It’s pretty incredible how much the anime landscape can change in a relatively short period of time. If you wanted to pick up Robot Carnival 15 years ago, you had to import an out-of-print VHS or DVD copy from Japan. Now it’s easily available in 4K and looks better than ever before thanks to the efforts of Discotek Media.
What makes Robot Carnival most notable is the amount of talent on display. The film is bookended by segments filled with dark humor directed by Akira creator Katsuhiro Otomo, who would also participate in anime anthologies such as Neo Tokyo, Memories, and Short Peace. The other great animators-turned-directors include Atsuko Fukushima (PoPoLoCrois, Golgo 13: The Professional), Kōji Morimoto (The Animatrix, Kiki’s Delivery Service), Hidetoshi Ōmori (Dragon Ball Z, Inuyasha), Yasuomi Umetsu (Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Kite), Hiroyuki Kitazume (Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam), Manabu Ōhashi (Space Adventure Cobra), Hiroyuki Kitakubo (Blood: The Last Vampire), and Takashi Nakamura (A Tree of Palme, Harmony)
The shorts vary greatly in themes and presentation and actual dialogue is rare with only two of the segments featuring intelligible speech. The action-oriented Deprive is a fun highlight as an android attempts to rescue a kidnapped girl, while the haunting Presence features an unhappy husband and father that obsesses over the secret gynoid that he constructed and is the most poignant story of the nine. From an upbeat bishōjo story inspired by the “Take on Me” music video (Star Light Angel) to a silent Frankenstein-inspired short (Franken’s Gear), the range shown throughout is quite remarkable. Ultimately, the variety works to its advantage as they are all beautifully animated and never outstay their welcome.
As far as special features go, this Collector’s Edition package has quite a few nice additions that give it a premium feel. One of the coolest features is being able to look at the storyboards for all nine sections, which play out with the corresponding animation in a smaller window. It’s a great glimpse at the creative process and a fun way to rewatch the film, although there are some missing storyboards. There are also some standard extras such as the original U.S. theatrical trailer and the Blu-ray teaser.
Discotek also produced and packed in The Memory of Robot Carnival, a 22-minute documentary that takes a look back at what makes the anthology special and contextualizes it well. There are a lot of interesting tidbits explored here, such as its history of being shown on cable television, which is faithfully recreated in a 4:3 cut that can be accessed in the menu, and the animation studio A.P.P.P.’s past in adult animation. The highlight is an interview with Streamline Pictures co-founder Jerry Beck, who details the North American theatrical and home video release in great detail.
With the pedigree of the directors and animators, Robot Carnival stands as an intriguing piece of anime history. While your enjoyment of the nine segments will likely vary, there’s enough here that is interesting and worth seeing due to its interesting themes, wonderful music from frequent Studio Ghibli collaborator Joe Hisaishi, and gorgeous animation.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 8 equates to “Great.” While there are a few minor issues, this score means that the art succeeds at its goal and leaves a memorable impact.
Disclosure: Critic bought a copy for our Robot Carnival 4K review.