I feel it is best to start with a brief introduction of what Anime Tamago is. If you’re a longtime reader of the blog you will have seen our previous reviews of the Young Animator Training Project films. Since 2010 four short animated films are funded by the project in hopes of encouraging new talent in the anime industry. If you have ever heard about the project it was most probably because of either Little Witch Academia or Death Billiards. They were the biggest titles that the project has produced. Both of them have their own TV series and developed a dedicated fan following. Since then due to a number of factors, nothing else has really taken off like those two shows from 2013. For the last four years the entries for the year were known as the Anime Mirai shorts but this year they were re-branded as the Anime Tamago shorts.
While these shorts have fallen off the radar of a sizable amount of the fandom we still think they are worth examining. Most of these titles either come from either relatively fresh-faced crews or people who have been in the industry for a while but have been promoted to higher positions than they might normally have. Not all of these are spectacular or even good. Actually, some of them have been downright awful. But these titles are a good way of seeing who might very well be an up and comer in the anime industry. Today’s random Anime Tamago director or animator might be tomorrow’s superstar.
One of the major downsides of this project that keeps it from being well-known in the English-speaking world is that fansubbers have an extremely varied interest in the titles. Some shorts from Young Animator Training Project get subbed near instantly. On the other hand, I only recently discovered that someone got around to subbing Parol’s Future Island despite the fact it came out in 2014. It really all depends on the tastes of whoever is still out there doing fansubs. None of these are guaranteed to ever get subbed. Therefore we watched two of the films without subtitles. We had no subtitles for Colorful Ninja Iromaki and Kacchikenee! and were forced to watch them raw.
So far we have yet to have any Young Animator Training Project films that had a super dense narrative and at the same time was not subtitled. I can’t guarantee we caught all the nuance of the shows we watched raw but I am fairly confident we understood the broad strokes thanks to anime being a visual medium and the stories being fairly simple. I do wonder when we will collide with a show like Kuro no Sumika: Chronus where we would miss major parts of the story without the translated dialog. But I suppose we will figure out how to cross that bridge when we get to it.
This project is always full of surprises and that’s what holds my interest year after year. While these shorts aren’t indie projects, they are still a little off the beaten path most of the time. What I really enjoyed from this time around was that three out of four were more in the children and family category. And even the fourth one wasn’t especially far from that.
Colorful Ninja Iromaki by Signal. MD
Himeno’s family has just moved into a fixer-upper mansion in the country. As she tries to settle into her new home she discovers three ninja spirits also inhabit her home. These little shinobi pledge to protect her as the princess of their castle. While her parents are thrilled to have magical helpers with the power of fire, water, and DIY it seems that Himeno is less thrilled with their presence. When the area is threatened by a storm, the family and ninjas band together to protect their home.
A family finds that their house is haunted by butt-faced ninjas (yeah, that’s what I said!) who want to protect their “princess.” Really, they are sticking around because they failed in their mission long ago.
Part ghost story, part family comedy, this story has a quick pace that keeps the silly antics of the ninjas going. I definitely missed some of the jokes though since we only saw it raw, but luckily there were also plenty of slap-stick moments that needed little explanation.
The simple art style heightened the humor of the short and was mostly welcome except in the ending drama where it distorted the tornado oddly.
One of the nicer elements of the Young Animator Training Project is they usually have at least one title that is clearly supposed to be the entry for all audiences. These are usually the most solid titles. Like a good Pixar or Dinsey movie, they are enjoyable family fare with heart and warmth. These types of movies tend to then divide themselves into comedic movies with some counterbalancing heartwarming moments or emotional pieces with some humor to even out the mood. Colorful Ninja Iromaki chooses the comedic path.
I would watch this film again with subtitles if for no other reasons just get the full experience of the story. It is a bright and colorful little film that tells its story well enough that I understood the story without knowing a lick of Japanese. You pretty much instantly understand Himeno disappointment with her new home and frustration with her unwanted protectors. There are a good amount of visual gags like the red ninja using his fire powers as a makeshift gas stove, the blue ninja using his water bending to wash the family car, or just the fact that the yellow ninja’s power is DIY home repair. I’m sure I missed some of the jokes and little plot points but the animation informs you of 90% of what you need to know without having to say a word.
