Robot Carnival (of 1) (Mania.com)

Review Date: -



What They Say


The Review!
I guess one of the few good things about growing up (and growing older) is that after a while, you can start to justifiably get nostalgic for the days of your youth gone by.
That's what occurred to me as I watched this Region 2 release of that classic of 1980's Anime, Robot Carnival. There were flashbacks to my early adolescence in the spring of '88, of first watching this film on some X-generation bootleg copy that I got from some anonymous tape trader somewhere in the germinal North American Anime fan community. I think those of us who have been Anime fans for some years remember this "sleeper". I imagine Japanese twenty-something fans feel the same pangs of nostalgia as we do here in the West, hence the recent release of this and other '80s favorites, such as Arion and Genesis Climber Mospeada, to name but two, back in the Land of the Rising Sun. But enough wistful pining. Let's get on with the review:

The video quality of this release is excellent. This is after all a Japanese DVD. I detected a couple of very, very minor instances of grain, mostly in the opening and ending segments. This is very understandable, considering the age of this film. However, 98% of the blacks and deep blues (and there are a lot of them in this animation) are perfectly done, as lush and vivid as the day they were painted onto celluloid, maybe even more so. There were no conspicuous rainbows on my setup, and line noise as far as I could tell was nonexistent. The film itself is only presented in the 4:3 aspect ratio, which is logical as this was an OVA (original video animation), and not a theatrical release. All in all, the video deserves the A+ the whole way around.

The audio is excellent, again garnering an A rating. Both the English and the Japanese soundtracks are in two-channel AC-3, and there is some very nice left and right aural action, even on my modest setup. The dubbing in the English version is acceptable, and may or not be the old dub that was done a few years ago (by Streamline, if memory serves. I never saw that version). I'm not much of an audio guy, but again, this disc gets the high score in my opinion.

The menus on this disc are adequate, i.e. boring. There is just the standard main menu, with chapter selects, and a still frame of the Robot Carnival itself sitting in the sand (more on that below), and a separate soundtrack/subtitle menu.
Extras: There is an English language trailer for the OVA, which I must assume is from the Streamline release. The video in the trailer is abominable, with hideously over-saturated colors and an overall faded, VHS-like picture quality. It's truly nasty. The English subtitles are adequate, but really don't add anything to the viewing experience in my opinion. They seem to ramble on a bit, even quite a few seconds after a character has stopped talking, "padding" the original Japanese dialog a little, which I found sort of distracting. Both the English and the Korean subtitles are in white and a little on the small side, speaking as someone who is extremely nearsighted. Unfortunately I don't speak Korean, so obviously I really can't comment on how well the dialog has been translated into that language for the benefit of Korean-speaking fans.

The packaging for this disc is great. The edition I bought is the limited "boxed" version that comes in a see-through and practical plastic case. It also comes with a nice little 104-page book, "Memory of Robot Carnival", which gives some background on each vignette in the movie, as well as the directors, accompanied by some pencil sketches of the various characters and robots and whatnot. The book itself is in black-and-white, but it's still a nice touch, especially for someone like me who really admires this film. The disc itself comes in a nicely illustrated clamshell case, with a couple of b/w inserts. I give it an A.
As stated above, I love this little film. It is essentially a collection of vignettes from nine of the most respected and talented Japanese animation filmmakers of yesteryear, all dedicated to what else - ROBOTS! The opening and ending sequences are by Ohtomo Katsuhiro of Akira and Doumu fame, of course. These are quite hilarious, even though there is no dialog, as the Robot Carnival, which is some kind of a monolithic, traveling, mechanical circus, comes thundering in and out of a primitive desert village, laying waste to it, the villagers, and in an especially politically incorrect way, even the village animals (watch out for the flying dog and the camel stranded on its back!)

