Introduction to Anime Anthology: Genius Party

July 9, 2010

An anime anthology usually refers to a collection of animated shorts that approaches a common theme or subject matter from varying perspective. Take Studio 4C’s Genius Party for example.  Consisting of 12 shorts (15 minutes each) in total, each work is directed by some of the most recognised geniuses in the industry, including Shinichiro Watanabe and Masaaki Yuasa. Through different styles of animation and direction, these shorts are aiming to find their own unique approach to expressing one unifying theme; that our world operates in a wonderfully strange and mysterious ways.

Anthology series usually lack the depth of singular development of plot/characters due to their short length, but they more than make up for it with rich variations in style, approaching the same subject matter from satire/action/introspective/sensory/dialogue-heavy angle. This post is a brief guide to selecting which shorts you may want to watch from Genius Party (although watching them as a whole is preferred), and I hope it serves well as an introduction to anime anthology.


1. Genius Party (Atsuko Fukushima) Often the first piece in any anthology will be an opening, introducing the viewers to its theme/subject matter/world. In this case, Genius Party is an electrifying 15 minutes of sensual extravagance that does not utter a single word of dialogue,  but letting wonderful colours and movements do the talking instead; that an art is like a rain to barren wasteland and divine is its power to give birth to stimulating ideas.  A must watch for all.

Rating: **** / Accessibility ****

2. Shanghai Dragon (Shoji Kawamori) – Mechas, super heroes,  seiyuus speaking Cantonese, this action-packed sci-fi story set in rundown China town is exciting and heart-warming enough for any fan of animation to enjoy. Choreography is its game, as you will find yourself glued to extremely satisfying and thrilling scenes of car chase, mecha battles, and riding golden dragon. Highly recommended!

Rating: **** / Accessibility: ****

3. Deathtic 4 (Shinji Kimura) – Some may dislike Deathtic 4‘s decidedly non-animish look. Dialogues are spoken in swedish and character designs are awkward, but the background art is well-designed and the integration of CGI to 2D cells is seamless. And look at the great texture of that timber, clay, hair, wrinkled skin for example in above screenshot. Very expressive. Deathtic 4 can be a very fun and visually pleasing piece for those who want to venture into non-Japanese animation.

Rating: *** / Accessibility: **

4. Doorbell (Yuji Fukuyama) – I found its concept involving a doppleganger to be fascinating to say the least. There is depth to the story at the end, but the journey leading to that conclusion may prove too tedious for some, as its overall quality is inferior to other Genius Party shorts. Not the best work from the series but still recommended if you also fancy ambiguous endings.

Rating: *** / Accessibility: **

5. Limit Cycle (Hideki Futamura) – Terrible. 15 minutes of talking and talking about the most pretentious things. Some engaging abstract work of animation but not enough to save it. Do yourself a favour and skip this.

Rating: * / Accessibility: *

6. Happy Machine (Masaaki Yuasa) – Look of this movie lies somewhere between the rugged energy of Kemonozume and ethereal feel of Kaiba. The story is wonderful, involving a man choosing to enter a machine that makes him dream of being a baby, searching for everything that’s warm and bright in a strange world, until darkness devours everything dear to him. Happy Machine is perhaps the most emotional work from the collection and is sure to please any fan of Yuasa.

Rating: **** / Accessibility: **

7. Baby Blue (Shinichiro Watanabe)Baby Blue is smooth. Seiyuu performance is more natural than sensationalised, there is patience in its pacing, everything looks neatly drawn and rendered, and Yoko Kanno’s acoustic guitar keeps you humming in tune with the story’s rhythm. Its slice-of-life focus can prove to be mundane and slow for some, it however manages to be very rewarding for the patient.

Rating: *** / Accessibilty: ***

8. Gala (Mahiro Maeda)Gala is all about music. Well that isn’t completely true, it’s more about the harmony between music and animation. There is always something exciting happening on the screen, underscored by great orchestral music with an oriental flavour, so why not give Gala a try? It also has one of the most satisfyingly explosive climaxes in this series!