Utopa by Studio 4°C
After the earth was devastated by various man-made disasters humanity moved the remaining living creatures to floating cities in the sky. After countless years in the clouds, humanity crossbred animals to have sentience, language, and the ability to use tools. One day a seed from the forgotten world below flies up to one of the cities. Three evolved animal children venture to the world below to see where this seed came from. Down below they discover a rejuvenated Earth filled with wonder and danger.
This felt less like an original film and more like the pilot for a TV series. This does not even feel like a backdoor pilot that pretends to be a stand alone story but an outright pitch for a longer story. It really felt like the first episode of something like a 13 or 26 episode TV series. They introduce the characters and the world with a fair amount of detailing while still leaving a good amount of room for growth. They even set up what could easily be a reoccurring structure for the series. They can go to a new area trying to find which plant created the seed they found. They run into some person in need or sticky situation. They resolve that conflict. They then ask if anyone involved knows where the seed comes from. They move on. Lather, rinse, repeat until the finale where they find the home of the seed. They even mention that they will never go home after this trip. That either means that they die on the surface or make a new home on the surface but either way that line really wants to be the hook for a longer story.
That said it feels like a premise that would make a fine longer TV series. The little trio of kids are fun and have a strong dynamic. Since the world below has been abandoned by humanity for so long it has developed into a lush world. Everything has grown to the point where the children seem so small in comparison to the world around them. Since I don’t remember seeing one of the kids in size comparison to a regular human it can be a little hard to tell how tall they are supposed to be but I get the feeling that everything in nature is supposed to be huge in compassion to today. It sort of gives off a Lost World vibe where nature has become this dominant force once again. This also allows for some exotic looking flora and fauna throughout the film.
Also, has it become a rule that one entry in the Young Animator Training Project has to have anthropomorphic animals?
From the world resources becoming depleted to cities in the sky to animals being crossbred (in a lab!) with humans to our three adventurous kids who want to see the outside world, Utopa painted a big picture at the beginning.
Once the kids are out in the world, things became a little less macro in scope. They befriend an insect that is quickly scooped up as a meal by a predator bird. The bet they make with the bird in hopes of having their friend returned allows them to explore the world.
The kids are a rambunctious bunch who bicker, laugh, and get scared together. They are cute and charming in their interactions with each other and the world. However, I found this short a bit unsatisfying because it became more of a series pitch than a full story. And the story it told here was really so minor compared to the complex explanation of the world that kicked things off.
Kacchikenee! by Tezuka Productions
Aiko is a mediocre art student living with her parents in a shrine run by her grandfather. At the shrine, there is a sliding door with an unfinished picture that fascinates her. One night when she examining the painting a strange young man named Souji from the past appears out of the well in her backyard. While Aiko is extremely skeptical of his story she tries to introduce him to the modern world while he lives at the shrine. While he is a far more accomplished artist than her he still has a major weakness in his style. What lessons can these two artists teach each other despite being from different eras?
Art, time-travel, and love intersect in this short that gets better as it goes along. The beginning’s attempts at comedy felt rather tired, but once art became a greater focus, a more tender feeling came through.
I enjoyed the depictions of finding inspiration for art. The short also did a great job of contrasting Aiko’s amateur style with Souji’s deft calligraphic aptitude, and both obviously standout against the animation. I also liked how it ended in regards to them as artists.
When I saw the promo art of this last year I thought it was a horror film. It has a hand with a brush rising out of a well with a ghostly light. It looks like a tale of a frightful literary demon getting ready to hunt the living. As it turns out it Kacchikenee! is Inu-Yasha without the demon fights. Actually, it is more Kate & Leopold than feudal fairy tale but you get my point.
Beyond that, this is probably the weakest of the four titles. I think it is summed up by the simple fact that despite the fact that this was raw we basically understood plot without needing any subtitles. Previous titles have done this with the simple fact their visuals are so expressive that you can follow the plot just by the animation. Now that is not to say that there was a lack of direction or storytelling just through the visuals. The reason we were able to understand what was happening is because Kacchikenee! stuck excessively close the time travel romance playbook. They introduce something from the past linked to the time traveler. He then comes to the present. Him and the girl clash exacerbated by the fact that he is a fish out of water. She introduces him to the modern world and they start to have feelings for each other. Something happens to bring him back to the past. The item from the past changes thanks to his interaction with the girl. The major question is usually he finds a way back to present or not. The show follows all of these steps exactly.
