This release brings together two anthology films: Genius Party, released in 2007, and its sequel Genius Party Beyond. Now, watching a bunch of anime shorts isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but in this case the contributors include the directors of classics such as Mind Game and Cowboy Bebop. And if that doesn’t make you warm to the idea, we don’t know what will.
With a runtime of 20 minutes, Genius Party‘s most substantial offering is Shanghai Dragon, helmed by veteran mecha designer Shoji Kawamori. The tale of a snotty-nosed kid who finds himself in the middle of a high-tech battle zone after discovering a magical pen that can turn thoughts into reality, it’s an impressive exercise in condensed storytelling with a flair for hyperbolic action.
Good though it is, it doesn’t exactly push the boundaries. Nor does Deathtic 4, by Shinji Kimura, the story of a zombie boy which owes too much to the cutely creepy universes of Tim Burton and Henry Selick. Other pieces, however, are far more esoteric. Abandoning narrative altogether, Hideki Futamura’s Limit Cycle is a visual essay on art, god and virtual reality. Meanwhile, Masaaki Yuasa’s Happy Machine – the nightmarish vision of a toddler searching for its mother while being pursued by a demonic flaming chicken – falls under the category of “what was he on when he thought of that one?”
The piece that sticks longest in the memory, though, is Baby Blue by Shinichiro Watanabe. The renowned creator of Space Dandy and Samurai Champloo is in restrained form in this wistful slice of life, which sees two teenagers ditching school and spending the day rekindling an old friendship. Beautifully animated, it packs a powerful emotional punch, while also managing to say a lot about the plight of Japan’s youth.
Genius Party Beyond also has its fair share of standouts. Gala by Mahiro Maeda (Final Fantasy: Unlimited) starts brilliantly with an egg-like meteor crashing into a village. Events take a weird musical turn and the whole thing ends up a few Morris dancers short of a folk convention. Before that, though, it’s genuinely epic in feeling – no easy task for a short film.
Dimension Bomb by Koji Morimoto (an industry veteran who cut his teeth on Akira) is another flawed but visually stunning offering. Depicting a pair of young outcasts befriending each other in a hostile environment, it feels less like a finished piece than excerpts from a longer work in progress, but it’s packed full of mesmerising cyberpunk imagery.
The undoubted highlight of the second anthology, however, is Moondrive by Kazuto Nakazawa (Parasite Dolls). Concerning a rowdy bunch of thieves and their shambolic attempts to locate some hidden treasure, it’s an anarchic black comedy served up in scratchy, jagged animation that brings to mind the artwork of Jamie Hewlett. Thanks to such pieces, this release is a welcome reminder of the scope and variety of Japanese anime, and a fascinating mixed bag of ideas for serious students of animation. Reviewed by Julian White
RELEASE: 11 December 2017
FROM: All The Anime
PRICE (RRP): £29.99
AGE RATING: 12