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Past the Checkered Flag

After watching Cencoroll two years ago, I recall feeling cheated. What I saw was completely different from what the two trailers I watched months earlier promised to deliver. These two trailers (here and here–watch them as a reminder) boasted hip and snappy pop music, deceptively simple monster designs, colorful, if a bit rough art and some bits of impressive animation. You know that the film was something to look forward to once you watched the two trailers–that’s how effective they both were. Ho-hum character designs aside, the short anime felt to me like a treat before even watching the whole thing. And the clincher? Cencoroll was apparently another solo animator work. All of that early thrill turned into a massively disappointing heap of bland composition/direction, meager bits of actually interesting animation, and sleepy, lifeless atmosphere. The final product wasn’t anything like the trailers. Even the likable music got removed. The one selling point of the film that I thought couldn’t possibly be tampered with got cut, except for the catchy ED.

As a fair bit of consolation from Anime Innovation Tokyo, the anime is getting a second shot. Whether they actually do put out a remotely likable film this time, I’m not so sure now, but still I appreciate the effort if only because these don’t come around everyday. Though I have to ask: if they were planning to put out two episodes of the anime to begin with, why didn’t they just combine the two into a full-length feature? It would have raised AIT‘s stock even more with the audience, and would have given them more publicity. Hedge your bets into one make-or-break product and see where it goes. Not only would it build confidence in the audience, it would also show that you do trust the actual creator himself. Putting out a disappointingly mediocre pilot episode and hiding behind the reasoning that “at least there’s a part 2” isn’t a very good way of making an impact, at least in this humble blogger’s opinion.

 

pilot episodes, pilot episodes everywhere

 

Tailenders (Anime Innovation Tokyo, Picograph)

Still, you can’t fault me for expecting good things to come from Anime Innovation Tokyo‘s next effort, Tailenders. I mean, just looking at this picture above tells you that it’s hip, stylistically sound, and it’s just oozing cool from everywhere. Even though it’s hardly unique in terms of art and style, I thought it was going to be fun. I didn’t catch a trailer for this one too, so I hadn’t had any expectations as to what it could be. Thinking about it again, I realize that it was a nice way to approach Tailenders, for it wouldn’t have lived up to whatever expectation I could have had of it. Much the same way as with Cencoroll, really–which was too bad.

 

Racing anime. How many of those had been made that aren’t named Initial D, or even Wangan Midnight? When I was a little kid, I remember getting way too absorbed into Bakusou Kyoudai Let’s and Go, with its cool battery-powered toy cars that seemingly had impossibly technical specs and magical moves. The show even spawned its own line of toy racing cars, keeping in line with the anime’s depictions. There weren’t as much technical details in the actual toys, but they still felt futuristic to me. All the talk about the little toy engines and the quality of the wheels or whatnot made little kids who owned the thing feel like real professional racers. Ultimately, time did catch up with it, and the whole fad faded into obscurity. Fond memories. I don’t know how popular the show got in other countries, though, so the whole deal might have been just a local issue.

Anyway, sorry for the little nostalgia trip there. It’s just that I haven’t seen much in the way of racing in anime, making me think that it hasn’t been touched on enough ( though Overdrive is kind of related, and I guess also the two movie adaptations of Nasu, even if the source material is about another thing entirely). Which made me feel good going into Tailenders. There was something new in it, a refreshing idea that I wanted to see, and it was brought to life by a trendy and hip package that oozed style at every moment. It definitely looked neat and spunky. It had its own sense of energy, too. Tailenders was lush and vibrant, almost a surefire hit. It would have been much better than it was had it just been more focused. In the end what I got was a confused, wishy-washy film, where it tried to do two things at once and finally failed at both. Never mind originality, what it needed was a clearer sense of direction.

Coincidentally, the film is also hurt by another very promising racing flick, Takeshi Koike’s Redline. If Tailenders was just like any other anime it would have been just fine, but for some reason it just looked mighty similar in aesthetics to the former. I don’t know the exact circumstances behind that artistic choice, but it’s evident how similar both are when put side by side (watch Redline’s trailer here for comparison). Admittedly, the two are different when put upon closer inspection, but the superficial similarities between the two, plus the roughly same-ish content do put a damper on Tailenders. Redline being one of the most hyped movies of the past few years, it’s unavoidable that the two be compared like that–which just exposes the weaknesses of Tailenders. Watching the short film felt like I was going through a hugely watered down version of Redline, where the only similarities are the bold colors, the loud art design and the overall concept. There’s hardly any of the lush, painstakingly full animation work as seen in the movie trailers, and there’s also little attention to sound. For something that’s supposed to be a stylishly palatable package, there’s an imbalance of focus in Tailenders. It seemed to me that they thought the loud and brash design sensibility they used was enough to carry the film, and the rest should take care of itself. Of course, putting together a full soundtrack for as short a film as Tailenders would have been a major waste of time, effort and money, but only repeating two tracks in the second half of the anime isn’t the answer, either. It leaves a major hole in the entire production.

I could also go on about how similar Tailenders is to Koike’s past short Trava: Fist Planet or even Hiroyuki Imaishi’s cult hit Dead Leaves, but that’s another beast entirely. And this post is getting a little too long.

