Japan Animator Expo (Shorts #13-24)

A while back I covered the first wave of shorts to come from the Japan Animator Expo, a project led by legendary anime director Hideaki Anno. The goal was to bring together some of the best minds in the anime industry, be they blossoming new talent or experienced veterans, and give them a place to experiment with concepts and premises that may not normally have a chance to get made. I was really impressed by the first thirteen shorts, some stronger than others, but there were a lot of stand-outs that I found to be both memorable and inventive in how they utilized animation as a medium. Now the second batch of shorts is done with, and the Expo is once again on break until the third wave is ready to go, making it a perfect time for me to, again, delve into the shorts and how I felt about them. Like last time I'll try to split my coverage of each short between some information on the short, the people behind it, and how I felt about the short myself.


Hey, remember Me!Me!Me!? That short was weird. But Kanón? Kanón is straight up crazy. Out of all the original thirteen shorts to come from the Expo, my favorite was 20min Walk From Nishi-Ogikubo Station, an odd, but beautifully animated, short about a woman waking to find she's been shrunken down to a tiny size. The short was from the mind behind Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo, Mahiro Maeda. So when I heard he was back to direct something new for the second batch of Animator Expo shorts, I was keen to see where he'd head next. Tatsuya Kushida, the art director behind the Evangelion Rebuild films, worked on the short as art director, and Hibiki Yoshizaki, the director of Me!Me!Me!, was the short's technical director. The short itself is based on the novel Adam Stvořitel by Karel Čapek.

The short follows the story of God. Well, sort of. It centers around a person who concludes that the world is all wrong, religion, politics, justice, all of it is wrong and the only logical option is to destroy the world itself. And with the press of a button he does just that, but makes a mistake: He doesn't destroy himself. He then realizes he must face punishment for his actions in the form of becoming the new God and recreating the world. The short moves at a breakneck pace, characters talk and move quickly and constantly as my brain simply tried to keep up. Even after the second time watching it, I felt like I missed or didn't fully understand half of what happened, and it should be noted that those who aren't fast readers will have serious trouble keeping up with the subtitles. It's frantic, zany, and I sort of loved it. It's an experience of sorts, I just watched it all play out in sheer awe, taking in all the crazy imagery and bizarre dialogue.

The way things escalate throughout is fascinating, and meaningful enough to be more than just senseless looniness. It's great to look at as well: though the animation is hardly smooth, it's bursting with movement and almost always is doing something visually interesting. The varied, but wholly unique, art direction and character designs are a big help as well, as it doesn't quite look like any other anime out there, but very much in a good way. Oh, and I should note this short is not safe for work. Nudity seems to be a pattern for Maeda in his shorts (along with immense creativity and great visuals). So overall, I unequivocally recommend Kanón, even if the first time around you may not be entirely sure what you just saw.


Hey, remember Kanón? That short was crazy. But SEX and VIOLENCE with MACHSPEED? It's pure concentrated insanity (in case you haven't guessed, this one is NSFW as well). It's what I imagine what would happen if you adapted the notebook doodles of a twelve year old who just saw an R-rated movie for the first time, as it's full of irreverent humor, ridiculous portrayals of sex, and action so senseless and over the top it borders on madness. Either that, or it's what happens when you tell director Hiroyuki Imaishi to do whatever he wants in an eight and a half minute short. It'd probably come out the same either way in the end.

For those unaware, the director of the short, Hiroyuki Imaishi, is also the director of such shows as Gurren Lagann, Kill la Kill,  and Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt. The short features designs by Shigeto Koyama, who's designed for anime varying from Star Driver, to Gurren Lagann, to Michiko & Hatchin, and was written by Hiromi Wakabayashi, the writer of Inferno Cop and multiple Panty & Stocking episodes. With a staff like that things were bound to get crazy, and that's exactly what happened.

