Anime Mirai 2015: Music, Mothers, and Mulch

The biggest problem with Anime Mirai is the titles are rarely streaming. What’s the best known short to come out of this project? Little Witch Academia which earned a great deal of critical acclaim, and became an Internet phenomenon and general darling of fandom. It was streaming on Studio Trigger’s YouTube page. And look at how well-known Trigger is now.

Take another project which gained praise and was even turned into a TV series: Death Billiards. Many people had never even seen the original short that turned into the Death Parade TV series.

Exposure for a project like this makes a huge difference and really isn’t that the point of the project?

All the help in the world would not have made Mechanical Fairies or Ryo mega-hits but they might not have slipped into utter obscurity if they had been streaming. And that seems to be the fate of a lot of these shorts. The Anime Mirai 2014 entries were strong enough to be superstars if they only could have been seen by more people.

Sadly, the Anime Mirai 2015 anime are still not streaming anywhere either. Like last years titles we have decided to draw some attention to these anime as they are usually a unique treat for fans looking for self-contained stories, new talent, and experimental ideas.

Aki no Kanade by J.C.Staff, dir. Youhei Suzuki

Aki Miyagawa is stuck in a rut after moving to Tokyo to be a professional takio drummer but still needing an additional part-time job to make ends meet. With only semi-success as she sees it, much of her younger passion for drumming has drained away. When an old teacher contacts her for help with the drum club, she returns to her hometown to face her family, remember the past, and perhaps renew her enthusiasm for drumming.

narutaki_icon_4040 Aki comes out of this having completed a goal related to her passion and feeling good about. It still doesn’t making her a famous or “successful” takio drummer in Tokyo, but that seems no longer important in her view. I felt this was a great, strong idea but presented in a subtle way. Plus, it ends on a high note without telling us what the future holds.

The drum scenes Aki no Kanade are of course a central focus and they are really delightful to watch.

hisui_icon_4040 This was undoubtedly the strongest of the four titles. It had the visuals, storyline, and characters that make it stand out from the pack. The fact that it dealt with more adult worries and concerns made it feel a bit more exceptional. Aki is comfortable enough that she is not struggling but it is clear that she knows she could be doing so much more. The problem is she sees no clear path to that higher level of success. That sort of low-grade depression and hopelessness can affect even the most successful people so you bet you bottom dollar that the average person can know it all to well. Her journey is distinctly resonant with someone like me who feels slightly trapped in my life despite not really having any major crises crushing me.

There were lots of hooks in the story that could have been their own story. Her estrangement from her father, her potential romantic paramour, the gradual disintegration of her childhood friendships, a major training arc with the students, the loss of identity of a small town being merged into a larger conglomerate, and the bond of a student and her mentor all had the potential to be the main thrust of the story. But they only come up as much as they need to flesh out who Aki is as she struggles with her professional malaise. Showing them all gives the audience a glimpse of Aki that is greater than just her job but it also shows why all of those elements contribute to her current situation without letting any of those threads derail the main story. In the end it is a tale of how one woman regains her passion and everything else is in the service of that.

In the end other than the Aki’s head space there really is no major resolution to the other aspects of the story. Nor does there need to be. Aki’s life was rich with achievements and problems before her return to her hometown and they will all still be there when she returns to her life in Tokyo. This was just the singular short story of how a trip home reinvigorates her. You could turn this into a full 13 episode TV series but it works just as well as it is. A sweet little movie that tells its story well and then takes a bow.

Robot Kaa-san (Happy ComeCome)
by SynergySP, dir. Yumiko Suda

Hiroshi, a lonely young man, decides to buy a cute maid robot to take care of him and his large, empty house but the company instead brings him a mom model android. They convince him to keep her for a test run. This motherly machine gets to the core of what has broken Hiroshi’s spirit.

hisui_icon_4040 Last year I never did find a subbed version of Paroru’s Future Island when we reviewed the Anime Mirai’s title last year. (Of course I find a subbed version of it as I write this.) This year the show I could not find subs for was Happy ComeCome. Thankfully as a showcase of visual artistry many of the Anime Mirai entries lay out their narrative in a way where you can understand the story without knowing a word of Japanese. So we are doing this impression just on what would could pick up. If we missed a little please forgive us. We did the best we can.

