Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Visit To The Carnival Part Two: DEPRIVE & PRESENCE

And so we're back and venturing a little further into the 1987 anime anthology, ROBOT CARNIVAL, and have spent a little time on the project itself as well as the inital short with Franken's Gear. And now is the part where the omnibus element truly begins in earnest, as we take a hard left from wordless/artsy/comical, to just plain perplexing with DEPRIVE.

As much a demo reel for an abandoned tv anime project as it is a tribute to thirty years of manga-inspired motion and color, Hidetoshi Ohmori's entry is a short, jumbled mess vaguely telling the story of a robot invasion, the abduction of an innocent girl, and her machine lover who sets out to rescue her from the alien mechanoid hordes. This is about as simple as anime gets, and as such, it is (at least to me) the most forgettable entry in the entire collection. Even as the pulsating 80s synth rock does its best to arise us from the stupor of inert storytelling, and seemingly random imagery, all we truly get here is a snapshot of where the medium was at this particular time. Awash in pulp sensibilities, and vibrant color, there is little sense to the whole affair. And even for the type of anthology we are here to watch, the animation quality is only upper par television, lower grade OAV work. There are some mildly intriguing designs throughout the short, but perhaps only do so by reminding this writer of shows he could be watching. With this in mind, DEPRIVE does have some goofy charm underneath all that macho-glam facade.

Which leads us headlong into a short so strong, it can stand on its own without a robot-themed omnibus presentation, Yasuomi Umetsu's PRESENCE.

Set in an alternate, not quite steampunk, not quite post-Victorian England, PRESENCE is the tale of a lone inventor who seems to have quite a bit of freedom to create being married to an aggressive businesswoman. And yet in his workshop lies his biggest project, and a most troubling secret.

To even attempt to give Umetsu's entry an oversimplified description would do it a great disservice since there are so many wonders at work in it. From the powerful world building at play, to the obviously overlabored hand drawn animation that still stuns to this day, this is an animation lover's paradise aside from being a powerful meditation of vice and unrequited love. Running at nearly fifteen minutes, and being one of the only vignettes to contain actual dialogue, this is a prime example of the anime medium at the height of its power. It is also the most telling type of project that not only reflects two ends of Japan's full-fledged vision for an artistic foothold in the world market, as well as a premonition of social issues that were already taking shape in a society bereft of an industrial revolution.

The inventor's greatest creation, is among one of the film's most indelible curiosities. Designed like a porcelain doll, adorned with robes more akin to a Japanese idol's closet post-detonation, she also longs for a closeness that her creator seems to have a deep aversion to. Her image alone works both as a celebration of the art form's evolution, while her actual role is something akin to an early obit for it. From her iconic stare (an Umetsu trademark, also seen in later favorites such as 1998's Kaito, and later, MEZZO FORTE, the former which can still be considered an essential OVA, despite it's over-the-top nature), to the lush animation around her, she is an utterly striking example of how much time and money had been given to young animation artists at the time, and also stands as a bold totem for hand-drawn animation in the latter days of the method. Looking at it now, this is both thrilling, and a terribly sad reminder of what once was.

Even as the final moments of PRESENCE pass, one is left with more than merely simple awe at the presentation, but also with a strange sense that Umetsu and possibly crew were eerily ahead of the curve. The themes of a surrogate, artificial form of endeavor, and the panic that ensues when it attempts to reclaim the love given to it via procurement are strangely prescient in the collector/Akiba-kei/isolationist mindset that must have only been simmering around the mid 80s. To see the doll make movements toward humanity, while the human resists makes for a startlingly honest moment in anime at a time that was still quite in love with Hollywood-esque escapism.

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