transformers, vehicles—anything electrical—to summon therefrom smiling prowlers. (The sight of dozens of jaggedly lithe metal gremlins springing from an earth-mover will happily haunt my memory for years to come.) This eldritch summoner, whose manner and appearance suggest the fabled Pied Piper, is interrupted by a drunk, who espies the massing mechanical monsters and tries to hie to safety on his scooter—only to zip headlong into the massive puppet-master-bot for a sequence worthy of “Merry Melodies.”
As with any mixture, the quality varies from section to section. However, considering these anime shorts were produced by the director/animator team behind Akira, there is much comfort—and much robot—to be taken in the fact that they are one talented team among many involved in this cavalcade of clankinous and creepy contraptions . Across the seven short films, flanked by Katsuhiro Ôtomo and Atsuko Fukushima’s paired intro and outro, Robot Carnival clatters along at an occasionally uneven, but never dull, shambling of hisses, humor, gears, and grandeur.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“If you’re a core anime fan, these shorts may be a little too alien and unfamiliar, but if you have a soft spot for creative animation then there’s plenty to love here… The animation is exemplary, the art styles wildly original and the stories support the madness.” -Niels Matthijs, Onderhond