Rating: *** / Accessibility: ****

9. Moondrive (Kazuto Nakazawa) – Oh this is just cool. Here we have a cast of badass rogues on a treasure hunt trip, ruthlessly sodomising any fool who so much as gets on their sensitive nerves. The visuals look rugged and sketchy, dialogues are crude, and the characters know how to get down and dirty. This is the badass tale of Black Lagoon layered with Studio 4C’s aesthetics, and is guaranteed to enthrall any fans looking for gratuitous thrills.

Rating: **** / Accessibility: ***

10. Wanwa the Puppy (Shinya Ohira) – This hidden gem is recognised by many fans of animation as the most innovative and brilliant work of art to come out of Genius Party. That’s because its visual aesthetics is totally out of this world. It may look like bad drawings done in crayons and pastels by a 3-year-old at first glance but once you get used to its bizarre look, you can start to appreciate sheer level of intuitive creativity that has been poured into creating this wonderfully childlike dreamscape of innocence, fear of the strange and unknown, and that glowing warmth of mother’s embrace.

Rating: **** / Accessibility: *

11. Toujin Kit (Tatsuyuki Tanaka)Toujin Kit is an extremely atmospheric work of great artistry. The choice of grey colour palette is interesting in that it makes its Huxleyesque setting that much more sterile and lifeless, together with meticulous and almost machinic attention to details for background art. This generates a great deal of tension, which then snaps like a rubber band when we are introduced to an organic, colourful creature that brings life and movement to what used to be very static experience. Perhaps this short was bit longer than necessary, but those who appreciates how Madhouse’s handling of atmosphere will find this more than worthy of their time.

Rating: *** / Accessibility: **

12. Dimension Bomb (Koji Morimoto) – The best thing about this short is moe seiyuu performance by none other than Yoko Kanno. The next best thing is Juno Reactor’s electronic sound. The third, its visuals (ok I got the order mixed up). This is perhaps the most abstract and experimental piece in the entire collection, inexorably assaulting our senses with ever-changing colours and movement, in addition to symbolic imagery oozing with surrealism. My take on Dimension Bomb is that it’s about velocity. There is an incredible sense of speed and direction here, where one feels a kind of relentless energy forcing one towards something, somewhere. Approach with care, as it is undoubtedly the most exhausting out of its other artsy companions. But I guess you will all have different take on it.

Rating: *** / Accessibility: *

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17 Responses to “Introduction to Anime Anthology: Genius Party”

  1. gwern Says:

    > Limit Cycle

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who hated this!

  2. gaguri Says:

    It’s hard not to hate 15 minutes of nonsense!

  3. Owen S Says:

    Oh god I hated Limit Cycle so much.

    They’re speaking Mandarin, actually! Not Cantonese.

  4. Jack Says:

    Ugh, limit cycle.

    I mean, I’ve read a piece by someone who found something good about that short, but really, it’s awful.

    I basically agree with all your ratings. What a boring thing for me to say, but it’s not too surprising considering I liked all the anime on your “Top 50” list.

  5. gaguri Says:

    @Owen S

    O massive fail by me, thanks for that catch.

    @Jack

    Glad to know we share same taste =D

  6. Vendredi Says:

    I thought i had seen this anthology before, but this coverage made me realize I was mistaken – i had seen shorts from “Sweat Punch”, another one of their anthologies. Will have to check Genius Party out.

    Studio 4c is certainly an oddity in some sense; they’re one of the few animation-short focused studios that actually have a sort of brand presence, and in the field of shorts they’re undisputed masters, but seem to struggle in stringing together longer works in a coherent manner (Tweeny Witches is a good example of this).

  7. gaguri Says:

    for tweeny witches perhaps they needed a better director/writer to develop the story and characters in more convincing way, but yea the visuals were still gorgeous. Sweat Punch is a mixed bag for me, which I’ll cover later along with other anthologies I watched. Meanwhile, do enjoy Genius Party, it’d be interesting to see which one you liked the most!

