There’s a section of my Blu-ray collection that looks particularly shameful, in that so much of it remains unwatched: my anime films and television series. There’s some absolute jewels in anime, films like Akira and Millennium Actress, and television shows like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop and Kids on the Slope, which remain absolutely personal favourites that are very dear to me. Most are really discoveries bought ‘blind’ on DVD or Blu-ray and its always doubly rewarding when they turn out to be something really good. There’s a few I’ve tried that didn’t really ‘click’ but that’s a part of the risk, I guess. Here in the UK a specialist label, All the Anime, have done for Anime releases what boutique labels like Arrow and Eureka etc have done for mainstream material, possibly only more so, because All the Anime have a tendency to release series in elaborately packaged releases, in lovingly-designed slipcases and boxes that elevate them to collector pieces. Unfortunately for the likes of me, such releases are particularly inviting even though I clearly don’t have the time to keep up with them, and as they are mostly limited editions, if you don’t pick them up when they come out, you can miss out. God, I hate limited editions, whether they be Blu-ray discs or soundtrack CDs or Super Deluxe CDs.
That’s a roundabout way of explaining why I’ve got far too many anime Blu-ray discs on my Shelf of Shame that really need catching up with.
So here is Genius Party, an anthology of animated shorts that was released with its follow-up collection, Genius Party Beyond, in a box-set with a 144-page making-of/artbook a few years ago now by All the Anime. Its a little like a Japanese Fantasia or Heavy Metal Movie, disparate shorts that are more experimental than narrative. They tend to lean upon visual strengths rather than storytelling, and some are clearly more accessible than others: anime usually has a non-Western, Japanese ‘bent’ regards humour etc that can make it all a little frustrating and ‘marmite’. On the whole, Genius Party largely works and is rewarding, but at its worst it proves quite baffling, such as the second short, “Shanghai Dragon” which is just irritating in the extreme, frankly. Fortunately since the shorts are, as the description implies, all fairly short, they don’t really outstay their welcome, so if there’s one that proves a dud its quickly followed by the next. Of the seven shorts that make up Genius Party, I’d say three were really good (“Deathtic 4”, “Doorbell” and “Baby Blue”) with two worthwhile (“Genius Party” and “Happy Machine”) and two that, well, that’s what the chapter skip button is for (the frankly ‘I-never-want to-suffer-through-that interminable-tosh-ever-again’ “Limit Cycle” and aforementioned “Shanghai Dragon.”
My favourite of the bunch has to be the strange, utterly bizarre “Deathtic 4″in which a Halloween world of monsters and zombies is depicted like some kind of Nightmare Before Christmas on acid. Its so strange and captivating visually that it just bewitched me and made the purchase of the discs worthwhile, and just demonstrates how beautiful and unusual anime can be- its just so unlike the traditional mostly family-oriented animation we see in the West from the likes of Disney and Pixar. “Deathtic 4” has the feeling of glimpsing someone else’s dreams, vast and otherworldly, and reminds of the endless possibilities of animation as an artform. The short does have a plot, of a sort (one of the creatures discovers a frog, from our world, and the story narrates his race to return the frog to where it came from whilst being pursued by the authorities) but really like most of the Genius Party shorts, any plot is secondary to the gorgeous animation from Studio 4°C.
So then we come to the second of the films in the set, Genius Party Beyond, which was released a year after the original, and featured just five shorts which were, I believe, leftovers from the first project. On the whole I think all five are stronger entries (there’s certainly no utter bomb like “Limit Cycle”) and at the very worst they are at least visually arresting. My favourites of this bunch are “Moondrive” which is a sort of heist story set on the moon with a really curious style of animation, “Toujin Kit” which features really clean, very European-style artwork such as you’d find in a graphic-novel, and “Dimension Bomb” which, while it doesn’t really have a narrative, as such, throws so much bizarre and beautiful imagery at you, I think its best just to soak it up and go with the intoxicating gorgeousness of it all. The two lesser shorts, the opening “Gala” and “‘Wanwa’ the Doggy” are stronger than the weakest entries from the first film.
So that’s Genius Party and Genius Party Beyond, and one more set removed from the anime corner of the Shelf of Shame. We’ll see how 2021 goes regards this particular section of the Shelf of Shame but I’m hoping to make some headway.