Broken Saints Anime Review
US Release By
Spiritual Adventure Drama; Fantasy-horror
12 hours; 24 10 to 45 minute chapters; final episode 83 minutes
What's In It
- Indie Anime
- Violence: 4 (heavy)
- Nudity: 2 (moderate)
- Sex: 3 (significant)
- Language: 3 (significant)
Four strangers in different parts of the world have disturbing psychic experiences and each embarks on a deeply emotional and dangerous personal spiritual and physical odyssey. The saga follows the perilous destinies of Shandala, a vulnerable young woman; Oran, a hardened Iraqi warrior; Kamimura, a Japanese holy man; and Raimi, a brilliant young computer programmer. Their lives converge through a connection to the mysterious mega-communications company BIOCOM, when its corporate motto: "In the coiled strands of DNA...and the quiet corners of the globe--we keep you in touch inside and out," takes on ominous meaning with far-reaching consequences.
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The Broken Saints saga is an enthralling, involving, lush journey into a metaphysical adventure and exploration of four strangers set in the real world and told with a great variety of styles, tempos, moods, and genres, and illuminated with thought-provoking quotations at every turn. The 24 chapters or episodes are discrete but connected; and, as the saga progresses, the disconnected stories of Shandala, Oran, Kamimura, and Raimi (the last a successful computer programmer who seems to be the alter ego of writer and director Brooke Burgess) come together during their suspenseful, spiritual, and mind-altering odyssey.
Presented in an innovative medium referred to as "cinematic literature," the 24 chapters are organized into four DVD discs, each of which have a rich lode of special features, including a complete audio-commentary track.
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Enthralling, mesmerizing, entrancing, evocative... It was nine scant minutes into the 2006 Budget Monks Production of a four-DVD set release of Broken Saints: The Animated Comic Epic, when I understood why those first visitors to the original web broadcast were hooked. Masterminded by Brooke Burgess, Broken Saints is a rich and dramatic odyssey into the psychological and philosophical world of its writer and director ably abetted by the talents of Andrew West, Art Direction, and Ian Kirby, Technical Direction. If you are already a fan of Broken Saints, this XXth Century Fox Film Corporation four-disc DVD set is nirvana. If you haven't experienced it yet, you are in for a wonderful visionary adventure akin to having returned from a long time-trip, never having seen one of the great trilogies, and been given the collected set. It is not something you want to gulp down in one sitting or marathon viewing. This is a saga to savor.
But, fair warning: you are in for a bumpy ride.
Created and presented as a free webcast of "cinematic literature" enhanced by a "sonic landscape," Broken Saints broke new ground in 1999. Although it is message more than medium that its creators think is the new ground, it is the medium that first got through to me.
There is something tantalizing about a new medium or a highly original variation on an existing one. Most of you can't know how fascinating and exciting it was to see TV for the first time (although it was vastly inferior to the movies of that time) or to see the breakthroughs in video games--each a whole new crush-at-first-sight. I found myself thinking of my first enchanting encounter with Myst: Broken Saints was something new, and in the first several episodes it took my breath away. Here is manga merged with anime, but ever so slightly. Countless creative productions have translated and transformed comics into other media: animated short subjects and features, live-action TV and films, and combinations of the two; video games and games of every other stripe; plays, products, and just about anything that can be packaged... But Broken Saints owes more to the talking book and techniques inspired by the craftsmanship of documentary filmmakers than to small-budget movie techniques or classic comic spin-offs.
Experiencing a beautifully done series of comic books as effortlessly and richly as possible is at the heart of Broken Saints. A powerful and rich soundtrack elevates the comic into animation (a 5.1 surround voice narration is a satisfying and professionally done option on the DVD set, but you can also elect to view the "original, classic form" sans narration).
The mastermind behind Broken Saints, Brooke Burgess refers to this medium as "cinematic literature," and although you can experience the DVDs with an impeccably cast, full English narration in the individual characters' voices (good enough to experience the saga second time around as a radio drama), the essential form of the series is a comic book to be read in a controlled temporal mode with evocative soundtrack music. Ian Kirby and Andrew West are the young artist and technical directors that envisioned this medium merging Flash computer technology, anime, and the graphic novel, and whose collaboration with Burgess is responsible for the astonishing success of this high-minded effort. It is a pleasure to see their work mature through the series development and gain much warranted recognition.
