Memories - Katsuhiro Otomo (anime review)

I don't know if I've even reviewed anime before for this blog. That's kind of appropriate, as my tastes tend towards manga, generally. The tactile experience of holding the newsprint, touching it, smelling it, imbibing the drawings...all of it appeals to me.

However, I do make time to watch a fair amount of anime. I really enjoy the films, not that I don't like some series, but I love an animated film. Kind of like the movie version of the one-shot manga.

Memories is actually three short films. The first is called Magnetic Rose, the second is Stink Bomb, and the third is Cannon Fodder. Each of these really could stand alone and are drastically different in tone, animation style, theme, and writing.

Magnetic Rose is my personal favorite of the three. I am apparently alone in this, virtually everyone else prefers one of the other two.

Probably spoilers beyond this point. Due warning has been given.

In MR, a crew of space-scrap-salvagemen are out in space, looking for scrap. To salvage. They receive an S.O.S. from a mysterious ship, and two of the guys roll out to go save someone/see if they can snag the ship for salvage.

As soon as they get inside, shit gets strange. The inside of the ship (which is called the Magnetic Rose) is sort of a spaceborn Versailles. Huge, sprawling chambers and long, flowing staircases. Room after room of glorious, decaying opulence.

They quickly find out the ship belonged to a famous opera singer, Eva Rose, who basically had a flying fortress built so she could live out her glory days in space.

Unfortunately, her glory days turn a little...The Shining-y. As the Eagles say, "you can check out any time you want, but you can never leave."

Their descent into the ship is accompanied by an ever-increasing magnetic field. Everything is being sucked towards the Magnetic Rose, including the salvage ship.

Inside, the memories of Eva Rose run the ship. Her memories mix with those of the salvage men, and they experience hellish hallucinations. Children falling to their death, over and over. Their souls are twisted and broken inside the Magnetic Rose.

The ship itself has become a living beast, absorbing and manipulating everything inside to fit the distorted singer's desires. She even has an avatar, running and flying around the ship.

All of this leads up to a very dramatic end, it's all very thrilling. But none of this really gives you an idea of why this one is my favorite.

It is a difficult thing to describe. The film runs roughly fifty minutes, relatively short. The animation style is fine but vaguely dated. I think one of the things that really makes me love this movie is the feeling of kinship between it and 2001: A Space Odyssey. If you haven't seen Kubrick's masterpiece, I don't know, you're not doing a very good job at life. But they both have this sense of...epic feels too tawdry to describe it. There is a sense of Divine Purpose, as absurd as it for me to say that.

The entire film is backed by Eva Rose's opera, sweeping and blaring, dramatic and poignant. The characters are entirely believable, the dialogue is perfectly in sync with the characters. All the technical details are assured, you don't have to worry about them. The story is too important to fuck up stupid details like weak dialogue. Watching the main salvager try to catch his daughter as she falls to her death, you feel your heart plummet. Watching him paw at the ground through the hologram of her bleeding out at his feet, your heart hits the center of the earth. As Eva Rose's ghost toys with him, you feel rage rising up inside you.

And at the end, you think to yourself, "At least he wasn't a part of her fantasy."


Part of me wants to say, "And there were two other movies. The end."

but that's not fair. I'll give the other two due credit, they are also excellent films in their own rights.

Stink Bomb. Easily my least favorite of the three. Let me just say, you come off this incredible high from Magnetic Rose, one of the most powerful, excellent anime shorts you could ever watch, and you're just supposed to roll right into f*cking Stink Bomb.

Stink Bomb is really light-hearted. It has a message, about chemical/biological warfare, but wrapped in kind of an annoying package of goofiness. The main character, his name didn't even come close to sticking in my mind, is an IDIOT. That's not a huge deal, I mean, we've all read books with silly and dumb main characters. I even like a lot of series with them. Naruto, for instance, is pretty dumb and goofy but it's one of the best-selling, most popular series ever put out. The problem here is that he has no real redeeming qualities other than blissful ignorance and a preternatural ability to avoid death.

Basically, the dude has a cold, takes a pill, turns out the pill was an experimental bioweapon that turns him into a walking, breathing cloud o' death. *rolls eyes*

He kills everyone in the building, and doesn't have any idea it's him. He then gets told to bring the rest of the pills to a city nearby by an administrator who also doesn't know he's taken the pill and is the cause of the disaster.

You can pretty much surmise the rest of this movie. He tries to get to the city, they all realize he's the cause, and they throw all their military might against him. It is, admittedly, vaguely amusing to watch him dodge missiles and somehow survive on a little Vespa.

I don't know what else to say about it. It took me three tries to watch it, every time I tried to, I would fall asleep. That's how I feel.


Okay, Cannon Fodder! Back to a good short!

Cannon Fodder switches art styles again, to a very gritty, not-very-Japanese style. There isn't a ton of dialogue in it, but it does very well putting together the story visually.

In this sort of Orwellian dystopia, everyone lives and dies under a bunch of huge, towering cannons. They all work for them in some capacity, loading them, firing them. The shells are the size of large trucks, and there is a lot of inherent danger.

There is this interesting social element to it, because the loaders are sort of at the bottom, the controllers are above them, and then the firing man is at the top of it all. The women all go off to factories to put together munitions. If a crew screws up something, their punishment is to stand on the firing platform and get blasted by the shockwave.

The slogan is NO CONQUEST WITHOUT LABOR. Everyone stands and salutes and chants when the cannon fires.

In this world of war, everyone accepts it without question. There is an invisible enemy, and they must be fired upon. It's simply what they do. That's what makes this interesting, seeing the lives of individuals who are being ground to pieces by the machine they slave to run.

This set of shorts can be picked up anywhere for really cheap, I think I paid $3 for mine. A dollar each for three good movies? When Magnetic Rose is worth the price of entry on its own? Yes please. :)


The Moon in Autumn said...

Magnetic Rose was my hands down favorite, too. So great.

Mr. Empty said...

That's so weird, I'm getting a lot of that now! Before I wrote this, every single review I read preferred Cannon Fodder.