  8. Michael Says:

    I was actually planning to tackle this in my four-year celebration but I’ll just watch it and then shut up about it. 🙂

    Thanks.

  9. gaguri Says:

    No problem. Great coverage on those older gems though!

  10. kadian1364 Says:

    It’s somewhat true of anthologies in general, but Genius Party in particular is a collection of ‘art house’ projects where you really have to tune in lest everything becomes incomprehensible noise. It’s like having to overclock your mind and senses to get the whole experience.

    Genius Party is also really hard to find; It apparently premiered in two separate collections and ANN only lists an R4(!) release, so I’ve only seen the first seven parts. Likely one of those things where you have to get it in Japan or see it at a film festival.

  11. kadian1364 Says:

    Oh yeah, favorite piece is by far and away Baby Blue. Not as aesthetically inventive as the others, but its subtle characterization really captured me. Most of all, it showed real heart in its short 15-ish minutes, something that sadly some of the others lacked.

  12. gaguri Says:

    Ah well, I have no shame about abusing torrents for anime so worked out ok for me…

    As for Baby Blue, yea I know it’s many people’s favourite, for some reason it just didn’t click for me as.

  13. Vendredi Says:

    Managed to get a chance to watch all of it – although overall I didn’t find Limit Cycle that awful. The theme it tries to get out is how all religions are essentially about paradoxes; however, I do agree that the length and visuals don’t quite work out very well. It’s just too long for the sort of method they picked, and relies far too much on telling rather than showing – I can see how most viewers wouldn’t pick up on that theme at all.

    Dimension Bomb was another piece that struck me in a very different way than your assessment – it struck me as very much about loneliness, rather than speed. There is wandering involved it the short, but it struck me as wandering in search of someone who can understand you for who you are, in all your aspects.

    Gala struck me in a slightly different way too – the cast of characters are spirits and gods clearly drawn from Southeast Asian folklore, but at the end you realize the entire effort is for the sprouting of a common house-plant: finding miracles and mythology in the everyday.

    On most of the others though your impressions pretty much mirror mine. As for favourites, it’s hard to pick just one. Moondrive had me laughing out loud the entire time, which was completely unexpected, and Toujin Kit had a fantastic sort of ambiguity.

    I have to say though that the more mundane pieces stood out a lot – no mean feat considering that there’s no fantastic set pieces, but more than make up for it in execution. Doorbell explored the whole theme of the personas we present to other people in a very creative way, and Baby Blue accomplishes in less than 20 minutes what it took Makoto Shinkai all of 5cm/second.

    Shanghai Dragon was I think possibly the strongest piece in all aspects. It’s hard to say if I like it more than Baby Blue or not, but I felt that it definitely should be the last short viewed. It’s themes just captures the essence of animation very succinctly.

  14. gaguri Says:

    @vendredi

    yea I think you’re spot on with the biggest problem of limit cycle; length. Not many would actually sit there for 15 minutes listening to all that while your eyes are being bombarded with bizarre images.

    Mm maybe I’ll revisit Dimension Bomb sometime in the future. This impression post was written several months ago when I first watched Genius Party, so I might pick up few things you’ve noticed.

    As for Gala, absolutely! I actually watched this again not too long ago, and I think the main point was to illustrate just how wonderful and miraculous it is for simple things, like a seed sprouting out of the soil, which we take it for granted everyday (at the end how the camera changes perspective to us). Not sure if I’d give it 4 stars but yea, definitely one of the better ones.

    I think Shanghai Dragon was the most well-rounded, I don’t think it quite reached the degree of creativity of something like Wanwa, but it’s executed very well and is arguably the most accessible work out of here.

  15. hayase Says:

    Watched 1/3 of Limit Cycle before giving up for fear of a massive headache and/or nausea. It was just too much for my eyes to handle.

  16. gaguri Says:

    Yea it’s not very pleasant to the eyes. Or the mind.

  17. Sky Says:

    Ohira’s animation style is very interesting. I don’t know if it was quite captured in Wanwa, but I’m glad that someone appreciates it nonetheless. ^^


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