SEX and VIOLENCE with MACHSPEED is a day in the life of MachSpeed, a talking shark and the fastest detective around, who along with his sex doll girlfriend, Sex, and his gorilla-like bodyguard, Violence, solve crimes and scam people for money, leaving destruction and havoc in their wake. The short truly is utter nonsense. It's eight and a half minutes of some of the most mind bogglingly bonkers, shamelessly crude, and largely incoherent lunacy I've ever seen in animation. With all that said, I enjoyed the hell out of every second of it (though, keep in mind I have a very juvenile sense of humor). The short rockets from ridiculous sex joke, to cartoonish-ly violent action sequence, to ridiculous sex joke, and back to cartoonish-ly violent action sequence again without any time to catch your breath. The animation in the action is Imiashi's fast and crazy style pushed to the max, and the humor is just the sort of indecent-yet-hilarious humor I'd expect from the writer of Inferno CopSEX and VIOLENCE with MACHSPEED is by no means for everyone, some may be turned off by its nonsensical, crass nature, but others (especially any fans of Panty & Stocking or Inferno Cop) will likely have a blast with its zany action and humor.


Of all the second-wave Animator Expo shorts, Obake-chan was probably the simplest. But in a way, that's what made it so nice. The short comes from director Shigeto Koyama, designer of the previously covered SEX and VIOLENCE with MACHSPEED, as is co-created with Tsuyoshi Kusano, a designer on shows such as Captain Earth and Valvrave the Liberator

Despite key staff deeply rooted in mecha and action, most of Obake-chan plays out something like anime adaptations of 4-koma manga as of late. With no overarching plot to speak of, the short mostly focuses on brief, simple jokes and humorous events involving the main character. The short follows Obake-chan, a young girl and ghost who dreams of being a truly frightening spirit. Like I said before, it's a very simple short for the most part, but it works. Obake chan is adorable, and the humor is equally cute and fun. The gags are great and the visuals, while hardly on the same level as many of the other shorts, gets the job done and effectively works with the humor. Honestly, my biggest problem is with its ending, which will require me to go somewhat into spoiler territory. While hardly a massive flaw, the way the short ended did feel a bit too much like "trying too hard", and I don't feel it was a good fit for the short's tone. It's an over-the-top attempt to create humor by catching the audience off guard, and while it does work, I can't help but feel like if it would have worked better if it just stuck with its laid back, deadpan style of humor, instead of suddenly trying to do something totally different at the end. Still though, this doesn't stop Obake-chan from being a fun watch.

Tsukikage no Tokio ~Tokio of the Moon's Shadow~

At this point in the shorts I was thinking, "Okay, we've gotten a lot of weird, crazy stuff. Maybe it's about time they dialed things back a bit". And then, of all people, SUDA 51 shows up in the staff of one, looks at the previous shorts, says "You think that's weird? I'LL show you weird!" and proceeds to write down every random thing that pops into his head and make it into a short. Or at least, I think that's how it happened. The short was indeed written and conceptualized by widely known video game icon Gouichi Suda, AKA Suda 51. In addition to him, the short was directed by Takanobu Mizuno, who also worked on Suda 51's Short Peace game Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day, along with music by DJ Norihito Ogawa and animation production at Kamikaze Douga, the studio responsible for the Gatchaman Crowds and JoJo's Bizarre Adventure openings. 

The short centers around Tokio, a young boy stationed on the moon, as one of many super powered defenders of Earth, and his adventures piloting a mecha to fight off any menace that dares to endanger it, along with his relationship with a young blind girl he interacts with in conversations through a ham radio. Despite all the weird the Animator Expo has experienced thus far, this one still manages to be its own totally unique kind of weird. The visuals are colorful and filled to the brim with strangeness and inventive imagery. The short certainly held my attention with it's visuals, along with some of the better use of CG animation from the Animator Expo so far, though it didn't quite stick with me like a lot of the other shorts did. Something about the sporadic tone and lack of any sort of discernible purpose left me not enthusiastic about the short as a whole. It couldn't seem to decide what it wanted to be the primary focus, the characters, the world, the visuals, or just being weird, and, as a result, it ended up feeling somewhat weak in all those regards.

Tsukikage no Tokio didn't quite resonate with me in the same way a lot of the other shorts did, but it's still certainly worth a watch. Just know that you're in for something that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, though it will certainly keep your eyes on screen throughout most of its runtime.

