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Robot Carnival Anime DVD Review

6 min read

Robot CarnivalWhat They Say:
Crawling across a Desolated landscape, the Robot Carnival comes barreling its way onto DD for the first time in North America! A visual treat for the eyes as well as the mind, Robot Carnival is an anthology collection of nine short films, many done by animators before they got their feet wet in directing. From funny to dramatic, artistic to entertaining, each story reaches toward the furthest corners of time and space to bring you a title of robots, and the people who make them. Whether you have a love for great hand-drawn animation, an appreciation for storytelling, or just like robots, this anthology is a must.

The Review:
The audio came in loudly and quite clear in Dolby Stereo 2.0 in both Japanese and English. No distortions occurred during playback of either track.

The picture is bright and hues are nicely saturated for most of the movie except the closing segment, which started to pixelate a bit for some reason.

There is a glossy slipcase with the title masthead taken directly from the film’s opening sequence. The back has the text of the ‘what they say’ section in decidedly small print in the upper section, along with screenshots and credits taking up the bottom two-thirds. The inner disc case is a clear one. There is an information slip with the art / information arrangements similar to the slipcase on one side and a dark art piece with track listings on the reverse side.

There’s dark mechanical imagery used as a backdrop. The carnival is small and is positioned in the upper right corner. The title masthead takes up the upper half / left corner of the screen. Text based playback options take up the lower half of the initial menu screen.

The only extras present are a text section by Mike Toole entitled “Automata Saturnalia” with a lot of background info on the movie, as well as the English trailer for the film.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I love animation collections. As a fan of motion art medium, there’s nothing cooler to me than seeing different artists come together to give their own styles of interpretations on a selected theme.

Great anthologies can sometimes follow a theme but this is not necessary. Walt Disney’s Fantasia movies are a prime example of this on the American scene, as much as Manie-Manie Labyrinth Tales (AKA Neo-Tokyo), and Short Peace have demonstrated in anime. On the other hand, it’s interesting to see a how artists interpret a specific theme, like when Leiji Matsumoto’s “The Cockpit” presented varying tales of World War II combat.

Robot Carnival 1

Fans were exposed to several such talents when the profits from The Matrix movie allowed for The Animatrix to present several talents to audiences all over the world while thinking about robotics and artificial intelligence. It’s hard to imagine The Waichoskis (who’ve demonstrated their love of anime in their films The Matrix and Speed Racer) didn’t have Studio APPP’s Robot Carnival in mind when they came up with their project. Robot Carnival had some of the best anime directors working in the 80s to contribute to this collection and… to be honest, every time I sat down to write this review, I kept getting distracted by the flow of the initial segments. I’d seen it at an anime club in 1988 and even back then when it was untranslated, the power of the stories kept me captivated and it was a fun time figuring out what was going on in the spoken segments.

The whimsical music of Jo Hisashi (creator of many scores in the Studio Ghibli films) sets the stage for an amazing show as the circus building travels in the opening sequence directed by Akira creator Katsuhiro Otomo (who emulates the style of GAINAX’s Wings of Honneamise with amazing detail and movements here and in the closing) alongside character designer Atsuko Fukushima (Giovanni’s Island). We are presented with tour first segment entitled “Franken’s Gears” by Koji Moriomoto (Memories – “Magnetic Rose”). This is a majestic, wordless short about a scientist who brings a giant robot to life obeying his every whim against thunderous orchestral music and powerful thunderstorms. Mary Shelley would’ve been proud of how this plays out.

From there we move to “Deprive”, an adventure about a heroic hard-fighting cyborg of sorts. The first time I saw this story by Hidetoshi Oomori (Gundam: Char’s Counterattack), there was a manga being released by Viz / Eclipse in the U.S. called Heavy Metal Warrior Xenon about a cyborg with design aesthetics similar to the marines in Aliens. Deprive’s wordless action reminded me of that series for a long time and held a special place in my nostalgic heart. Even without that comparison, though, it’s a great piece.

Robot Carnival 2

Then comes the one segment that has had many viewers gripped for years: “Presence.” Every time I spoke with fellow fans about the work of Yasuomi Umetsu (Megazone 23 Pt. 2, Kite) in this movie, everyone would have the same haunted reaction to this moving story of unrequited love in which a toymaker creates a doll who can’t stop being in love with him. This is one of the two dialogue-heavy parts in Robot Carnival. Like I said the first time I saw it, there was no translation available, but the emotion was conveyed very well the whole time with all the shadowy contrasting backdrops dominating the characters here. When Robot Carnival was brought to the U.S. by Streamline Pictures, producers Carl Macek and Jerry Beck did a good job overseeing the English dub by recruiting Michael McConohie and Lisa Michaelson as the leads, as their performances gave “Presence” the same gravitas it had in Japanese.

To offset things, we get to take a ride with the “Star Light Angel” in our next segment from Hiroyuki Kitazume (Relic Armor Legaciam, Armitage III), a carefree romance at an amusement park between a teenage girl and a shy robotic admirer. Yes, the robot can’t figure out how to approach the pretty teen who comes to check out the roller coasters and such. The story goes in a rather unpredictable direction but is quite enjoyable by the end. Star Light Angel often reminds me of the upbeat spirit of contemporary Project A-ko (also from Studio APPP) and sends me into serious 80s nostalgia mode every time I watch it.

Robot Carnival 3

The most introspective experience is the abstract “Cloud” by Mao Lamdo (Bobby’s Girl, Gosick) which reflects a minuscule character’s thoughts in the sky above. This one isn’t bad at all but it feels strange among the more concrete pieces here. Still, it’s a wordless work worth watching to think about times gone by or whatever one might take from it.

The goofiness of “A Tale of Two Robots” by Hiroyuki Kitakubo (Roujin-Z, Blood The Last Vampire) is something that has to be seen to be believed as two warring villages from feudal era Japan convert their surroundings into giant golems to duke it out. This is the only other piece with dialogue and it’s crazy as hell, in both English and Japanese. To close things out, we take in the “Nightmare” of Takashi Nakamura (A Tree of Palme, Be Forever Yamato), a surrealistic segment which evokes sensations of the 1930s Fritz Lang flick Metropolis. There’s action aplenty concerning “A Chicken Man and a Red Neck” but it’s something you’d have to take in for yourself.

In Summary:
I wasn’t into the last couple segments as much as I was into the others, but the great thing about anthology titles is that there’s likely a style for everyone who takes the collection in at some point. For many years, I’ve held on to my Streamline Pictures VHS tape and would hope Sci-Fi Channel would run this movie again someday just to experience it at any time. I’m very glad Robot Carnival has made it to R1 DVD and Discotek Media has done a good job with its presentation. I definitely recommend it for purchase at your first availability.

Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: A
Extras Grade: B

Released By: Discotek Media / Eastern Star
Release Date: September 1, 2015
MSRP: $24.95
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Video Encoding: MPEG-4
Aspect Ratio: 1:85:1 16×9

Review Equipment:
Panasonic 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation 3

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