If this had been a story about cute robot maid healing a young teenage boy’s heart it would be a very different (and probably more commercially viable) story. That fact that the android is an Osaka mama is a distinct subversion of the genre. The problem is that not every subversion makes a story better. Sometimes people go with the tried and true formula because many of the alternatives are not as effective. In this case I don’t think Happy ComeCome utterly falls on its face but it also does not really do anything interesting with the formula either. While making the mama robot the device that changes the protagonist’s life removes the creepy sexual subservience of the Magical Girlfriend gimmick it does little to elevate beyond that at the same time.

Now just because a premise is an old saw does not mean it can’t be fun. Overall the idea is executed in a competent manner but no more than that (as far as I can tell.) Hiroshi has a fairly tragic story when you pick it apart but I got most of it through inference since my copy was not subbed. I’m wondering if I had the actual details as opposed to the general gist I would have felt a bit more empathy for the character or would it still come of just as plainly. I’m really thinking that unless you have a decent understanding of Japanese your probably better off waiting for the subs before you watch this one. It still might be flat after that but I’m guessing it will only have its full impact then.

Also it is worth nothing that the salesman who pushes the robot mama on Hiroshi has the nervous habit of constantly playing with the handkerchief in his suit pocket. I mostly saw it as a little flourish to mark him as a bit of a flimflam man but I know Kate thought it made it seem more like a potential serial killer. I understand what they were going for but after she pointed it out I can’t help but see what she was saying. I wonder if it is something that would have been mitigated if we had subtitles or if it is just something that could not be avoided when it was animated like that.

narutaki_icon_4040 The story was easy to understand and for the most part I followed it well because the visuals were there to back it up. One of the best told scenes, Hiroshi’s past with his human mother, needs no dialogue at all to follow its emotional repercussions.

That being said, unfortunately, I was unconvinced that Hiroshi had really learned something in the time we see him during this short. There just wasn’t enough interaction or substance to what we saw to make me believe he did truly care about Mama.

Ongaku Shojo by Studio Deen, dir. Kenichi Ishigura

Haru is an energetic oddball who enters her new boarding school like a hurricane. Haru’s shy straight-laced roommate, Eri, finds herself put-upon when Haru discovers Eri has secretly been uploading songs to the Internet. Haru wears down Eri and convinces her to enter a singing competition despite Eri’s crippling stage fright.

narutaki_icon_4040 My biggest complaint with this short (I have many!) is why was it even part of Anime Mirai? It is based on a new and growing (and seemingly popular) multimedia franchise. The idol girls and fan-service premise is an evergreen money-maker. And yet, this is part of an animation project with, while not always good, a repertoire of short stories that try something a little bit different, something that might not work in a long form, or simply something that getting funding for would be difficult. It is just a disappointing use of the project.

That said, I fully expect this will not be the last I hear of Ongaku Shojo.

hisui_icon_4040 As I have mentioned in the past there is a unique joy in watching things with Kate. When she is totally into a show you can palpably feel the excitement she radiates. Conversely when she really hates something it is equally apparent in her body language without her saying a word. Sufficed to say I was quite aware that she was not having any of this show. Kate’s disgust with the show was sadly more entertaining than the work itself.

First of all Haru Chitose’s hair is a hot mess. I know that is just a superficial complaint but indulge me for a second. A few hair ornaments can easily give some flair to a character but her crazy bird’s nest is just as distracting and aggravating as her character. Eri Kumagai is nowhere as annoying but she is also sort of bland which means she does little to counterbalance her partner. Since the main appeal of the story is supposed to be the girls this is sort of doomed to be a failure.