"Franken's Gears" is the next segment, directed by Morimoto Koji. This is a beautifully animated twist on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein characters that has a rather ironic, if not cruelly humorous, end. "Deprive", by Ohmori Hidetoshi, is next. This is my least favorite of all, as it looks like something that MTV would show after Total Request Live or something from the pages of a 1980's "Heavy Metal" issue. It's basically the tale of an android saving his human mistress from the clutches of an evil, blue-skinned alien. Uh, ok?
"Presence", by the great Umetsu Yasuomi (Megazone 23 Part II, Kite), is absolutely stunning, especially on DVD. This is a poignant, if not existential, little story that is flawlessly and stunningly animated. A man has created a "robot" of a young girl who is perhaps more human than her creator. He "kills" the mechanical girl, only to suffer recurring visions of her in his old age. Umetsu's gorgeous and utterly original character designs help make this, in my opinion, a prime example of the perfect animation. The vignette's plot also gets my vote as the perfect science fiction story, as it focuses more on the all too emotional human condition than on the pompous and heavy-handed technological commentary that plagues most modern S/F.
Kitazume Hiroyuki's "Star Light Angel" takes place in a futuristic cross between the Magic Kingdom and the Epcot Center, where a young woman has just learned that the man of her dreams has been two-timing on her with her best friend. The lovelorn girl rushes headlong into the consoling arms of - that's right - a robot. The "automaton" takes her on a strange and terrifying journey, only to reveal his true "face". Be on the look out for a very quick cameo by Tetsuo and Akira from Ohtomo's manga as they quickly walk out of the theme park at the beginning of the story.

Mao Lamdo's "Cloud" is a rather unique and experimental sequence that features a great ambient synthesizer score and an almost hypnotic background as a childlike robot walks against a fierce wind. This vignette seems to have a theme of transformation and change, even though the character itself does not actually move much at all, as the background swirls around the little android and gives the viewer the impression that the sky is constantly changing and that the "protagonist" has traveled many miles, making its way through an unfriendly world. "Meiji Era Cultural Incident - The Volume of the Redhead Invasion" is just as whacked out as it sounds, with the "world's greatest genius", John Jameson Volkeson, attempting to invade a bustling 19th century Japanese metropolis. In this extremely well animated segment, Kitakubo Hiroyuki mixes "steam punk" action with large doses of comedy as five young Japanese kids defend their town, in a giant wooden robot no less, from the Western evil scientist, who is armed with his own primitive robot and a decidedly German accent! For some strange reason, the mad scientist's original English dialog was re-recorded, thus doing away with the hilarious German accent. The Japanese youngsters, on the English soundtrack, all speak in a mock Japanese accent that really sounds like a bunch of Anglo-Saxon gaijin making fun of Asian people. Some folks might find that offensive, but I got the sense that it's some sort of attempt at cultural commentary about prejudices in the 19th century (or perhaps even the 20th century, hence the segment's title). On the other side of the coin, I guess some might find Volkeson's accent stereotypical as well.
Finally, Nakamura Takashi's "Chicken Man and Red Neck" (I kid you not, that's the literal title!) is the tale of a homeless man in the big city who wakes up one night to find the streets and skies filled with myriads of demonic and robotic puppets created out of discarded machinery and scrap metal. This is a nightmarish segment that moves along at dizzying pace, as the vagrant (whom I once read is supposed to be a caricature of famed Anime filmmaker Rin Taro) tries to out run the mechanical demons and their robotic "pied piper" on his broken down scooter.

Please note that my translations of the individual vignette titles above are most likely a little off, compared to any previous English translation (especially Streamline Pictures' version). The short stories themselves, except for "Presence" and "Meiji Era Cultural Incident", are sans dialogue, but very engaging and very entertaining for the most part. And they're very well animated on a whole, especially considering the average OVA budget back in the late 1980's. Having said that, I would like to heartily recommend this DVD to any admirer of Anime, especially to any fan who's been around long enough to remember the "good ol' days" of 80's Japanese animation and pop culture. It's great nostalgia, it's great fun to watch, but most importantly, it's great animation.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English-language movie trailer,Korean subtitles

Review Equipment
29-inch Samsung Bio Vision Multi-System (NTSC, SECAM, and PAL) TV, RCA 5220P DVD player with multi-region capability.)



Mania Grade: A+
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: A+
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: C-
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: All
Region: 2 - Japan
Released By: Bandai Visual
MSRP: 7800
Running time: 90
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Robot Carnival