It’s also too harsh to just randomly compare them to one another considering the different circumstances behind them (both Redline and Dead Leaves are directed by incredibly talented animators/directors who also commanded a cast of skilled animators), so if anything, what Tailenders achieved was even commendable. It just felt imbalanced. Like a true pilot film, it teased a lot about future things they could accomplish while selling themselves short in the present. You can do a pilot film that works really well on its own (see Kung – Fu Love), but I guess it’s hard trying to sell both the present and the future. That was also one of my major gripes with Tailenders. It felt really incomplete. When you watch it, you can see little bits and pieces of a great and highly entertaining picture scattered in there. The problem was they stayed that way–incomplete parts. There was an interesting premise they were building upon, there was the nice aesthetic choice, and there was the creative concept it had. It wasn’t a very good idea trying to cram them all into a short running time of 28 minutes. Like their previous effort Cencoroll, Anime Innovation Tokyo looked like they sold themselves short again. They would have had two bankable properties by now if not for that.

The problem with Cencoroll was its blandness. Everything was a little too spare to be entertaining. It’s fine to be simple, but when you’re not showing nearly enough content to please the viewer then it’s just going to be quite meaningless. Fortunately, I think Tailenders is saved from that problem by the pleasantly imposing art style it used. It’s not as empty as Cencoroll was, at least. The luscious, well-drawn and polished backgrounds in combination with the cutely designed characters prevent Tailenders from being too simple to watch. Those things are the saving graces of the film. Without the strong artistic direction the staff took, the short film would have gone nowhere fast. I could excuse Tailenders for having little to no fun music at all because it had other bigger things going for it. It’s really just too bad that the strengths of the visuals don’t match everything else.

The film ran on a decent enough premise; it was even creative, in fact. I liked to see some physics going on in there, especially during the final few minutes. It was a firm leg for the artistic presentation to stand on. However, the running time of the entire film only makes it half as entertaining. I thought the film didn’t know what it wanted to show the viewers–whether it be the wildly fun style it had or the interesting world ideas. It’s this undecided tone that cuts up the film and ultimately brings it down. An example would be in the main race itself. Instead of sticking with one direction, the film tried to insert the narrative content right in the middle of the action, stunting it. It’s a race; it shouldn’t have unnecessary breaks in the tension like that. An entertaining race to me is one where there’s a continuous stream of high-energy action that doesn’t let up for even a second. Besides, the action of the high-stakes race would have taken away any kind of interest about the setting and the characters anyway, so why not just let it take its course? It would have been a much smoother ride had it been planned better.

That would be well and good, however, had the action itself been actually entertaining. I don’t know whether the race had been hurt by the needless breaks, or if it was just weak on its own, but the race didn’t have enough power to captivate. I might be demanding a little too much from this 28 minute romp, but I think that if they were selling the film as some high-powered joyride, then they should have made sure that it was one. The animation in both of the races weren’t anything to write home about (at least in my eyes), and they looked like they trusted the art too much to carry them through. As such, what was supposed to be a pure adrenaline rush didn’t even make me sweat in my seat. Again, the film just felt a little too watered down (even taking away the Redline/Dead Leaves comparisons).

I’ve been saying all the while that the aesthetic direction is the main, if not only, selling point of Tailenders. There are some unique and cool designs in there, from the cutely interesting Tomoe to the fierce Tomoe Drive-infused Shiro, then to the actual machines themselves. Goodspeed, both in his initial and final forms, looked indeed like a racing machine from the future. I was impressed with his odd, geometrical design more so than the more conventional look of Shiro‘s vehicle. There’s also Loser King (quite a funny name for a racing legend) with his awesome centaur-ish design. And yes, who doesn’t like a T-Rex entering the race on roller-blades? It just doesn’t get any more awesome than that (though it was the only shining moment in the entire film for me). I don’t know if mebae’s involvement only meant designing the characters, but I liked what I saw from him in Tailenders. It’s a more hip and modern take on the conventional anime character design. I don’t know who exactly did the machines, but their work was impressive. It just showed how much the staff could have built upon had the circumstances behind production been different. It can’t be helped, I guess.

If you liked mebae’s work here on Tailenders, then you’d do well to check out the anime [C] when it airs. His original character designs were used for that show.

Tailenders was otherwise a solid show had it just been made in more favorable circumstances. Anime Innovation Tokyo should have just gone ahead and made it into a movie, to maximize the huge potential the show had. Much like Cencoroll, this film suffers from being a pilot film. It felt too incomplete, too undecided, but it’s saved by the direction they took for the style and art, which wasn’t the case for Cencoroll. Personally speaking, Tailenders is just that much more interesting and entertaining than Cencoroll ever was. I just don’t get why AIT just doesn’t give the go-ahead to make a movie. It is a joint venture with a corporation (THINK Corporation) and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government after all, so I don’t think they’re that strapped for resources. Releasing a whole bunch of pilot films one after another and hoping for one to stick would eventually become repetitive. I wouldn’t want to watch their releases if they were of the same length and quality as the former myself. Like I said up top, it really would have been better had Tailenders been made into a full-length feature instead. I know it’s most probably going to be compared endlessly to Redline if it did, but I’d rather take that over wasting yet another cool idea on an undecided tease.

Cencoroll did eventually get another episode in the works, you might say. But who’s to say the same would be true for Tailenders?

2 responses to “Past the Checkered Flag

  1. Scamp March 30, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    I didn’t know Cencoroll had anything else planned for it. I quite liked the pilot episode, but exactly as you said, it felt miserably incomplete. If it was the first episode of a TV series, I would have been hyped for the rest of it. As 1 episode, it’s pretty lame.

    But they only plan for one more episode? Or maybe a full movie?

    • ananimas March 30, 2011 at 5:45 pm

      There hasn’t been any details regarding what episode 2 could be, but I think it’s most likely going to be another OVA much like the first one. A movie would be nice, but since Anime Innovation Tokyo is supposed to have more pilots out, I don’t think they can afford to produce a Cencoroll movie. Too bad, really.

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