- Release Date
- July 1987
- 1 hr. 31 min.
Recently I was sent a link about how millennials don’t care about classics anymore. While that may be true – hopefully not – the thought got me thinking about anime movies and series that came out before my time. These older movies and series that the internet and other anime lovers have deemed classics, but are they indeed a classic, or are they just called that due to it being old? Older doesn’t always mean it’s better and vice versa, though I’ll admit that there’s something special about older anime that I can’t quite put my finger on.
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Robot Carnival is a 1987 Anthological Original Video Animation (OVA) by Another Push Pin Planning, abbreviated as A.P.P.P. Though if one does not know this film, one thing is necessary going into this then anything and that this film is nothing like what one would expect. While most movies will have one and very seldomly have two directors, this film has nine well-known directors. While that may be strange to have in a single film, it is interesting to note that the film is divided into nine different shorts, all of which are directed by a different person.
The first and last segments are directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, director of a little known film called Akira. The “Opening” sequence occurs in a desert where a boy finds a small “coming soon” poster advertising the Robot Carnival and becomes frightened and agitated. He quickly runs to his village to warn then – most likely about escaping – when a huge machine with many robotic gears and creations performing as it tramples through the town. Many years ago, this used to be a magnificent spectacle and something to be seen, now heavily rusted, damaged by decades of weathering from the desert. While the machine continues forward, the villagers try to destroy the colossal robotic beast.
The second short within this film is simply titled “Furanken no Haguruma” which translates to Franken’s Gears. The exciting part of this section is that Koji Morimoto directed it. If one hasn’t heard of him, you’ve more than likely seen his work, including Kiki’s Delivery Service, Fist of the North Star, and some of his work was also showcased in The Animatrix. While he didn’t have much experience by this point, only having done a segment for Neo Tokyo that same year, shows that his innovative ideas were vast and ready to expand.
This story was a simple version of Frankenstein’s monster, which is a safe area for a director that has little to no experience. A mad scientist tries to give life to his robot through lightning. During the vicious thunderstorm, the robot is successfully brought to life and begins to mimic his creator’s every movement. He has become overjoyed; the scientist dances with glee, trips, and falls. Seeing this the robot follows him, begins dancing, stumbles, and falls on top of the scientist, inevitably killing him under the sheer weight of his creation.
The next short within this film is simply titled “Deprive” and is directed by Hidetoshi Omori. Omori has quite an extensive anime background, including working on series such as Mobile Suit Gundam I, To Love-Ru Darkness, and even Kill la Kill, just to name a few. The story is about an alien invasion of robot foot soldiers attacking a city and kidnapping people, including a young girl. Her companion, a damaged android, though it still contains her locket as the antagonist is seen following them going through waves and waves of robots before finally being stopped. Captured by the alien leader, he is tortured, and something that gives away the ending that I won’t spoil for people who haven’t seen it.
There are very few intelligible dialogues within this film. While that may seem odd that very little is spoken within this movie, it makes the segments more poignant. Presence is the fourth story within this film, and like Morimoto, if you’re unfamiliar with the director, then you’re more likely to remember his work. Yasuomi Umetsu, best known for animating the Kite film series, has also worked on series such as Bungo Stray Dogs, Twin Star Exorcists, and Lily C.A.T., just to name a few.
The story is about a man who has become obsessed humanoid – the film calls them Gynoids – and has been secretly building one in an attempt to compensate for the lack of any close relationship with his wife and family. When the humanoid, begins to take a personality of her own, beyond what the creator had intended. He panics and destroys her, leaving her in his secret laboratory. After some time has passed, he goes back to his laboratory, and she is still there decaying away. While the rest of this segment is genuinely touching, the added ended was troublesome when they gave it a “happy” ending.
Now there are very few anime series, or segments, that have influenced pop culture and vice versa, but this one seemed to break the barrier and hasn’t been destroyed by pure 80’s craziness. Star Light Angel was directed by Hiroyuki Kitazume, most notably for his character designs for Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam series. Though this segment does give off an 80’s vibe, it doesn’t hurt the story itself, especially being a timeless plot. This segment was also heavily influenced by the music video for A-ha’s Take On Me.
The story is about two teenage friends at a robot-themed amusement. One of the girls suddenly finds out that her boyfriend is going out with another girl, her friend. Emotionally torn by her relationship being over she runs off, she finds her way onto a virtual reality ride. At first, she enjoys the ride, though her memory happens to summon a gigantic laser-breathing mecha. At the same time, one of the park employees finds himself in the role of a knight in shining armor, allowing her to let go of her darker emotions and move on with her own life.
