Short form anime has always existed alongside both anime series (whose individual episodes are often regarded as a species of short-form anime in their own right) and feature-length anime films. The difference between short-form stand alone anime and anime features is sometimes blurred, as Makoto Shinkai’s 2013 masterpiece The Garden of Words demonstrated with its 43 minute run time. However, shorts have long been recognised as not just the training ground for some of anime’s most celebrated directors and creatives, but as a particular genre with its own distinct characteristics, tropes, and aesthetics. The fact that anthology series such as Love, Death and Robots, Modest Heroes, Flavors of Youth, and Star Wars: Visions have not only made their way onto major streaming platforms, but have proved popular with audiences as well, indicates that short-form anime has a public as enthusiastic about it as they are about series and/or features.
With that in mind, here (in no particular order) are three stand alone anime shorts that I think are particularly worth your attention.
1. Blade Runner: Black Out 2022
Three years after the events of Blade Runner and the disappearance of the former cop Rick Deckard and his replicant “wife” Rachael, the Tyrell Corporation produces a new series of replicants, the Nexus-8, who have regular open-ended lifespans like ordinary humans. This results in a public backlash, especially from the “human supremacist” movement, which frequently engages in vigilante violence against Nexus-8 replicants. One victim of this violence is Trixie, a Nexus-8 “pleasure doll”: set upon by a group of thugs, she is rescued by Iggy, a former soldier who deserted when he realised that both he and the “enemy” were replicants being used by humans to fight proxy wars. Together with Ren, a human who sympathises with the plight of replicants, Iggy and Trixie plot to hijack the launch of an experimental missile and use it to cause a massive EMP blast over Los Angeles – in the process wiping out global electronic data systems, as well as all records of who is human and who is not…
One of three short films commissioned to fill in the timeline between the original Blade Runner and its sequel, Blade Runner 2049 (the other being the live-action pieces 2036: Nexus Dawn and 2048: Nowhere To Run), Blade Runner: Black Out 2022 was directed by the legendary Shinichiro Watanabe – and it shows. Gloriously animated in a mix of rotoscoping and 3DCGI techniques that faithfully recaptures the aesthetic of Ridley Scott’s original (while also allowing the hand-drawn 2D elements to add their own gritty slice of realism) the story it tells is simple enough – though not simplistically told. However, it is the atmospherics of this piece that make it stand out, especially in the person of Trixie: echoing Priss from the original, she also captures the pathos of Spike Spiegel and Faye Valentine from Watanabe’s Cowboy Bebop, with a big nod in the direction of Ghost In The Shell’s Major Kusanagi thrown in for good measure. Combining the mix of philosophy and violence that is one of Watanabe’s trademarks (not to mention the soundtrack that is a homage to Vangelis’ original), Blade Runner: Black Out 2022 is a stand-out example of anime short-form storytelling.
2. She And Her Cat
Chobi is an ownerless cat who is one day found by a young woman who lives on her own in a small Tokyo apartment. The woman – known variously thereafter as She or Her – takes the cat home and becomes its owner. The cat falls in love with She/Her, regarding the young woman as both friend and lover. During the day, while She/Her is at work, the cat reflects on their life together and the small moments that are marked out by their shared time in one another’s company. Over the course of a year and the passing of the seasons, the cat acquires a girlfriend in the Summer – a young female cat named Mimi – but remains in love with She/Her; while, in Autumn, She/Her has her heart broken and cries while the cat comforts her. At the end of the year, however, as the days become cold and the snow falls, She/Her and the cat find a quiet hope in each other that fills them with love for the world.
Created by Makoto Shinkai in 1999 while he was still employed as a graphic designer with a video game company, She And Her Cat is animated in a deceptively simple black and white hand drawn style that nonetheless captures the subtle moods and small realities of daily existence as a single person living alone in a vast megalopolis. The narrative is likewise superficially straight forward and uncomplicated, its introspection only slowly revealing over the five minute run time the existential truths of loneliness, connection, despair, and hope that form the story’s bedrock – themes that Shinkai would repeatedly return to in his later work. Critically acclaimed and the winner of several awards, She And Her Cat both launched Shinkai’s career as a film-maker and brought about his ongoing relationship with CoMix Wave studios. In 2016, Liden Films produced a television anime series titled She And Her Cat: Everything Flows: a prequel to the original short, it provides She/Her with a name (Miyu), tells of her relationship with a cat named Daru, and contains elements that are strongly reminiscent of Someone’s Gaze, a 2013 Shinkai short film that also tells the story of a cat living among humans. Moving and delightful, She And Her Cat is the starting point for the whole of Makoto Shinkai’s profoundly beautiful oeuvre.
3. Pale Cocoon
The Archive Excavation Department used to be a hive of activity, the sole place where humans could recover the lost memories of their past before the disaster that drove them underground into the Colony. In the old days, every recovered record was greeted with joy, as though humanity had found a lost piece of itself. Now, however, the Department is largely silent. People don’t go to work there anymore, and the general mood is that the memories of the old days just end up making you sad and melancholy. Ura, however, disagrees. Along with Riko and an unnamed colleague who communicates via speaker phone, Ura continues to recover and analyse fragments of ancient data, many of them on corrupted file types. He is especially obsessed by those records that seem to give some indication of what the surface world used to be like. One day, Ura receives a data file that also has audio: it seems to show a young woman holding a book. When they are not working, Ura and Riko talk about life in the old days; she tells him that her grandmother used to live on the upper levels of the Colony (since abandoned) and used to insist that there were patches of the surface world that were green and alive. When Ura restores the corrupted audio/video file and views its content, it prompts him to make a long journey to the top of the Colony; Riko eventually finds a more complete copy of the restored file and realises that the location of the Colony – and its relationship to the Earth – is not what everyone thought it to be…
Written and directed by Yasuhiro Yoshiura (Time of Eve, Patema Inverted) and co-produced by Studio Rikka and Directions, Inc., Pale Cocoon premiered in January 2006. Animated in the sombre tones and dystopian aesthetic that characterise works such as Texhnolyze, Wolf’s Rain, and Jin-Roh: Wolf’s Brigade, Pale Cocoon sets up its premise and executes its narrative arc through languid dialogue and a gentle pacing that never rushes or rises to a sense of the climactic. Even as the facts are revealed and the denouement plays out, the atmosphere remains understated, exploring its realities as much through silence as through action or speech. Rather than bog down the story’s progression, however, this accentuates the mood of entropy and depression that appears to be gripping the society in which Ura and Riko live; which in turn highlights the unusualness of Ura’s attitude compared to his peers, and almost makes inevitable his ultimate response. Like other of Yoshiura’s works that explore the theme of identity in relation to place, Pale Cocoon is a telling meditation on what it means to be human, and to relate that identity to the world in which we live.
So there you have it – three short-form anime which, if you haven’t seen them already, I think are worth your while checking out and getting to know.
Text © Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2021. All rights reserved.