What They Say:
From groundbreaking animation outfit STUDIO 4°C (MFKZ, Mind Game) comes two extraordinary projects with a shared, simple vision: to take an all-star team of some of the best animators working in anime today, and give each free reign to tell a unique short story built around “the spirit of creativity.”
The results are Genius Party and Genius Party Beyond, two animated anthology films featuring contributions from directors Shoji Kawamori, Shinichiro Watanabe, Masaaki Yuasa, Mahiro Maeda, and many others. Full of boundless imagination, fantastic worlds, and unique visual styles, these two acclaimed films are now available for the first time in North America.
The audio presentation for this feature is pretty solid all around as we get the original Japanese in 5.1 only using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The short stories across this are pretty varied in what they do so that definitely factors into the sound design as each one works its own style. The encoding captures it well with what it does here since it works some quiet and spooky scenes with the right kind of ambiance and sound effects to the bigger action pieces. The show definitely makes an impression across each of the stories that are told here and the sound design works to enhance the overall story being told. We didn’t have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally released in 2007 and 2008, the transfer for this feature is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. With almost three hours of material between the two projects, the Studio 4°C projects have some good space to work with. Especially as each short has different styles going by each director and their vision which comes across beautifully here. With solid bit rates that stick in the high twenties and low thirties, the anthology comes across with some bright, vibrant and really eye-popping colors at times but also a number of darker and murkier pieces. The visual presentation has a very solid look to it with lots of detail and plenty of strong colors in the larger areas and backgrounds. There’s some great, fluid animation throughout this and the transfer brings it to life wonderfully, making it an engaging visual presentation when paired with the audio design of it.
Packaging for anthology projects is always tricky unless there’s something cohesive about it but Genius Party doesn’t have that. This one works off a variant of the Japanese cover which was just a slew of shots from each of the main shows for each individual volume release. Here, we get a grid of twelve shots with one image for each but all done through a red filter, both for the o-card and the case. It doesn’t showcase the animation well, it’s obscured by the double logo, and it just doesn’t sell it all that well, though the “12 impacts by 12 directors” helps a bit. The back cover is more traditional and that definitely helps with some appealing animation along the top and a strip of three shots through the middle from different projects. The concept behind the release is nicely handled with a few directors name dropped while the remainder is the standard production and technical credits. No show related extras are included but we do get a nice alleyway piece from the film used as the artwork on the reverse side.
The menu design for this works pretty well overall as we get the navigation stripe across the middle with the two feature names laid out appropriately. The right has a bar for the subtitles to be turned off and on and you can select the installments through the title itself, which showcases through all the visuals along the top and bottom. The full-color shots are pretty great and it makes for a breeze in navigating once you get the basics down. The pop-up menu just lets you select between the two features as well as working with the subtitles but that’s not a surprise that it’s pared down a bit.
Produced for release in 2007 and 2008 with Genius Party and Genius Party Beyond, this release brings both of them together for twelve shorts that run nearly three hours in total. They’ve been bandied about in the last few years on the streaming side but a copy to own has been elusive until now, which is definitely welcome. Anthology series are hard and the folks at GKIDS, releasing through Shout! Factory, opted not to dub it but thankfully put it all together for one set. These are damn hard works to market because it really does rely on good word of mouth or people knowing the talents involved if they’ve never seen it before. It’s a bigger unknown with smaller payoffs, though sometimes you can find a short that will be transformational in your view of a particular subject.
Reviewing them, well, that’s one of the banes of the job, because each of them really warrants a full breakdown to explore what’s being done but I’m not that deep of a fan of the studio to begin with. I’ve enjoyed a lot of Studio 4°C works over the years and I admire the way they do try different styles and approaches rather than having a “house style” overall. And working through shorts like this let them interact with a lot of creatives, including a very fun one early on with Shanghai Dragon. With Shoji Kawamori directing, it’s a cute bit where we get a little kid who ends up with a special device that allows his drawings to come to life. It’s visually creative with what he brings to life but I love that it’s all part of some big plan from the future where they needed this specific kid and his particular ideas in order to save their future.
I also like the Yoji Fukuyama story, Doorbell, where we get something a little more traditionally animated but with the usual CG elements of the studio still in play. Here, a young man finds another version of himself while out about his day and as it expands it throws everything into turmoil. I loved the expressiveness of it all and the confusion as the chase sequences were a delight to watch unfold. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Shinji Kimura’s Deathtic 4 did nothing for me as we get something that’s done up with the full CG approach and works its own physics for how this particular world works. It’s creative in what it comes up with but it’s the kind of fantastical story without the grounding as to why it would work. Flights of fancy and all that, which at times can work for me but I’ve often just struggled with them since my mind always goes to the “how would that really happen/occur/or work.
I really wanted to like Masaaki Yuasa’s story more but the infant aspect of the lead just left me disinterested. Thankfully, the first film finishes out with a Shinichiro Watanabe story and it really left me wishing he’d had his own anthology series just so we’d see something creative without being stuck in dealing with a full season kind of project – as good as those are from him. I want to see him unencumbered from trying to have to work a larger project like that.
The second anthology film in the set has five stories done within it and with these originally planned to be a part of the first it’s one that works the same general idea. There are familiar names ot be sure, especially in seeing Koji Morimoto working a story. He worked on one of my favorite pieces from Robot Carnival with “Frankens Gears” but also participate on Magnetic Rose from Memories. He’s the type that I wish was able to work on more of these kinds of project and his story Dimension Bomb is a lot of fun with how it plays out, both in story and visual. I also liked the visual design for Moondrive from Kazuto Nakazawa as it came across more like a late 70s early 80s Heavy Metal kind of piece with some of what it did.
With anthology films being few and far between regardless of the medium, I almost always enjoy something fun to enjoy when we do get them. This set of twelve has several strong contenders, a lot of decent stuff, and a few things that are just totally not me thing either in story and animation style. But with it being a showcase of styles and approaches, and getting a lot of non-traditional animation from anime producers, it’s definitely welcome to see them play in other areas. It can go a long way toward them growing as a creative and artist and those kinds of flights of fancy need to be encouraged. This release has three hours of material and I’m pretty sure people can find a lot to like overall and a few pieces that they’ll desperately want to show to friends. The release via Shout! Factory is nicely done with a great look to it with the quality of the encode and audio. It’s simply great to have this in a form that one can own at last.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English Subtitles
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: GKIDS via Shout! Factory
Release Date: October 15th, 2019
Running Time: 170 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.