Robot Carnival Anime Review
US Release By
90 minutes, nine episodes of varying length
Robot Carnival is comprised of several short stories by some of anime's big names from 1987. The stories all differ greatly from each other in terms of plot, quality, and style, but there is one subject connecting them all together: Robots. And when I say robots, that means everything from giant mecha made of bricks to darkly elegant androids.
The intro sets the tone and a bit of a background for the other stories, but it doesn't really have anything to do with them (although this mini-short-story does finish up at the end of the movie, creating a kind of sandwich effect). A group of people in the middle of the desert frantically evacuate their tiny village as a monstrous, tank-like mechanical carnival crashes through it. The words "ROBOT CARNIVAL", spelled out in gigantic letters, make up the front of the machine; as it bombs the remains of the village with exploding doll-like robots and sparkling lights in a disturbingly cheerful and parading manner, the first story begins.
All of the stories are wordless except for Tale of Two Robots and Presence. Here is a short rundown on each of them:
Starlight Angel: A tale of romance and giant evil robots set in a kind of pyrotechnic early '80s amusement park. An android must fight to save the girl he loves...
Cloud: An abstract, wordless piece about a small figure struggling through a storm.
Deprive: Similar to Starlight Angel, only with more of a heavy-metal influence with the giant robot being replaced by an alien.
Franken's Gears: The tale of Frankenstein is given a robotic makeover.
Tale of Two Robots: A humorous satire on cultural differences, played out by a bunch of Japanese kids in their big wooden mecha versus a foreign whitey in a robot made of bricks.
Presence: A man creates a beautiful android, then must take responsibility for his creation.
Nightmare: A drunkard witnesses firsthand the technological horrors that come out to play at night.
It's almost impossible to sum up any anthology without going through each story separately, but here goes.
Robot Carnival is a twisted roller coaster through a Wonderland gone mecha. Sometimes it's slow, sometimes it's fast, sometimes it's loud and sometimes it goes through really dark tunnels--but no matter where the ride takes you, there is always something interesting to look at.
That having been said, RC is extremely uneven. When the style spectrum of a production ranges between a short animated piece which involves nothing more than slow moving images set on even slower music (Cloud), to an apocalyptic battleground where robots and war machines duke it out under a barrage of heavy metal (Deprive), and everything in between, that's a lot of variety to choose from. Keep in mind that RC was done by no less than nine directors, each with different design sensibilities and ideas.
However, there are some that stand out from the rest. Presence is a beautifully animated piece with a great musical score and a dark but redemptive theme underneath its basic plot of romance and playing God. I could watch it over and over. Nightmare is frenetic and slightly deranged, but fun, and Tale of Two Robots is pure silliness.
Deprive, Starlight Angel, Cloud, and Nightmare are good examples of style over substance. The plots are either thin or non-existent, but that's so clearly not the point it doesn't even become an issue. Just sit back and enjoy, and don't worry about the other stories; they'll make you think, but only if you let them.
The dubbing is decent but forgettable, seeing as how only two stories actually use dialogue. The character's voices in Tale of Two Robots are incredibly annoying and screechy, but bearable, and the script fits the overall weirdness of two wood-and-clay-brick mecha dueling with firecrackers and cannonballs. Those in Presence have a definite British accent which didn't bother me unduly, but I'm sure some out there will be upset. It's decent enough, though, and isn't that hard to listen to.
The music is usually great to listen to, but if it isn't, it always suits the mood of the piece. No mistakes made here. The soundtrack in available somewhere around here...
RC may have been made in 1987, but the animation can more than hold up to its overrated contemporaries, and this is obviously stuff you won't see every day. It's weird, it's quirky, it's bizarre--but you'll have fun, and love it or hate it, there's probably something in here that will appeal to your tastes. Even if you dislike mecha.
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Notes and Trivia
Each segment of the film is by a different director, with the only common theme being the single-word instruction "robots." Only two have any dialogue at all, one of which (A Tale of Two Robots) originally had some dialogue in English, since the mad scientist is American. Streamline, for the US release, dubbed both in their entirety; they also rearranged the order of the segments somewhat.
Mmm... I only selected Sci-Fi in Broad Genre because that was the one thing connecting all the stories together. Action, Comedy, Drama, and Romance can all be found in equal amounts here.
US DVD Review
No official US-release DVD exists as of 2010.
Intense themes and animation and some violence prevent a G-rating.
Violence: 2 - They're not really humans, but they're close enough. Kind of graphic in a creepy way.
Nudity: 0 - Some mildly short skirts, but we've all seen much worse on Sailor Moon.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - One scene where a guy puts his arm around the girl and says "Y'wanna?" and this is as direct as any of the romance gets.
Language: 1 - A couple in Tale of Two Robots and Presence, but nothing big, and usually you can hardly hear them.