Feast for Eyes and Ears: Fantasy Railroad in the Stars, Mezame no Hakobune and 1001 Nights

July 13, 2009

fantasy railroad

Sometimes animations don’t need stories, or even characters. Sometimes the experience is derived purely from pretty pictures and pleasant sounds. My recent viewing of an obscure anime Fantasy Railroad in the Stars was one of those, and the two other anime I am going to recommend in this post (one being Oshii’s Mezame no Hakobune and other being Amano’s 1001 nights) have this in common: no story, no characters. Audio-visual experience is what defines them, but it’s also interesting how each one tries to engage our attention for 20~50 minutes without any plot or character to follow.

Fantasy Railroad in the Stars [48 min]

Watching Fantasy Railroad is a lot like watching Iblard Jikan in that we are presented with beautifully rendered/coloured pictures, while a pleasantly soothing music plays in background. Even though I much prefer the amazing drawings in Iblard Jikan, as an animated experience Fantasy Railroad is superior, simply because it actually has narrative voices talking throughout the journey. It’s just so much easier to engage in this journey through different galaxies when you get the feeling that someone is there travelling with you, exclaiming in excitement and wonder, which I think Iblard Jikan should have done to make its journey through the world of Iblard.

mezame

Mezame no Hakobun [35 min]

Mezame no Hakobun directed by Mamoru Oshii is, how should I say, more exhausting and immersing work. If you want something visually stimulating, look no further. This is more than pretty pictures, it is of water bubbles, gaseous forms, digital textures. If I recall correctly, one fan claimed to have felt like being born again after watching this. I don’t know if I would go that far personally though. There are moments that are truly captivating, simply surrendering yourself to the experience of diving, flying, etc. But other times it’s just so alienating and bizarre (and weird!), you will often find yourself fast-forwarding. Very interesting work nonetheless if you like experimental anime/films.

1001 nights

1001 Nights [24 min]

Ah, my favourite of the three. There are few reasons why I like this work much higher than the previous two. The first is that the art is inspired by Yoshitaka Amano and this is the closest you will get to savouring Amano’s uniquely ghastly illustration in animated form. The second is that 1001 Nights is a philharmonic, and thus its harmony between visuals and music is captivating. Normally we are only interested in how appropriate and fitting the soundtrack is to the visuals, theme, mood, etc, where music is more or less a background piece for what is happening on the silver screen. In the case of 1001 Nights, music responds to the animated drawings. The difference here is that the hauntingly melancholic symphonic pieces are actively synchronising with the music of animated drawings (which I’ve talked about in my previous post on TTGL), and not merely as a passive background piece. You may recall such chemistry between your two senses in Disney’s philharmonic Fantasia, where birds simply glide in legato, while skipping across the water in staccato, all in perfect rhythm. Although of course, one should not expect as much synchronisation in 1001 Nights compared to Fantasia, but what it does is still amazing and absolutely gorgeous.

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19 Responses to “Feast for Eyes and Ears: Fantasy Railroad in the Stars, Mezame no Hakobune and 1001 Nights”

  1. kadian1364 Says:

    Well, Fantasia is the rare case where everything revolves around the music first, sometimes telling a visual tale inspired by the “story” of the featured musical theme, sometimes not. In that way, I expect the visuals to complement the sound, rather than how it usually works the other way around.

    I’ll have to thank you later, since without reading your post I might never have never heard of these works. All three films sound fascinating, so they’ll go right onto my “To Watch” list.

  2. ghostlightning Says:

    Guh I feel illiterate and uncultured. Thanks for the recommendations!

  3. animekritik Says:

    thanks. i’m gonna watch some of this and then tell you what i think!

  4. gaguri Says:

    @kadian1364

    You’re right about Fantasia, which is probably why the interaction is much more highlighted than 1001 Nights. And glad you appreciate the recommendations.

    @ghostlightning

    Haha, my impression is that you’re very literate and cultured in other aspects of life. I’m not sure if these movies be to your liking but can’t hurt to broaden one’s perspectives in your favourite form of entertainment ^__^

    @animekritik

    I’d be delighted to hear when you do : D

  5. coburn Says:

    Well, like the others I’m unfamiliar with this kind of stuff. I watched 1001 Nights this morning, having summoned up the courage to go for the shortest film on offer.

