Anime & Manga

Unconventional anime shorts: an analysis of experimental art

The work of German surrealist Franz Kafka would be a strange choice for an anime adaptation.  Kafka’s brooding existential surrealism is just not the type of work easily pictured alongside “Fullmetal Alchemist” or “Death Note.”

Article by Riley Spieler

But, curiously enough, experimental short director Koji Yamamura thought Kafka’s “A Country Doctor” to be prime material for a 20-minute anime short film in the style of 20th century German expressionism.

Yamamura’s “Inaka Isha” is every bit as unsettling as its source, perhaps even more so. Surreal and absurdist sequences in animation have the potential to give visual representation to the horrifically alien. Imagination, no matter how disturbing it may be, flows unfiltered into hand drawn art.

I do not profess to be a cinephile or film buff of any kind, but it doesn’t take one to realize that the atmosphere produced by “Inaka Isha’s” sound direction, cinematography and bizarre aesthetic add a pitch-perfect chill to the quiet tale of a doctor who must brave a snowstorm to find a dying young boy.  The exact feeling of the short is hard to convey in words.  To get a fairly good idea without actually viewing it, picture a wet mound of warm flesh entering the back of the throat and then just sitting there, unable to be cleared away or quite comprehended, but annoyingly affixed where it is just unreachable.  Pretty disgusting, right?

“Inaka Isha” is uncomfortably odd.  It is a reminder that anime is a medium, not a genre.  It provides a platform via animated shorts for experimental oddities to come to life.  These shorts certainly have little in common with the likes of “Sailor Moon” or “Naruto,” but they are anime all the same.

Recently, I took a bit of a dive into this odd realm of obscure art.  “Inaka Isha” was one of my findings, but it is not the only one that bears mentioning.

When Mamoru Oshii wasn’t changing the face of cyberpunk and sci-fi with his internationally acclaimed film “Ghost in the Shell,” he could be found applying his creative eye to shorter projects.  He and his team at Production I.G. produced the 10-minute short “Je T’aime” in 2010.

Despite its fancy French title, “Je T’aime” has little to do with Paris or even France, for that matter.  “Je T’aime” follows a basset hound around a post-apocalyptic landscape.  Eventually, he encounters a flying robot, and the two pass the days playing fetch to a tune by J-rock band GLAY.

“Je T’aime” conveys more emotion in 10 minutes than the average piece of work off of Crunchyroll’s front page could hope to do in its entire 12-episode runtime.  And come its somberly mystifying conclusion, my only course of action was to look at a wall and sort through the knot of feelings in my heart.

Experimental does not always equate to dysphoria or melancholy. The most delightfully strange short I’ve come across is titled “Yamedeloid.”  “Yamedeloid” follows a wandering cyborg samurai.  He meets a nice village girl, and then bears start dancing … and there’s a robot battle … and a disco party-because the robot samurai also likes to sing.  And the old people in the village sing along with him.  It’s all so delightfully wacky and odd.  I’ve watched it about five times through and find something new to laugh at every time.

“Yamedeloid” is part of the Japan Animator Expo, an omnibus of anime shorts and music videos executive produced by Hideaki Anno of “Neon Genesis Evangelion” fame.  The Japan Animator Expo is all about creative expression and pushing the boundaries of conventional animation.  The Expo attempts to foster the creation of more innovative and unique shorts, and that’s never a bad thing.  Each short offers a fresh microcosm of adventurous ideas that are worth being explored for the sake of the idea itself.

[Quite a few of the Animator Expo shorts can be found on this playlist.  New shorts and selected older shorts are hosted for limited time windows at http://animatorexpo.com/]

I’m not sure what exactly begun my journey through the world of anime shorts.  The journey was certainly worth taking, though, and I’d recommend anyone with a hungering for the unusual or strange undertake it, too.  It’s really fun to see creativity tested in such a brief format.

About Riley

Storyteller, student, and in the eyes of my cat, a legend, I’ve wandered through many an exotic land and treaded countless unbeaten paths to find myself in a swivel chair at my keyboard, spinning my own tales or engaging with and responding to anime and manga with my own words and thoughts. Someday, I hope to turn my love of writing into my profession. You can visit Riley’s blog here.

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