Anime Mirai 2014: Don’t You (Forget About Me)

hisui_icon_4040 I thought that 2014 would be different. The first two batches of the Young Animator Training Project came and went with little fanfare. When the project was initially announced there was a lot of praise as it seemed exactly the sort of initiative that a good deal of the commenters wanted the anime industry to do in hopes of promoting new talent. But in the time between when Anime Mirai titles are revealed and when they are released is long enough that most people in the English-speaking world have forgotten about them. Add to that the simple fact that they are not streaming as another barrier. If this was started five or six years ago it would be a different story. Enough people still regularly downloaded fan-subs so they might have gone to their favorite aggregator site and downloaded a peculiar one shot out of mere curiosity. But now that streaming is so prevalent that if a title is not legally online it practically becomes invisible unless it has some insane amount of hype or a legacy behind it. Overall the animation made for the Anime Mirai came and went with little fan fare. Certain titles may have been important to individual fans but overall they never made a noticeable splash.

Little Witch Academia seemed like it would have changed all of that.  It was the first title that really grabbed people’s attention and became a phenomenon. It got to the point where Trigger officially put it on Youtube and that snowballed into a fevered pitch that launched an insanely successful Kickstarter. While Death Billiards did not get that same momentous level of success it currently has its own TV series so the general halo effect can’t be ignored. Ryo and Alv Rezul – Mechanical Fairies did not get to share in that rising tide but they were also inferior productions (in my humble opinion). Still it seemed like Anime Mirai had finally come into prominence.

Then in 2014 the next batch of titles came and went with absolutely no celebration or hoopla. They have not been totally ignored. There are a decent number of reviews of all the titles. But the level of interest fell back to the same blasé disinterest that it had been before Little Witch Academia. I only knew that this years titles were out because a fan-sub of Harmonie appeared as a recommended title on YouTube after watching an unrelated Loading Ready Run sketch. I feel like that is a real shame since this was a pretty strong selection this year. So I hope that this post might get a few more people to check out this year’s batch.

narutaki_icon_4040 Remember when it was thought the Anime Mirai project would go away? I am so glad it didn’t, because as Al said, it really has come to be something special despite the lack of fanfare. While Little Witch Academia and Death Billiards are clearly the best known from the project, there is a lot of other fantastic work on display. It is nice to also see short films that are purely created as short films in which they can play more and try different things. It is amazing how much you can communicate within 30 minutes.

I’d really love to see Anime Mirai work shown here in the U.S., it would be perfect for film festivals or special, limited engagements. Come on Gkids, make this happen!

 

Harmonie
by Ultra Super Pictures

hisui_icon_4040 Harmonie is probably the underhanded pitch of the group. Yasuhiro Yoshiura was the director, screenwriter, and original creator behind the Time of Eve and Patema Inverted. While it would ridiculous to call him a household name he is probably the director who is the closest to a favorably known quantity out of the four. As someone whose directorial work is consistently OVAs and ONAs he is hardly a big time name. At the same time as someone who has had his ONAs made into movies and launched a successful Kickstarter he could never be called an absolute beginner. It is a strange area where he is hardly a major insider but definitely not an outsider.

Therefore if you have seen any of his previous work you have a reasonable idea of what to expect. The show has a strong romantic base with a touch of the fantastical. At the same time the series does not have the sci-fi elements of his previous work. It is set at a school but it is not just a standard romantic high school drama nor is it a chuunibyou comedy. It has a touch of the fantastical but it is much more a work about being an outsider and the cost of burying who you are to buy acceptance.

As a self-contained story this works well and feels like a full story. Theoretically you could expand on what you learn in the story but in a way it would transform the tale. Parts of Harmonie are left ambiguous at the end. That fact lets the story live in the half an hour space it was given to it. The viewer is allowed to interpret how much of the fanatical elements were real and how much they were just dreams. Any expansion of the story would almost insist on the ambiguity be cleared up. Theoretically it could be expanded into a series that keeps the same mystery but it they are questions that work better in a short story as opposed to a full series.

narutaki_icon_4040 Just as with Time of Eve and Patema Inverted, this story is about coming to understand another person. There is a brief conversation between the Honjo and his two friends about liking someone vs. actually talking with them. How do you talk to them? What is there to talk about? The difficulty of finding common ground is clear.