Three Fallen Witnesses

Out of all the shorts to come from the Expo so far, Three Fallen Witnesses was probably the least weird . And even it was a little bit strange. The short is written and directed by prolific key animator Satoru Utsunomiya, who's done strong animation work for anime such as Akira, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Production IG's recent film Giovanni's Island. While he's done some great action animation, some of his best work has been done with weighty, realistic character acting animation. His animation features constantly shifting bodies and expressive faces, and it's this kind of animation that really shines in Three Fallen Witnesses. This short was probably the first of the second wave where animation was front and center over style or craziness, and in this regard it certainly delivers. 

Three Fallen Witnesses is the story of an unconventional murder investigation. In the near future, investigators have not only testimonies of the living to work with, but also those of the deceased. Using DNA from murdered victims, advanced technology recreates memories from the subject before their death, hopefully to obtain some sort of information on how it is exactly they died. The animation of the short is subtle, if I wasn't paying close attention I may not have noticed much of it other than the odd looking art style with somewhat flat, plastic-y looking characters. But upon closer inspection, the attention to detail in character movement, expression, and overall tiny details in how characters act and react is absolutely fascinating at times. It's not the best 2D animation to come out of the Expo as a whole, but it's certainly up there with the best. It's nonintrusive, but pivotal when it comes to making a simple story interesting with effective visual storytelling and great flow to character movements. As a whole the short isn't especially great, but the interesting animation works well with the novel concept and makes one of the better entries to come from the second wave of Expo shorts. 

The Diary of Ochibi

When I heard this short made use of stop motion, I was a little wary going in. Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of stop motion, but I normally came to these shorts for a showcase of great 2D animation, and the previous short had really left me wanting more of that. I was very wrong to be skeptical of this short, though. The Diary of Ochibi is based off the manga of the same name by Moyoco Anno, acclaimed mangaka and wife to also acclaimed anime director Hideaki Anno (and executive producer of the Japan Animator Expo). 

There isn't a whole lot to say about The Diary of Ochibi. I think the best way to put it is that it's both remarkably simple and surprisingly clever. It uses stop motion in unique and unexpected ways, many of which left me struck by how insane the amount of effort put into getting these characters to move the way they were moving was. There isn't much in the form of story, and no dialogue; it's pretty much just all cute, but really different stop motion animation of not a whole lot happening. It's a beautiful experiment that succeeds brilliantly at warming the heart.

I Can Friday By Day!

After two shorts that were a bit more laid back, the Animator Expo had begun to step away from the weirdness shown in the early parts of the second wave of shorts. Next up is I Can Friday By Day, which is about tiny squirrel aliens piloting mecha high school girls in order to obtain valuable crystals from inside the heads of cute boys. Well, that didn't last long! Pretty much all the Animator Expo shorts have interesting staff involved in them, but I'm not sure any have quite the kind of ensemble that this short boasts. It's directed by Evangelion Rebuild co-director and FLCL director Kazuya Tsurumaki (who also directed the first Animator Expo short, Dragon's Dentist), planned by Hajime Ueda, the artist behind the FLCL manga and many of the Monogatari series's gorgeous EDs, character designs by Katanagatari character designer Take, animation direction by animator and Kill la Kill character designer Sushio, and mechanical design by Full Metal Panic!'s Toshiaki Ihara. 

As I previously alluded to, the short is about a squadron of small, squirrel-like aliens who pilot a mecha with the outside appearance of a high school girl in search of rare pan-galactic crystals known as "Ikemeshium". They wage war against another high school girl mecha in order to gain these important materials, which happen to be located in the heads of cute boys. Although the short does have a sort of story arc throughout, it's really like a music video more than anything. It's an excuse to play with the crazy concept they came up with, and they do so in some really fun and interesting ways. The animation and visuals are really inventive and charming; I absolutely love the style of the character designs, along with the meticulous amount of detail put into the inner workings of the high school girl mecha. The music is fitting, the art style is colorful, and Sushio does a great job as animation director, as the short is filled with some great cuts of energetic, fluid animation. I Can Friday By Day may be more style than substance, but that style is so awesome and well realized that the lack of substance is hardly noticeable. 

