Anime Impressions: Robot Carnival

I should warn the prospective reader that there’s definitely SPOILERs here! I consider myself spoiler proof. After all, if it’s ruined just by someone telling you what happens, then it couldn’t have been very good to begin with, right? However, there are plenty of people out there who’d be very angry if they read on only to find a series spoiled for them. So here’s the warning…read at your own risk.

There’s a sharp contrast between the anime of today and the anime of yesterday, due mostly to the shift in influence in the industry. Gone are the days where the word “animation” was synonymous with the word “Disney.” With the arrival of the Internet, anime came to dominate the scene. Once relegated to the darkened corners of a few video stores, it’s fans considered subversive perverts, anime came into it’s own a long time ago.
One of the movies that helped push anime into the limelight was Robot Carnival (1987).
For years it sat beside the likes of Akira and Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer on those darkened video store shelves, until, according to the Wikipedia article, the Sci-Fi channel picked it up for late night viewings.
Robot Carnival is an anthology of short films, most of which have a distinct European/American feel to them,and, of course, the main theme of robots. The opening sequence features a young boy trying to warn his desert village of the approach of the massive Robot Carnival machine. Once a center of entertainment, it has become a rusted behemoth meandering its way through the desert, crushing everything in its path.
“Franken’s Gears” is about a scientist who creates a robot ala Frankenstein, only to be killed by it in a freak accident.
“Deprived” has a male robot seeking out a young girl he has promised to protect, and who has been kidnapped by an evil cyborg. This was my favorite as it inspired memories of Fist of the North Star and a lot of other action oriented anime that has a lone wolf seeking out revenge. It’s also the short that feels most like a traditional 80’s anime, from the violence and action driven plot to the androgynous villain who looks like he walked out of an 80’s Heavy Metal Hair Band.
“Presence” is one of the longer short films and is very reminiscent of “Ghost in the Shell” and “Magnetic Rose,” with absolutely gorgeous artwork.
It concerns an inventor who creates a “more feminine” companion for himself after his feminist wife upstages him in the career department. Terrified that his new toy has developed a mind of her own, he smashes her and leaves her remains to molder for twenty years before finally facing his fears and returning to her. Another twenty years after that, the mechanical girl appears before the aged inventor and they both walk away into oblivion, leaving the wife baffled as to her husband’s whereabouts.
“Star Light Angel” reveals that not everything is as it appears. A teenage girl enjoys a robot themed amusement park with her friend, only to find out her companion is dating her ex. A performing robot notices the girl’s distress and comes to her aid when a virtual reality ride, picking up on the girl’s emotional turmoil, turns into a nightmare. However the girl is shocked and dismayed to find, rather than the romantic idea of a lovestruck automaton, a human knight beneath the armor. After he finally manages to rescue her, she comes around, and the two meet outside the park after closing time, presumably to pursue a relationship.
“Cloud” feels more like a Rene Laloux art house Sci-Fi cartoon rather than anime. It’s about a boy robot wandering the Earth while the clouds behind him take on different shapes. Eventually he becomes a real by via an angel which appears in the cloud behind him.
Up next is “A Tale of Two Robots: Chapter 3: Foreign Invasion,” about a mad genius, dubbed in English with what sounds like a German accent ala Albert Einstein. The small Japanese village he’s invading isn’t going to take it sitting down…well some of them are. Sitting in a giant, coal-steam powered robot of their own!
“Nightmare” is probably the short that is the least like anime. It’s more “A Night on Bald Mountain” transposed over Tokyo with robots in place of demons. The story begins with a view of everyday life in Tokyo featuring rotoscoped pedestrians. As night falls, we see a massive pendulum swinging back and forth between the towering skyscrapers. We then learn that it is attached to a massive robot looming over the city. It summons to its aid a smaller robot dressed in a red hat and cloak.
Known as Red Neck, his job is to race through the city on his hovering platform, bringing various machines to life which then combine to form some truly demonic looking robotic creatures. These minions then dance and gyrate before their master’s delight.. In the middle of all this, a drunken salary man, Chicken Man, awakens in an alley only to find the city overrun with nightmarish electronic monsters. After being discovered by Red Neck, Chicken Man desperately trys to escape the machines on his own little Vespa. Eventually the machines are defeated and our cowardly drunkard looks out over a nearly demolished city as the sun rises to shine on the skyscrapers, pierced like pin cushions by fallen debris.
The animation for Nightmare is nearly as smooth as that of Disney’s feature films, and many of the gestures and movements made by the characters are very reminiscent of Western animation. The twirl of Red Neck’s cloak is much like Snow White’s as she runs through the forest. But then perhaps he’s more like the Headless Horseman from Disney’s Sleepy Hollow. Chicken Man himself looks a lot like Ichabod Crane, and his actions are cowardly enough to put Ichabod’s frightened flight from the Headless Horseman to shame.
“Robot Carnival” is worth the effort. Your best bet is to look it up online, as it has never been released on Region 1 DVD, which is surprising since it was, and still is, regarded as an important piece in the history of Japanese animation. You may also be able to scavenge it from the piles of VHS tapes found at various video rental places and used bookstores. Once again, it has found itself sitting beside Akira and Beautiful Dreamer on those darkened, dusty shelves.

 -Originally posted at the Windows Live blog, then to Blogger on 11-23-2008


About romeomoon

I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with an Associates of Science and Art and a Bachelors of Science and Art. I'm the creative lead of the Lounge L33ts podcast, a regular guest on An Unearthly Podcast, write anime reviews and short stories, and create artwork in both digital and traditional media. I am a full time staffer for the Geek.Kon convention in Madison, WI. I am also an avid player of Massive Multiplayer Online Games and live stream various MMORPGs.
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