The Broken Saints saga is an involving, lush journey into a metaphysical adventure and exploration of "four strangers" set in the real world and told with a great variety of styles, tempos, moods, and genres, and illuminated with thought-provoking quotations from Edgar Allen Poe to Nietzsche to Henry Miller to Albert Einstein at every turn. The episodes are discrete but connected; and, as the saga progresses, the disconnected stories of Shandala, Oran, Kamimura, and Raimi (the last a successful computer programmer that seems to be the alter ego of writer and director Burgess) come together in a suspenseful, often traumatic series of discoveries. The episodes are organized into four discs, each of which is composed of several chapters or episodes (and each of which have a rich lode of special features, including a complete audio-commentary track, that should satisfy the most avid Broken Saints fan for endless hours).
The artwork is uniformly arresting, but not uniform. Much of the "animation" of the series consists of taking one handsomely done cel and dwelling on it, closing in on it, moving in a pace from it to the next as though you were seeing and experiencing a manga exactly as it was envisioned and alive to its creators--which, of course, you are. The emphasis, the pause, the life are all there.
Candles flicker, fires blaze, things blow up, and a tear trickles, but this is not full animation by any standard. Indeed, awkward moments are often attempts at minimal animation, for example, a disembodied arm rises to lift a cigarette about as smoothly as a kindergarten shadow-puppet put together with metal fasteners.
A disadvantage of this controlled version of what is essentially a comic book frame is that you are forced to scrutinize a given piece of artwork and every flaw looms large. An awkwardly drawn hand or clumsy line which would have flickered by in an anime or been scarcely noticed in a graphic novel form becomes a major annoyance when you stare at it for what seems an eternity. But when the art is exceptional, as it often is, the effect is--as Director Brooke Burgess intended--a creation of an "hypnotic space...a meditative experience." It's like moving thoughtfully through a mind-opening exhibition and being enrapt by the work. The allusion to a fine arts experience is re-enforced by the occasional use of actual great artworks, for example, Edvard Munch's "Scream" is tossed into the storyline just as the quotations are. (The inspiration for Broken Saints is so multidimensional, multifaceted, multidisciplined, interdenominational, and international, it's like a Google search of the director-writer's mind. Brooke Burgess credits such diverse sources of inspiration as Time Bandits, The Prisoner, Twin Peaks, Perfect Blue, Ghost in the Shell, Shakespeare, quantum physics...and the great religious and philosophical works of western and eastern civilization.) A glimpse at the chapter titles gives you an inkling of the psychical, spiritual intent of their content in this modern world battle with evil: Introitus, Cryptic, Epiphany, Synchronicity, Lazarus, Revelation...
The episodes vary stylistically from familiar sci-fi anime styles to delicate Zen-like flower scenes to a distinctive, roughly executed retro art-style reminiscent of the Ashcan School of early XXth century American art or the Art Noir graphic illustrations of the 1940s and 1950s. Almost as varied are the lengths of the individual episodes or chapters--from the ten-minute episodes that introduce the central characters at the beginning of the epic saga to the one-hour and 23-minute Chapter XXIV: Truth that concludes the series. Intervening chapters are almost any length in between, mostly in the 10 to 45 minute range, with longer chapters broken into acts.
