Scotland Loves Animation organised a couple of weekends full of anime movie screenings recently, at first Glasgow, and then at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh this weekend gone. Glasgow, unfortunately, is a pretty hellish trip for me – not as bad as it would be if I was travelling from the bottom of England, of course, but it’d be far more stressful and time consuming than a trip down to London (that is to say, it’s a good four or five hours).
Edinburgh, on the other hand, is a pretty hassle-free experience. Just as well, given that there was a fairly significant movie receiving its European premier there which wasn’t being screened at Glasgow. As such, I spent most of this last weekend sat in a cinema in Scotlands capital.
The weekends events certainly started off with a bang with a screening of Madhouses REDLINE. No doubt about it, REDLINE is one of the most visually stunning movies you are ever likely to see, leaning heavily on hand-crafted animation techniques discarded as impractical by all others – Mamoru Oshii may not have been able to find anyone skilled enough to draw his planes for Sky Crawlers, but Madhouse certainly managed to find people who could draw cars fluidly and in meticulous detail. The overall aesthetic may not be to everyone’s taste, particularly those weaned predominantly on more modern anime fair, and it’s particular brand of visual chaos – more intense than even the live-action Speed Racer – may be overwhelming to many, but even they would have to admire it on a purely technical level.
RENDLINEs story is almost admirably straightforward, it’s core essentially being Wacky Races by way of Tarantino. It brings together a wildly varied cast of characters for who, through the clever use of things like TV reports, they manage to suggest they’ve conceived elaborate enough a backstory for that they could be spinning off from this for years to come (though in the case of a couple of cast members, they’ve already had their own show). Of course, there’s a lot more to protagonist JPs and Sonosees stories, but for all audiovisual chaos assaulting the viewer, it’s rather nicely understated and simple. With all the anime, both theatrically and on television, that ultimately collapse under their weight as they drag toward their conclusions, it’s refreshing to see something that doesn’t seek to overstretch itself.
It’s hard to know what to draw comparison to with REDLINE. More than anything, it evokes a feeling reminiscent of eighties Bubble Economy anime, where vast sums of money were spent on animating what amounted to vanity projects, and ended up with things like Riding Bean being produced because the staff thought it would be awesome, and made with so much enthusiasm it’s hard not to find it infectious.
In a funny way, REDLINE helped me come to terms with why I enjoyed Summer Wars far more this second time around than I did after my previous viewing back in May. Rather, the fact I keep forgetting I saw One Piece Strong World did.
Don’t get me wrong here – whilst it ultimately overstays it’s welcome about about twenty minutes, Strong World is a really fun adventure movie. I’ve been a big fan of the manga since Viz started their accelerated release earlier this year, and One Piece author Eiichiro Oda has a really great sense of humour. It’s something that’s clearly rubbed off on the anime staff. More than the action sequences, it’s gags, and specifically the way they manage to repeatedly callback to them throughout the movie without ever becoming grating about it, that prove memorable in Strong World.
It’s not even that the animation is necessarily bad either. It’s just that when the first thing you see is an almost toy-looking CGI galleon, and you’ve just come out of REDLINE, it’s somewhat rather deflating. It’s unfair to Strong World, and having already imported the Blu-Ray I look forward to seeing it again on fairer terms in a few weeks, but it’s hard not to judge movies comparatively like that when seen sequentially. That REDLINE overrode my memory of Strong World within a matter of hours is testament to how stunning REDLINE truly is.
To bring this back around to Summer Wars, the circumstances surrounding that one were that I’d just attended a screening of Welcome to the SPACE SHOW. I appreciate that I’m far more fond (or forgiving of the length) of that movie than most people were, and that the excitement of being in what was the second audience in the world to see that movie no doubt colours my opinion, but the deliberately clean and spartan design of Oz couldn’t help but feel underwhelming after the equally busy yet more chaotic alien vistas of The SPACE SHOW. Summer Wars was robbed of it’s spectacle by way of comparison. I guess that’s the problem with film festivals – they don’t always show the most spectacular films last in the day.
This time around, Summer Wars was following Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva, another movie which I’ve seen before. This time around, however, it was the dubbed version. I don’t really have much to say about it – most seem to have found the dub unintentionally hilarious, though with the benefit of having seen it subtitled previously I don’t think it was that bad. Certainly, hearing some of the lines read out in a comprehendable language undoubtedly robs them of some of their gravitas, but I think most of the laughter during the movies emotional moments was derived from Grotskis always-stunning chest hair rather than the wonky accents the dialogue was delivered in.