    I was pretty into it by the end, but wouldn’t deny that there were passages where I drifted away. Thinking of Fantasia, the kind of episodic nature of that film, its changes in pace and approach produce a quite different effect from 1001 Nights’ cycles. Definitely interesting anyway, I might try the Railroad next, see if narration can help me.

  6. Sasa Says:

    Oh yeah, these are some special films indeed. I haven’t seen any of them, but I collected these titles when I was looking for possible Anime Relations in my MAL club (Artsy, that is). One day, I am planning to see everything on the list. I especially want to see 1001 Nights now!

  7. gaguri Says:

    @coburn

    I personally couldn’t take my eyes off the screen for its entire run, but probably because I’m a fan of Yoshitaka Amano’s illustrations. I think there are certain moods and styles that just click for different people, for example, that fan of Mezame I was talking about, felt like he was ‘born again’, which definitely wasn’t the case for me (I was skipping many parts tbh…).

    I couldn’t find the subbed version of Fantasy Railroad though, so I had to do with what I could understand from Japanese narration. If you find the subbed version, o pls notify me :3

    @Sasa

    I’m hunting for those titles in the club as well! Unfortunately some of them are so obscure you can’t find even raw version. I noticed that few shorts are, like 1001 nights, Amano-inspired, so hopefully I will get to see them sometime in the future.

  8. Kitsune Says:

    Oh, I have to check out this version of 1001 nights 🙂 Yoshitaka Amano’s art is great 🙂

    Thank you for reminding me about the Galactic Railroad 🙂


  9. […] Celestial Railroad or Fantasy Railroad in the Stars). Kuwashima Houko narrated the story. Thanks to Gaguri for posting about this new […]

  10. kadian1364 Says:

    When you likened 1001 Nights to Fantasia, and said it was your favorite, I thought that would be the easiest of the three to jump into, and I’m not at all disappointed. Once I was able to orient myself after the first 5 minutes, I became completely immersed in the experience.

    I am curious though, what qualifies 1001 Nights as an anime? (For clarity’s sake, I define anime as animation made by Japanese creators, mainly featuring Japanese dialogue/text, made for a Japanese audience.) Was it only because it was Amano’s art and concept? Because the version I saw had an English voice in the prelude, the music was played by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and produced by American individuals and production studio, or at least western sounding names. There was hardly a Japanese name in the credits!

  11. gaguri Says:

    @Kitsune

    Yep. You must check out 1001 Nights : D

    @kadian136

    Well, I’ve referred to it as anime for two very superficial reasons. 1. It’s listed under anidb/myanimelist database, 2. this is anime blog, so I wanted the three works as all anime. There are quite a lot of experimental/philharmonics out there I think, but I don’t think there are many Japanese ones. However, Japanese man named Noriaki Kaneko was apparently responsible for computer graphics director and creative supervisor, and Amano’s concept essentially gave birth to the overall visual aesthetics. I suppose I avoid arguing which of those ‘grey area’ animations are anime or not anime because it gets bit tricky.

    i.e. Is Last Unicorn anime or american animation? It was animated by Japanese studio that worked for Miyazaki, but directed by American, voiced by American, has voice-first-animation-later ala american way (compared to Japanese animation-first-dub-later), western narrative style, yet something anime-ish about the drawings, subject matter, much darker tone than typical disney fairy tales. Hard to tell.

  12. animekritik Says:

    @gaguri

    I saw Mezame no Hakobune and my experience was exactly the same as yours. Beautiful stuff, though I did fastforward through some of it.

  13. gaguri Says:

    If you like Amano, I think you’ll have better luck with 1001 Nights, although it’s less sensory. Fantasy Railroad you might start skipping as well, since it’s nearly an hour long…

  14. animekritik Says:

    OK, I watched 1001 nights and liked it a lot. My favorite was the golden still at the beginning and again at the end!

  15. gaguri Says:

    I love that intro too and I love the phrase spoken at the beginning. Have to watch it again to remind myself but it was something on the line of transfigured…transformed…then transported…I’m sure you will remember though 🙂

  16. omisyth Says:

    Delicious feast which I must catch up on. You keep recommending like this and my backlog will truly become endless!

  17. gaguri Says:

    Haha…I suppose it helps that they aren’t 110 episodes long like Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Anyway, I think these works are a nice distraction to indulge in once in a while away from relatively lighter mainstream animation.

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