But all of this makes perfect sense if you realize the show’s pedigree under Kenichi IshiguraNorimitsu Urasaki, and Kana Yamada. All three of them worked on Sakura Trick. Sakura Trick’s whole gimmick was it was the fluffkin yuri manga where there girls actually kissed. It was not the serious affair that something like Aoi Hana but it was not all teasing like Maria-sama. Ongaku Shojo is clearly supposed to have the same appeal. While Haru and Eri are never making out they share the same bed despite the fact that they share a dorm room that is bigger than my apartment. The problem is that I can’t see why Eri would want Haru as a casual acquaintance let alone a musical and/or romantic partner.

So weak characters, a bog standard story, generic idol music, and no interesting hook make Ongaku Shojo an utterly forgettable idol show with an extremely mild provocative hook. This is a title that would normally just be an instantly forgettable show but it stands out when it is in a prestige slot like that of the Anime Mirai lineup.

Kumi to Tulip by Tezuka Productions, dir. Makoto Tezuka

In a future where technology has taken over every aspect of life, an old artist and a young girl bond over finding a tulip growing in a field of artificial flowers. When the old man has a heart attack protecting the bud, the girl takes it upon herself to nurture the young plant in hopes that it will inspire the bedridden man.

hisui_icon_4040 There was no subs for Kumi to Tulip but there was a good reason for that. It turns out that there is no dialog in Kumi to Tulip. It is a story told exclusively through the visuals.

Kumi to Tulip is OK. Nothing more and nothing less. It neither offends or entertains in any extreme manner. It has a fairly standard set of themes. Praise for the perseverance of life and nature, the importance of youth learning from the wizened, and the power of the cycle of life with a bit of a Osamu Tezuka tribute of the side. The main problem is that if a really good Tezuka anime is equal to the best Pixar film then this is the anime equivalent of a mediocre DreamWorks movie. You will watch it, maybe discuss it a little afterwards, and then completely forget about it a month later. You probably won’t even remember you watched it after a year unless distinctly pressed to remember.

The odd thing is that it is not utterly pedestrian or workman like. The fact that it has no dialog means that it is forced to be very universal and expressive in its visual story telling. You have actual Back to the Future style hover boards unlike the deathtraps you keep hearing about in the news. They even have some very abstract musical sequences to spice things up. The problem is that is all sort of blends together. None of it is done poorly but it lacks the flair I have come to expect for something from Anime Mirai. The big hoverboard race at the beginning is never incompetent but is also is never really that exciting either. If many ways that whole scene pretty much sums up the short very succinctly.

Sadly this feels like a cheap TV special as opposed a lush mini film and that is a shame.

narutaki_icon_4040 Taking up the challenge of telling a story without any dialogue is to be commended. On that front the short succeeded quite well, there could be no doubt as to how the characters felt or what their actions were.

The story is one of the younger generation coming to understand, respect, and then be inspired by the older. The girl is able to rally the other children in the park into helping her nurture other flower buds making everyone step away from their technology for a time.

There are rough patches in this story like some odd humor or the way too long hoverboard race at the beginning. And ultimately it ends a bit strangely, too.

This short reminded me that a wordless Japanese and French co-production The Red Turtle will be coming out in 2016.

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hisui_icon_4040 Overall I was a little saddened that I felt this was the weakest batch of Anime Mirai titles I have watched so far. I only really like one of the titles and two of them were sort of bland. The only title that was an absolute stinker was Ongaku Shojo but it was pretty awful. That said I am still looking forward to the 2016 entries. First of all I thought Aki no Kanade was really strong and that gives me a good amount of faith in the project as a whole. Secondly I still think the project is extremely valuable. The chance for new talent to play with experiments that might not normally get funding is very important to health of the industry. I’m willing to sit through some disasters and flawed works for the potential benefits.

Also it is worth nothing that there are some great premises for the shows for 2106. UTOPA probably wins the award for story that is 100% different from what you would expect from the sample picture, Colorful Ninja Iromaki and Kaze no Matasaburō look like great family entertainment, and Kacchikenee looks like it could be a solid little horror story.

Hopefully we will have nothing but positive things to say about this year’s shows.

narutaki_icon_4040 With the exception of Ongaku Shojo, I found something to like in all the shorts this year. However, they weren’t as memorable to me as past years and I’m not sure any of them really made me excited for the next projects of these creators.

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