The third film of that particular day (the forth for me, having seen the worthwhile Irish/French animated movie The Secret of Kells beforehand) was the Trigun movie, Badlands Rumble. Fitting somewhere into the series timeline between the introduction of Wolfwood and the end of his character arc, the movie obviously had to avoid having the kind of elaborate storyline that would cause it to ill-fit within continuity, but that’s not really the point anyway. It’s like a good mid-series episode of the TV show, before the real story actually kicked in, only stretched out to four times the length and with the boost in scale to match. It’s a popcorn action movie of a filler episode – in the good kind of way.
Rewatching the TV show the week before hand was definitely a good move in hindsight. The opening half of the movie was elevated from funny to hysterical as they ran through running gag after running gag, from Vashs mannerisms to Meryls attempts to butter people up with donuts, oft-times twisted in new and amusing fashions. Having that stuff fresh in my memory just made it all the better.
The second half of the movie is a little drier – not that it’s without humour, but it’s downplayed a little more for most of it. The problem is that Vash steals every scene in which he appears even more than Wolfwood did much the same in the TV version – indeed, Vashs antics generated spontaneous applause on more than one occasion. With an excuse made to exclude Vash for a while (after all, given we know he has to live, it’s not productive to building tension for him to be ever present), it’s a different movie for a while.
That said, I don’t think there was anyone in attendance who wasn’t extremely happy to see the movie. It doesn’t have a great story (the only “twist” was kind of obvious, too), but it’s just such tremendous fun. It’s hard to overstate just how amazing the sense of comic timing on display here is – it’s rare to see such perfection in that field in anime – and the action sequences are excellent to boot. The animation, whilst not REDLINE, is still Madhouse-quality too, though there’s a couple of wonky CGI shots.
The last movie I saw (but not of the season, as, alas, I had to depart early) was the one that I imagine most made the trip for (including a very enthusiastic group all the way from France), that being the European premier of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. To say people were excited to be there is an understatement – it was one of only a couple of movies to have sold out (the other being Akira), and queuing for entry started a good three-quarters of an hour before the movie started. Plenty of cosplayers and banner wavers in attendance, too.
Of course, with all the adverts playing before hand and Schoolgirl Milky Crisis author Jonathan Clements excellent introduction (as he was doing for all the movies – yes, he made Endless Eight jokes) in addition to the movies gargantuan running time it was an experience lasting more than three hours. Despite having been led to expect the worst, it really didn’t feel like it.
It’s actually hard to think of an anime movie more different from REDLINE than Haruhi is without postulating about the presently hypothetical content of the K-on movie – whereas REDLINE was loud, brash, frenetic and story-lite, Haruhi was quiet, wordy, introverted and plot-driven. Yet, Haruhi is no worse a movie for it. It’s certainly a harder movie to write about – the animation is good, but it’s certainly not as in-your-face about it as the weekends Madhouse productions. It doesn’t really have any individually spectacular moments you can point out (at least that aren’t tremendously spoilerific) either, nor anything that specifically stands out above all else. Rather, it’s really a superb work as a whole – a triumph of the atmosphere that permeates throughout, with the poignancy at the movies emotional highpoints being perfect. That they manage to hold attention for its whole running time with material that could easily have become grating or tedious in less hands is nothing short of miraculous.
(Also, Kyon’s sardonic running commentary was perfect, but since when has that not been true? That’s what makes Haruhi Haruhi)
Following REDLINE, I tweeted that it was “best movie I’ve seen all year amazing”. I wouldn’t say that Haruhi caused me to completely reassess that statement, but it certainly muddles it somewhat. It’s hard to choose between the two. Frankly, they’re so different that they defy comparative efforts anyway. Objectively speaking, I suppose REDLINE pips it simply because Haruhi is so deeply soaked in Haruhi fiction that unfamiliars wouldn’t stand a chance, but since when was objectivity fun?
In conclusion, it’s been an entertaining weekend. The nice thing about the upswing in anime movie production this last year or two is that it’s possible to arrange these festivals without too much overlap in movies – even taking into account the those I hadn’t personally seen, there were only three in duplicate from the BFIs event in May, and I doubt many would complain about receiving another chance to see Summer Wars or Evangelion 2.0. I hear that they’ve got Mardock Scramble and the Gintama movie (not to mention another screening of REDLINE) lined up for the Leeds Film Festival next month as well. I might just have to look into making some travel arrangements…
(PS REDLINE soundtrack and artbook are on order now).