Now there have been plenty of stories that have followed this formula and been amazing. Also, it might seem like this is me tearing this show to pieces. In all actuality it is fine. The visuals are distinctly in the vein of other modern Tezuka Productions anime. While the story is an old saw they execute it competently. I rolled by eyes a little bit with the accidental pervert stuff but beyond that, there was nothing really bad about Kacchikenee!. The main problem is that it did nothing to stick out of the pack. The animation is fine but it is distinctly no more than that. The story was serviceable but unremarkable. What I’m basically saying is that it is no The Girl Who Leapt Through Time nor it is the The Ambition of Oda Nobuna. You won’t hate this but you also won’t remember it off the top of your head a year from now.
I do have to mention that the grandpa who runs the shrine has a mohawk. That seems like a very odd choice. It was probably the one point where having the subtitles might have explained something about why that was. It was probably something that was explained in a throwaway line or two but I could not figure it out. I assume he used to be a delinquent or something before taking over the shrine but I can’t be sure.
In Kaze no Matasaburou animals and humans go to school and work side by side. Beyond that Kouichi’s elementary school class in the country is normal as normal can be. When a new girl transfers into his class, rumor starts that she is some sort of wind god which isolates this already closed off transfer student. But Kouichi is determined to find out about her and bring her into his group of friends.
This is probably the story that feels the closest to a Studio Ghibli work. Now that can be an awfully weighty comparison to make. I’m mostly using the comparison as shorthand for a very good all ages anime as opposed to trying to determine where it ranks in comparison to My Neighbor Totoro. Much like Kacchikenee! the base story is extremely familiar. The major difference is Kaze no Matasaburou takes a well-worn story and makes it feel vibrant and engaging. It is all about the execution and the execution here is wonderful.
The is a very simple magic of having this world where human and animals live, work, and learn side by side. It gives the story a pleasant storybook or fairy tale vibe. It is a short but simple tale of a new girl trying to settle into a new school and the boy who tries to get to know her. There is also a wind dragon and a magical feather but that is more window dressing than anything else.
This is the only story I really wish was longer. If this was 90 minutes it easily could have a dub and be a great little kids movie that I would hope would to well over here as well as in Japan. That would require a little expansion of the plot but I think there is enough there to allow that. I don’t mind the length of Kaze no Matasaburou as it stands. Right now it pops in tells a complete story and gets out well before it wears out its welcome. It even still takes a few moments to just soak in the atmosphere when needed without ever feeling stretched out. It is just if it were a theatrical length film it would have a better chance of leaving Japan. As it stands now it is only a hint of the good things that might come from the people who worked on this in the future.
And maybe that is enough but I can still dream.
Beautiful storybook style art depicts a small countryside town where animals talk and go to school alongside the humans. When a new human girl arrives in town, she is understandably shocked by the situation.
This was a very sweet story of friendship between humans (and animals!) that touches on the youthful magic of new connections. And the very real magic of talking animals, which the story smartly never tries to explain. The friendships are humorous and simple and feel perfectly suited to the ages of the characters.
The story also has that classic fleeting feeling as the friendships are short in how long they last but not how deeply they can affect you.
This was definitely my favorite of the bunch.
I was generally disappointed with the selection last year. The only title I really liked was Aki no Kanade and everything else was either mediocre or outright bad. The 2016 batch was considerably more solid. I don’t think anything wowed me but it was all good. Even Kacchikenee! was worth watching even if it was the weakest of the bunch. Just nothing here was mindblowing like Little Witch Academia or Death Parade. All of the animation was consistent and enjoyable but none of it was sakuga levels of amazing. All the titles this year did their job admirably. That is not the worst thing that could happen. In many ways, this is supposed to be the next step for some animators before they hopefully make the title that will make them a well-known name. I think all the titles here were great next steps and I look forward to seeing the next years selections as well as more works from the artists involved with the project this year.
If this interested you might want to keep your eye out for this year’s titles.