ME!ME!ME CHRONIC ft. Daoko / Teddyloid & The Making of Evangelion: Another Impact

Similar to the first season of shorts, the Expo chose one week to sort of cheat. Instead of releasing a new short, they released two shorts building on previous shorts. The first is Me!Me!Me! CHRONIC, a music video remixing the original Me!Me!Me! short with some new music, and the other is The Making of Evangelion: Another Impact, which is, well, exactly what it sounds like. If you were a fan of those shorts these are neat new additions, but other than that there isn't much to say on these.

Iconic Field 

I end up talking about the use of CG in Japanese animation a lot in my writing, usually on how I concede it can be used well, but often feel it's used a shortcut in the place of 2D animation. One area where this has been especially prevalent as of late is in mecha animation. With everything from Gundam, to Code Geass, leaning more heavily towards CG animation for its mecha action, great 2D mecha animation is getting harder and harder to find. This makes Iconic Field a refreshing watch for anyone who's been craving great, 2D mecha action. The short was directed by Evangelion mechanical designer Ikuto Yamashita, with animation direction by Hunter X Hunter and Rurouni Kenshin director Kazuhiro Furuhashi, and character animation direction by Evangelion animator Iwao Teraoka. Also notable is Se Jun Kim on board as mechanical animation director, an excellent mecha animator who also served as animation director and chief animator on the recent series Gundam Build Fighters. With a staff so deeply rooted in mecha animation, it comes as no surprise that Iconic Field is absolute bliss for fans of 2D mecha animation. 

Don't get me wrong, the short is a bit rough around the edges. Despite having a decent amount of dialogue, the short features no actual voice acting. It's told entirely through subtitles, which gets the job done, but it's jarring to see the character's mouths flapping open and closed without any noise coming out. There's also a strangely high amount of fan-service for a short not necessarily needing to grab an audience's attention like a full series might. While I'm all for detailed animation, the amount of effort put into the movement of large breasted female characters comes off as a bit unnecessary. The short is also nearly impossible to follow story-wise, basically functioning like a montage of events, exposition, and action from a non-existent full series. It jumps from place to place, trying to show as many cool aspects of the world as it can, but as a result it's very messy and hard to follow. I prefer these shorts when they feel more like contained stories rather than trailers. 

With all that said though, from a visual standpoint, Iconic Field is everything I hoped it would be. It's brief, but features tons of awesome mecha animation cuts and action. Big explosions, mecha being torn apart, lasers, rocket ships, a jet fighter being crushed in a mecha's hand, the list of great moments in the short goes on and on. Add in a great soundtrack and some one of a kind mecha designs from the man behind Evangelion's iconic mecha designs, and you've got a short that left me satisfied in the end. Perhaps a full series or film would give them more space to fully realize all the ideas and world building they try to jam into this short, but the short still works great as a showcase for some of the coolest, 2D mecha animation in recent memory. 

Ibuseki Yoruni

From mecha action to political thriller, this Expo sure does make some drastic turns from short to short, doesn't it? Ibuseki Yoruni marks the return of Tadashi Hiramatsu to the Expo, the Parasye -The Maxim- character designer and Dennou Coil episode director who previously worked on the Animator Expo short Until You Come To Me. Also involved in the short is Evangelion Rebuild art director Tatsuya Kushida, and Evangelion composor Shiro Sagisu. 

Similar to Iconic FieldIbuseki Yoruni functions less as a contained, individual story, and more a montage of a larger, planned out story the creators clearly have mapped out in their heads. At the least this one is easier to follow than Iconic Field, but at the same time I still found myself a bit lost at times through all the political intrigue and twists that lacked the space to be properly set up. Story details are told so sparingly that by the end I was sort of unsure what had actually happened and what it was supposed to mean. It's a very pretty short, boasting some excellent art direction and cinematography. The animation doesn't stand out much, but it's still well done, and the use of music adds a lot of weight to the story, as slapdash as it is. There's a lot going on in Ibuseki Yoruni, so much that it felt bloated in the format of a short, but even then there's still some scraps of interesting concepts and pretty visuals underneath the short's cluttered exterior.

Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen

The second short from acclaimed mangaka Moyoco Anno, Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen is based off the manga of the same name. The short (somewhat loosely) follows the story of a brothel in 20th century France, and a prostitute named Colette working there who falls in love with a gigolo named Leon, though she questions how true his love really is. Similar to the last two, this short functions less as a story and more as a trailer for the manga, only briefly skimming over the story of the manga, showing pretty visuals and little glimpses into the larger story, while not actually exploring anything in detail. Though, as I've mentioned I prefer self-contained stories, it worked fairly well in this case. 

Something that immediately stands out about Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen is that it features no traditional animation. The short is mostly made up of repurposed manga art with characters rarely moving, and when they do their limbs are moved with puppet like tween/flash animation rather than actual frames of animation. Although it's slightly disappointing to see a lack of proper animation in the short, it still manages to be downright visually stunning despite this. The editing, art, and use of stylized effects make for superb eye candy from beginning to end. Even without much knowledge of the manga's story, I was pulled in by the incredible presentation. In addition, Shiro Sagisu returns yet again for the soundtrack, with some fantastic results. It's lack of animation is disappointing, but Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen is still a visually polished experience that pulled me in from beginning to end. 

Rapid Rogue 

Damn, it seems like nearly every time one of these shorts really impresses me Mahiro Maeda is involved in some way, huh? Rapid Rogue marks the final short of the second season of Animator Expo shorts, a return to the use of CG animation, and the third short to come from Gankutsuou creator Mahiro Maeda. This time around though, he's not in the director's chair (are there director's chairs in anime production? These are the kinds of insightful and important questions I ask myself), instead credited for its concept and storyboards. The director of the short is Daisuke Onizuka, CG director on the second and third Evangelion Rebuild films, along with I Can Friday By Day! director Kazuya Tsurumaki designing the characters, and Kill la Kill animator Shuichi Iseki as animation director. 

The short follows two squads of samurai-like futuristic soldiers on a mission to rescue their superior, but things don't go as planned as one of the squads is totally wiped out. It's up to the second squad to carry out the mission on their own, as details surrounding the world and conflict become more clear. Out of all the Animator Expo shorts so far, this one, most-likely, has my favorite use of CG animation so far. The CG itself isn't especially higher quality, but it blends much better with the art style and is much smarter about how it frames the characters models. The lack of emotiveness is a noticeable problem, the character with the most varied and interesting expressions is the one character animated with 2D animation, but at the least the CG models look natural and don't stick out. In addition, the CG is very well animated. Characters feel weighty, and action moves with a brutal flow that works well with the character's large, clunky armor. 

The short's biggest strength though is its art direction, which is absolutely gorgeous. Maeda's storyboards and Onizuka's direction work together perfectly, and the result is fantastic cinematography and brilliant use of color, contrast, and lighting. Despite its short length, there were a handful of shots so visually striking that I felt I could have them framed and hung on my wall as art pieces. The black and white backgrounds are gritty and insanely detailed, and the strong use of music raises the short's big moments to even greater heights. Although there's some strong competition, I've seriously considered calling Rapid Rogue my favorite short of the second season. 

Well, once again I've reached the end of the batch of shorts the Japan Animator Expo has provided me with. Things got pretty weird during this set of shorts, at times I did feel I could use a break from all the senseless weirdness for something a bit slower or easier to follow. But still, the amount of creative energy and vision this gathering of talent boasts hasn't slowed down in the slightest since the beginning. There's still lots to like here, even if a lot of it may be too strange for some. Once again, I'll mention that all these shorts are available to watch free with english subtitles on the Expo's official site.

Unfortunately, the first season of shorts (#1-12) are no longer available to view (which really sucks, I'm hoping they bring them back at some point). Right now the Expo is on break, but I'm looking forward to it coming back and the rest of the shorts they have planned being released. Chances are I'll  cover them again once that happens. 


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