Music is a central element in this film but at the same not really important at all; I enjoyed the dichotomy. The song that Makina hears in her dream and that Honjo is able to reproduce by ear after hearing it only once binds this story together, but it is simply that one moment of finding common ground that is the true story.

Yasuhiro Yoshiura is unbelievably skilled at showing us a look on a character’s face, a hesitation in their voice, or a turn of their head at just the right moment in order to tell us everything we need to know about them. I knew and understood Honjo and Makina. I could tell you their pasts and their hopes. They said it all, without saying very much at all.

Black Nest -Chronus-
by Studio 4°C

hisui_icon_4040 Naoyuki Onda is a man with a long career in animation. His credits are more than all the other directors participating in the project combined (according to IMDB). The thing is while he has often done work as an animation director this is first time in the main driver’s seat as the chief director. So while Naoyuki Onda has paid his dues on other people’s projects this is his big chance to make something that is his own. Sometimes this is an opportunity for someone who has taken in all the lessons they have learned from working other jobs and apply it to being a director and other times it shows why the particular artist was never given a more prominent role in the first place.

Overall this was the project that was the most “anime.” All of the projects here are clearly anime. No one is debating that. The thing is this is the entry that most feels like your stereotypical anime. That is not a slam against the work. I enjoy it quite a bit. It just proves that Naoyuki Onda was the director who was the most entrenched in the industry of the four participants. The composition of the story, the introduction of the characters, the world building, and the pacing all feel like they come from someone who has worked on many the first episode of an anime TV series.

If anything that is what this feels like. It seems more like a backdoor pilot than a solitary film. It is not to say that an incomplete story is told. It is just the way that Shinigami are talking about Makoto Nakazono they clearly hint that there could be more stories about him if they want to explore that. I do have to wonder if Death Billiards and Little Witch Academia have made some animation studios not only use the project to give experience to fledgling directors but also to test the waters with ideas they are not sure they could make into full TV series but have potential.

narutaki_icon_4040 The only way I can find to describe the beginning portions of this short is: Unsolved Mysteries re-enactment. The attempt to create an uneasy horror feeling is clear but not finessed. As the short goes on it dispenses with the it, as if the creators were learning as they went. It settles into the Shinigami-element with an eye more toward fate rather than scary with a lot more success.

The themes Chronus focuses on are regret, expectation, and atonement. I especially liked the way that finding yourself down the wrong path was presented.

It isn’t a crime, but this one did feel more like a pitch for a series than a fully realized film. There is clearly a lot more story to tell, however the initial drama is wrapped up.

The Big First Year Student and
the Little Second Year Student

by A-1 Pictures

hisui_icon_4040 As people wonder about the future of Studio Ghibli it is comforting to know that productions like The Big First Year Student and the Little Second Year Student can fill the void left by the studio if and when it closes its doors. Ayumu Watanabe is probably the director from this year with the most practice as full director. He mostly known a  whole bunch of Doraemon movies and Space Brothers. Those titles alone should tell you that he is a director that can do comedy with a bit of an emotional punch.

This is just a feel good story. There is no subtle hidden allegorical meaning and subversive nuance to this story.If there was it brilliantly flew over my head. It is a simple tale of young bravery and friendship. In that regard it works so very well. It is proof that a well told tale can be for any age. If you put a dub on The Big First Year Student and the Little Second Year Student it could easily be sold in the U.S. as an all ages title. And more importantly I think it would do great. Masaya’s journey is touching and amusing while having surprisingly small stakes that are none the less compelling. Also his friendship with the spunky Akiyo is filled with an infectious charm. The fact that Akiyo is the smallest future P.I. does not hurt.

