Understanding Chaos Anime Review
US Release By
Sci-fi Mini-thriller / Educational
9 minutes + 41 minute making of
In the future, there is an ongoing conflict between Earth and Mars--and an ideological battle between Earth's organized society and Mars' chaotic take on government. But will an agent from Earth, trained in order, be able to deal with the battle with chaos that awaits him?
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Understanding Chaos is really as much an educational video as anime. On one hand, there is the short film, consisting of a couple of very brief but spiffy looking action sequences, and a longer, deep-sounding conversation between a stoic hero-type and a talkative villain, plus a little twist. The dialogue is a bit pretentious for my taste, but the basic set up and style is professional and has a good dark-future feel. The other half is a 40-minute-long interview with the creator, giving detailed information (with plenty of step-by-step demonstrations) on exactly how each shot and effect was produced.
Together, this short film and long how-to video make an interesting and currently unique package. If you're at all interested in making your own anime production or what goes into producing something like this, or you're just intrigued by the idea of a quality one-man-show and how it comes together, then Understanding Chaos is a worthwhile purchase.
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First of all, Understanding Chaos is more of an experiment than a finished production. Although the promotional language implies it, it doesn't tell you outright that the feature on the DVD is only 9 minutes long. A well produced 9 minutes (particularly considering it's almost entirely the work of one man), but it's essentially just a teaser for a would-be feature film about some sort of struggle between Mars and Earth.
Aside from the novelty of being an independent production, what might make the disc worth the money is the "extra" feature--a 40-minute-long interview with the creator. This isn't just a general discussion about what inspired him, or what he was aiming to prove (though those things are discussed too)--this "making of" featurette includes detailed information (with plenty of step-by-step demonstrations) on exactly how each shot and effect was produced.
The demonstrations are clear, straightforward, and detailed enough (naming the exact software tools and techniques used) that it's practically a how-to manual for someone seriously interested in producing their own independent anime using similar techniques (not the only method available, certainly, but an effective one). And to its credit, I have to admit that even though I'm not interested in making my own anime, and I don't generally enjoy behind-the-scenes videos, I still found it rather interesting.
As for Understanding Chaos (the story), it consists of a couple of very brief but spiffy-looking action sequences, and a longer, deep-sounding conversation between a stoic hero-type and a talkative villain, plus a little twist. The dialogue is a bit pretentious for my taste, but the basic setup and style is solid and has a good dark-future feel. There are three things in particular about this short that stand out, though.
One is simply that it's a decent little piece of anime. The style feels about right for something in the general vein of Jin Roh and other dark, realistically-styled movies of that sort, the visuals are polished and anime-style (without seeming to work too hard at being "real anime"), and on the whole it feels like it could be a part of a decent movie. When you take into account that this is the handiwork of a single person, that's an impressive achievement, to say the least. I'd say this is overall the most solid of the indie productions I've seen to date.
The second thing that stands out are the entirely computer-generated visuals. This wouldn't be particularly noteworthy, except that it doesn't look computer generated at all. Due to a combination of good design, nicely hand-touched-up backgrounds, and a very good cel shader, the 3D characters end up looking essentially indistinguishable from hand-drawn cels.
The only real side effect that I noticed was that the character animation is just a bit stiff, but this isn't a big deal. I didn't particularly like the character design, but that's a matter of personal taste, not a failure of the medium. An interesting note is that, despite being rendered cels, the animation isn't high frame rate at all--about mid-budget OAV level--and the mouth movements are standard open-and-close anime style. This might have been due to budget constraints (less render time), but it also has the effect of making the production look that much more like cel art.
The third thing that stands out about Understanding Chaos is that some of the dialogue is in Japanese (everything but the one extended conversation, in fact, although that only adds up to a minute or so). It certainly caught me off guard, and although it seemed just a bit too much like a "Look, this is real anime!" ploy, the mix of languages and end result come off pretty well. There are a couple of very awkward lines by people who don't sound like they know any Japanese, although the main character (even with an English accent) is believable enough, and the English-language acting is decent.
When you put it together, this short film and long how-to video make an interesting and currently unique package. If you're only interested in seeing some anime, buy Studio ArtFX's full-length OAV episode, Shadowskin, instead--the style is essentially the same, it's longer, and it's more filled out. But if you're at all interested in making your own anime production or what goes into producing something like this, or you're just intrigued by the idea of a quality one-man-show and how it comes together, then Understanding Chaos is a worthwhile purchase.
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The story fragment is similar in ways to Armitage III and in general theme and style to Jin Roh, Ghost in the Shell, AD Police Files, and similar movies and shows. If you like the look and feel, though, your best bet is Shadowskin--the first OAV in a series from Studio ArtFX, it uses the same art style, techniques, and general style of storytelling as this.
Notes and Trivia
The first production of Studio ArtFX and the brainchild of Terrence Walker, who appears in the interview. Studio ArtFX has also finished the first episode of Shadowskin, which is very similar and a full episode of an ongoing story.
Understanding Chaos was apparently licensed by Tokyopop at one point, though no release that I'm aware of came of this.
US DVD Review
The DVD is minimal, but nice. The menu offers 3 simple choices: The video with subtitles (for the Japanese dialogue, and they're hard coded), the video without subtitles, and the making-of video. The story section offers one chapter break, and the making-of section is broken up with several (although neither showed a "time elapsed" counter on my DVD player). The video is quite sharp, an the 2-channel audio is nice as well.
The short is serious, but not that rough.
Violence: 1 - Hints at violence, but no onscreen death.
Nudity: 1 - A girl in a bottle.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - Nothing.
Language: 1 - Relatively mild language.