Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Future is Now: Anime Mirai Review

The Anime Mirai project, also known as the Young Animators Training Project, was showcased this year at Otakon. Anime Mirai has been around for three years, and as a partnership between the Japanese Animation Creators Association (JAniCA) and Otakon's 20th anniversary, all three years' winning films were shown, one set per day of four films each. I had the privilege of making it to the screening of this year's films, presented by YTV producer Michihiko Suwa and Studio Madhouse director Yuzuru Tachikawa, who also directed the first short in the showcase. To quote the Otakon Press Release, for they have said it best: Anime Mirai is put together every year by JAniCA and the Japan's Agency of Cultural Affairs. "Partially a response to increased outsourcing of Japanese animation projects, the intention is to ensure that up-and-coming animators have opportunities to pursue their own works and gain experience leading projects. Each year, four studios are selected to produce short films, which play in theaters and may serve as springboards to larger projects." Each film lasted about a half hour and featured the best of what the studio had to offer. Each had a solid story of a different genre, and brought something progressive to animation as well. The first film was Tachikawa's, a Studio Madhouse work called Death Billiards. The film's setting -- which takes place in a high-class, hotel-like pool hall in what is most likely a Shinto-style purgatory -- had the "typical" finery that goes into Ghost in the Shell -- fancy marble backgrounds and soft lighting that glows. Where the studio introduced something new was the rainbow shine effects in crystal, flowing water, and piano strings. Also challenging was animating magic inside of pool balls, and the technical sophistication necessitated to reproduce a game of pool so well. The short packed a lot in -- demons, watchdogs, mysteries, plot twists, a moral message, as well as an enthusiastic fight scene between an old man and a young buck that didn't stay just on the pool table. Oh, and rampant symbolism in the form of jellyfish. It was a wonderful film to lead with, and they only got better from there. Second on the list was Alv Razul -- Mechanical Fairies, a sci-fi flick by studio Zexcs that focused on the question of souls and memory as they pertain to belonging. In the near future, a man's little sister was lost in and electronic accident something akin to Sword Art Online, but she returns to his life, hunted by establishment special ops and now able to hack near anything with nanomachines. Over the film we see their rather "close" relationship reveal itself, as well as a great deal of philosophy. "Dreams may seem like they exist to push us forward, but really they exist to help us look back and help the people behind us who are suffering," the girl, Shiki, says at one point. It's definitely a film that captures you from the first moments, and is readily inspiring. It can easily become a new series or full-length feature film, and I want to see that happen. The main punch was definitely in the story for this one, but there was some out-of-the-box elements in the animation as well: the shot size changed occasionally, mimicking manga with images cropped by black. The shadows of people were all animated with the ethereal element of pencil lines, also mimicking manga. These two elements went along with the fantasy quality of the story, and together make for a very interesting and incredibly well-made indie film. San-ban-m in the lineup was Ryo, a studio Gonzo film. It focuses on a historical Japanese figure in the Meiji Revolution named Ryoma, who was a revolutionary on the wrong side of the war. Suwa, introducing the film, said it was "based on historical facts of the man ... trying to depict who he might have been." In the film, he took in several orphans and trained them to fight for the war while maintaining a peaceful idealism; the orphan who bonded most closely to him shows the viewer a story of their time together. The short challenges convention with scenes at sea that seem aesthetically arranged similar to Ukio-prints. Like with some of Gonzo's other historical films, it's a challenge to tell characters apart at times, but the plucky rainbow of gi make for a fun time. "Take care not to become an assassin" may just be my new favorite line of anything, ever. The final film was Little Witch Academia, the adorable one of the bunch and smartly slated last, it lets the audience depart with happy feelings along with the mechanical fairy dust in their pockets. Made by Trigger Studios, the brightly-colored story follows a witch-in-training who is the incorrigible dreamer at a prestigious witchy boarding school for girls. Where everyone else holds stodgy, hardcore magicians as their heroes, Academia's model is a show performer, who brought magic to the world of normal people. Through a grand adventure of dungeon mining, a dragon, and flying mishaps, the crew learns more about themselves and overcome adversity, too. The cast of characters is the most diverse and vibrant of any of the films, and the animation style is definitely indie: it could be a cousin to Soul-Eater, with big, droopy eyes, strange color schemes, and very malleable body physics. Everything about it is fun, and definitely worth a look. It's given me great respect and curiosity for a studio whose name I had never before heard. If you ever get a chance to see any Anime Mirai showings, they're sure to be the best of the best of Japanese animation, and some of the only anime examples of that fine art known as the animated short. It's always good to promote non-commercial animation projects as well. During his presentation, Suwa hinted at a desire to make all Anime Mirai film sets available to a general audience, so keep an eye out for the chance to add these to your collection on a more permanent basis. They're definitely worth it.
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