I watched Robot Carnival last night. I was excited to see another piece of high-budget rich 80s anime for the first time, in the vein of Akira, Venus Wars and a few other OVAs and films from that late 80s-early 90s era. It's certainly lush, with lots of polished character animation and intricate effects work among the best I've ever seen. In terms of entertainment value, it's a little weaker though.
One trend I noticed in the film was that many of the shorts had very solid drawings and smooth movement, but the action and timing felt weird and somewhat clumsy. Maybe because the animators weren't used to such full animation and detailed designs? It's most noticeable in Franken's Gears and Presence, but a little bit everywhere.
Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture was a ton of fun, easily my favourite short. I wish there was more of that to watch. So much fun character animation, and great designs too! This short still had beautiful animation but it was more in the vein of Tatsuyuki Tanaka, Hayao Miyazaki or Yoshinori Kanada (not that either of them worked on this)-- very snappy and dynamic, rather than focusing on the smoothest movement possible like some of the others in the film. After a few serious shorts in a row, this light-hearted comedy was a breath of fresh air and right up my street. I also really liked the anthology's opening and closing segments with the giant Robot Carnival machine.
Chicken Man and Red Neck also had great character animation and effects but not much of a narrative. It was still pretty entertaining, but I don't know if I could really describe the story.
My least favourites were Deprive, which just felt like watching an AMV of a generic 80s action anime; and Presence, which was too creepy for my taste and had unpleasant character designs. Although at least that one did have pretty nice backgrounds.
Let's see, what else was there... I almost forgot that Cloud existed, it was so tedious. It seemed like its goal was to test the viewer's patience, but not in any interesting or subversive way. Just very monotonous. I wanted to fast-forward through it. Star Light Angel was cute and the Disneyland setting was neat, but generally speaking that short was pretty forgettable.
I was pleased with myself for recognizing Joe Hisaishi's music before seeing his name in the credits. As I'm sure most people are by now, I'm more familiar with his orchestral scores, but I also really like his 80s electronic work in Nausicaa and Venus Wars. It reminded me a bit of Ryuichi Sakamoto's soundtrack for Royal Space Force in its unapologetic synthetic nature.
Overall I thought Robot Carnival was good but when I finished it, I was slightly
unsatisfied--as with many anthologies I was left wishing there was just
one more really solid segment to elevate the entire thing. Not that
there weren't good shorts in it, but it's just sort of a greedy optimism I tend to feel with anthologies. You keep waiting for the piece that really makes it great, and often it doesn't come or as with Meiji Machine Culture, it feels so different from the rest of the film that it doesn't really help to unify it. That said, I wish there were more animated anthologies out there! It's a dream of mine to participate in one someday but I guess they're difficult to organize, and not very lucrative? There's probably not much of an audience for anthologies, in animation or live action, but artistically it's such an appealing format.