This organizing factor becomes increasingly important, since you will soon discover you can't really move anywhere once you are in one of the fixed lengths of a chapter or act. Any attempt to fast-forward or back-up, will take you to the beginning of a chapter or act: If you want to watch a Broken Saint episode, you will watch it as the creators of the epic intended you to or not at all. Trying to watch the DVDs on my DVD player drove me up the wall. Then I put them in their natural habitat on my iMac, and my evenings and nights were laced with addictive viewing of ca. fifteen-minute trips into the literate and fascinating mind of Brooke Burgess and the time-continuum world that the Budget Monks team had created. These were not all happy trips. Occasionally, it was so slow (intentionally slow--Burgess sees this saga as an alternative experience for the MTV generation) that I once glazed over and crashed into my keyboard barely missing the floor. Other times, the time flashed by in an instant as though--as my son once said on a particularly happy day when he was four-years-old--God had put time on fast-forward. Perhaps, this unevenness in the experience in the saga is all intentional: you never know what to expect--like life. The playing with our perception of time by Burgess is more than intentional, and the fact that I referenced God in this paragraph is not an incidental outcome of this spiritually and philosophically inspired saga designed to provoke such thoughts.
Although I keep talking about Broken Saints in philosophic, poetic, and artistic terms, getting to the impassioned Burgess's message, unfortunately, takes an often crude and laborious path that makes it suitable for mature viewers only (see parental note): Many of the scenes are violent, vulgar, foul-mouthed, disturbing, and gory. ... But then so is Shakespeare. Broken Saints is not Shakespeare, but often during this experience I have thought of Shakespeare and recalled the poignant remarks of a famed Shakespearean scholar who wished he could have the experience that many of us were having of seeing one of Shakespeare's plays for the first time--"you can only do that once." Don't squander your experience of the Broken Saints saga: Take your time to let the compelling, twelve-hour, twenty-four-chapter epic unfold. The four-disc DVD set is a treasure to look forward to over a long winter or a slow summer and beyond...you have all the time in the world. If you are a fan of a movie like The Matrix for its story rather than its special effects, Broken Saints was made for you.
I can guarantee one thing: Although it isn't easy to describe the epic in conventional dramatic media terms, Broken Saints will make you think. I haven't stopped talking about it since I started on this epic odyssey with them. The saga is all about message, and if you are up to doing some heavy thinking along with enjoying a decidedly XXIst-century idiom with a retro twist, Broken Saints is well worth the trip. You will have lots of company along the way--the cult following of this saga is deservedly reaching around the world.
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The only similar indie "animated comic" production to date is D7 Peacemaker.
Notes and Trivia
The wry name of Budget Monks can be interpreted as an allusion to the zero profits and purist intents of their early efforts. One of the many delights in the extra features of the disc set is a fascinating talk that Burgess gave at the Walker Art Museum, Minneapolis, MN, in September 2002, describing the genesis, inspiration, and frugal years of the Broken Saints team.
The 2003 Audience Award, Sundance Online Film Festival, recognized the groundbreaking early episodes. A government grant put the Canadian team into a different league financially and in terms of resources, which is reflected in the improved production values of later episodes and the realization of the DVD version of the saga.
US DVD Review
This is a class-act package, graphically pleasing inside and out, with a treasure trove of extra features sure to please fans. The mastermind behind Broken Saints, Brooke Burgess refers to this medium as cinematic literature, and although you can experience the DVDs with full English narration in the characters voices, the essential form of the series is a comic book to be read in a controlled temporal mode with evocative soundtrack music. (You will eventually want to do both and to listen to the audio-commentary as well.) Subtitles in English, French, and Spanish are available, although the English one is redundant. The saga is best viewed on your computer and most of the extra features can only be accessed that way.
Coarse language, graphic violence, ugly images, and racial and social stereotyping are used to set up the story. Although it was intended to "inspire teens" as well as adults, these elements would make this DVD set "R-rated" in normal cinematic terms and by most sensitive parental standards. The objectionable material is intrinsic in the saga, not something that can be bleeped, looped, or easily edited. Ironically, the only editing apparent in the DVD version from the original webcast seems to be the word "Windows" redlined in several images.
Violence: 4 - Torture, exploding people, extreme cruelty.
Nudity: 2 - Humorous porn screens.
Sex/Mature Themes: 3 - Mature themes (not sexual).
Language: 3 - Vulgar language, gratuitous expletives, racial epithets.
Staff & Cast
Creator/Director/Writer/Producer: Brooke Burgess
Technical Direction/Flash/Design: Ian Kirby
Art Direction/Character Design: Andrew West
Series Composer: Tobias Tinker