The best part is the fact that the story is the perfect length for the Young Animator Training Project. Any more story could have worn out its welcome but any less would have felt rushed or incomplete. There is a skill to telling a one shot like this and Ayumu Watanabe clearly has that ability (despite what the Mr. Hibbit the Moon Rabbit segments of Space Brothers might have you believe).

narutaki_icon_4040 I was immediately struck by the palette of this film, it made me want to soak in the everyday surroundings. This was no mere coincidence, as the story uses color, line, and movement to elevate the simple moments which shape young children. This is especially true when character’s imaginations start running.

But of great importance is that the film has a conflict, a beginning and an end, to really carry you through despite the naive nature of the focus. Friendship, courage, and leaving the comfort of your surroundings all play a part in this story as do some punks on bikes and the world’s tiniest detective.

A perfect bite of youthful joy.

Paroru’s Future Island
by Shin-Ei Animation

hisui_icon_4040 If we get anything wrong about the story of this anime I will chalk it up to the fact that this was the only entry that I could not find with English subtitles. The copy we found oddly enough had hard-subbed French subtitles but the story was not that complex and the animation expressive enough that we never really got lost or confused. Kate and I pretty much figured out Paroru, Zūzu, and Rikotto’s journey without needing to reference any additional materials.

But maybe the French subtitles were not a coincidence. If you showed me this without any sound or credits I might easily assume this was either a European production or more likely a French and Japanese co-production. I have seen enough European animation to notice a similarity but not enough to say much more than that. I’m not exactly sure why this has not be subbed yet but I don’t think the quality of the film is what is keeping it from being translated.

Kazuaki Imai’s probably has a career that is firmly in the middle of other participants. While he has never been in the main director’s chair his resume is significantly shorter than Naoyuki Onda. So he is another animator who is really getting a chance to prove himself capable of doing more with this anime. If I was forced to choose to interview one and only one of the directors from this year’s Anime Mirai batch I would probably pick Kazuaki Imai. While his project was not my favorite of the bunch it was the one that stood one the most. I could guess the shows and directors that influenced the other three movies. I might not be one hundred percent right but I could easy throw out names. I am far more perplexed as to guess what inspired Paroru’s Future Island. That alone makes it worth watching.

narutaki_icon_4040 I was most excited by this film, simply because it just looked different from what we are used to seeing with a lot of anime right now. While comical animal creatures who go on an adventure is hardly a new concept, it is certainly one that appears a lot more in American animation on the whole than Japanese now. But there are a great many in the Japanese back catalog and this felt like it would have fit right in.

Much like Big First Year and Little Second Year, the focus in this adventure is friendship, bravery, and striking out into the unknown.

It is evidence of the creators’ talent that we didn’t need subtitles for this short; that is a true test of how well you’ve crafted the story and expressed the characters’ emotions. And emotions they had! The exaggeratory, larger-than-life cartooning-style was on full display in this short with deft.

 

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hisui_icon_4040 Since people really like such breakdowns I will state that my preference for the Anime Mirai 2014 titles from highest to lowest was Harmonie, The Big First Year Student and the Little Second Year Student, Paroru’s Future Island, and then Black Nest -Chronus-. But I think that all of them are worth watching. Last year while two of the titles really took off the other two have mostly been forgotten by the way side. I feel like this year all of the titles gave me a sense that the directors worth paying attention to. None of then were flawless. The thing is all of them really showed a clear potential for greatness. I would be shocked if Yasuhiro Yoshiura and Ayumu Watanabe did not direct more in the future. That is a given barring tragedy. I am mostly curious to see how much more directing work Kazuaki Imai and Naoyuki Onda will get in the future. Their future success would be a success for the Anime Mirai project as well.

narutaki_icon_4040 Long story short: everyone should check out all of the Anime Mirai projects from 2014.

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