If there were one segment that anyone needed to watch, it would be Cloud. It has one of the most simplistic stories and, at the same time, animation that can captivate any audience. It features a robot walking through time and the evolution of man but simultaneously takes you on an emotional roller coaster. This segment was done purely in a rough etching style, and its simplicity is found nowhere in today’s animation from any country, in the professional landscape.
This next segment has an appealing name to it, and it purely relies on how one chooses to watch it. The English translation is Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner’s Invasion, but if one views it through Streamline (dub version), it’s A Tale of Two Robots, Chapter 3 Foreign Invasion. While the title doesn’t change anything within the story, I find it rather amusing that Streamline Pictures decided to replace two-segment titles. Out of all the segments within this film, this is the most comedic, making sense.
This segment can best be described as a nineteenth-century World War II-era propaganda film. Westerner’s Invasion features two giant robots directed from within itself by a human crew. While the title gives the plot straightforwardly, the residents fight off a Westerner trying to take over Japan. Though this is rather funny, the dialog within this segment is somewhat dated, but even if it was in its original date, the film probably had shown its flaws with this segment.
While the film’s previous segment was more comedic, this one is the polar opposite. Chicken Man and Red Neck was directed by the man that created the characters for Akira, Takashi Nakamura. It’s set in the Tokyo city that has been overtaken by machines, turned into robots of every shape and size by the antagonist called Red Neck. They all come alive for a night of festivity, with just a single drunken individual who happened to encounter it. When the sun comes up, everything goes back to normal, but the man notices things have changed as they return to normal.
While each segment of this film has different art styles ranging from simplistic etchings to great detail within the backgrounds and characters. But unlike other films where it switches from one style in this sequence to another, this movie doesn’t stick to one very long. From the very opening, it leads its viewers into thinking its dark and gritty, which is indeed due to the destruction. Though what this art style does correctly is that it conducts itself with the performance all on its own. There are minimal dialogue lines within this film, and that leaves the viewer into interpreting things differently. Sometimes that’s better, and sometimes it’s detrimental to a movie, and in this case, it’s beautiful.
Though the film’s multiple art styles are going to be hit or miss with everyone, given that it’s an anthology, which is truly magnificent, this film is the production behind the animation. They had shown their pure mastering behind each segment. They cultivated every emotion, like love, sadness, fear, horror, and even mystery within this film without relying on dialogue. They built the atmosphere with the animation and proved to even modern-day films that words aren’t always needed. Much like the closest Western film of this same caliber, Fantasia has no dialogue and captivates its audience.
Though these two aren’t perfect, by any means, but within those flaws are beautiful creations of itself. This heavily experimental film relies more on narrative towards robots, and sometimes the designs haven’t aged well. Another aspect of this film was the self-destruction of pathos, and it’ll show the viewer extra scenes that will make the ending worse due to it being given a happy ending. Either with flashing lights or explosions – some of them truly funny, and usually for the wrong reasons. If one expects to find utter perfection from this film, they’ll be sadly disappointed, though what film is perfect?
The characters within this film range from unknown to interesting to stereotypical. Is that a negative within this film? Depends, It depends on how they’re used, but for this film with each segment being about ten to twelve minutes, don’t expect fantastic character development, especially since there’s little dialogue.
While Robot Carnival does have a lot of artistic and very beautiful, it has shown its age. With so many legendary people behind this film, it’s safe to say that anyone within the mecha genre will enjoy it. As someone who isn’t a massive fan of the genre, I found it rather enjoyable. Though my favorite segments were Presence Star Light Angel and Cloud, this would be an excellent introduction for anyone unsure of the genre. With its beautifully crafted music and emotional atmosphere, it is timeless and still just as enjoyable over thirty years later.
If one is uninterested in an artistic style film, much like Angel’s Egg, you’ll miss out on one of the most influential films from the 1980s. This film is one that has something for everyone, romance, robots, beautiful music, and not to mention directors from some of the most famous franchises and movies. This film shows what a group of people can do with just the premises of “a story involving robots.” Don’t underestimate the creativeness a single team has over the most simplistic concept. Thus this film is high on my list of films we need to watch.
Cody Senpai is the creator of BakaNow, an anime review website that specializes in spoiler-free reviews for everyone. He is an avid anime watcher who has traveled to Japan numerous times to not only experience the culture and history but also to build friendships with people through a common interest. He is an avid animation fanatic from birth and even went on to major in communication to help share the importance of the stories we love to watch and listen to. Cody lives in Denver, Colorado and loves to do anything adventurous.
August 13, 2020 at 1:29 am
You said it perfectly!
October 3, 2020 at 8:42 am
Part of the credits which showed a series of still shots of the Robot Carnival while it was in its glory years (but included Japanese titles) was replaced with a series of character sketches with English titles.
October 5, 2020 at 12:28 pm
I also enjoyed this little touch of detail in the credits 😊