New York Comic-Con 2011 This Boy Can Fight the Aliens Impressions
by Todd Ciolek,
It's no accident that Soubi Yamamoto's short film This Boy Can Fight the Aliens (or Kono Danshi, Uchu-jin to Tatakaemasu) premiered at the New York Comic-Con that featured Makoto Shinkai's latest movie. Shinkai got his start as a one-man anime studio, and his 2002 short Voices of a Distant Star stunned many viewers. One of those viewers was Yamamoto, who first saw Voices when she was 15. Now 21, she's become an animator in her own right and directed a few opening clips for games. This Boy Can Fight the Aliens is her first real work, and Comix Wave, which gave Shinkai his debut nearly a decade ago, launched Yamamoto's short to the world at the New York Comic-Con.
The boy of the title is Kakashi, a wiry young man with gray hair, an eyepatch, and no memories of his life in general. All he remembers is meeting two representatives of the Special Alien Countermeasures Headquarters: shy teenager Arikawa and surly older (in anime years, he's probably 20) Shiro. The two of them live with Kakashi in a pastoral, vaguely abstract part of the country, and aliens show up several times a month to drop shadowy challengers for Kakashi to fight. While he has a perfect winning streak, Kakashi is troubled by his lack of memories—and Shiro's vague hint that Kakashi's fights don't really matter in the war against the aliens. Kakashi's only link to his memories is a dead cell phone, and he's hesitant to get it fixed.
Yamamoto took a few hints from Shinkai's style: her scenery bursts with light and all sorts of sparkling CG effects. Yet she's also working in a much more frantic, comedic style. Her characters are lanky creatures with abstract attempts at noses, and text flies around the screen during the lighter moments. Coupled with the limited animation and simple looks, This Boy Can Fight the Aliens resembles a manga brought to cartoonish life. Yamamoto's art is frequently amateurish, particularly in facial structure, but she plays to that weakness with a jarring suspension of reality, using bright colors, dream sequences, and glittery overkill to turn Kakashi's world into a feverish hallucination. She shows particular promise in her little details, whether it's the test-panels of bad cooking or the strange pattern whirling in Kakashi's eyes.
This Boy Can Fight the Aliens is largely concerned with Kakashi's struggle with loneliness, and his reluctance to face a forgotten life he might not live. Yamamoto dips into the same wells that Voices of a Distant Star used: much of the melodrama is conveyed via cell-phone, and the alien invasion is mostly just a backdrop. Yet her story stumbles in creating a genuine problem for Kakashi. Most of his angst is forced, and it hangs on a revelation that comes all too quickly.
Most of Yamamoto's professional work so far arrived in boys'-love games, and This Boy Can Fight the Aliens comes from the same playbook. It's never graphic, but Yamamoto builds up Kakashi and Arikawa's relationship with tension and suggestion aplenty, plus scores of scenes for fans to interpret and squeal over (which happened often during the Comic-Con showing). It's a cute approach, even if it gets far too weepy in far too short of a time. The voice cast is entirely professional, with Ryohei Kimura, Daisuke Hirakawa, and Toshiyuki Toyonaga. Also worth special mention is the English title itself; This Boy Can Fight the Aliens is the most endearing awkward translation since The Enemy's the Pirates.
This Boy Can Fight the Aliens might not catapult Yamamoto to stardom. It's a little too earnest in its emotions, and its underlying story doesn't earn the ending that Yamamoto awards it. Yet it still marks Yamamoto as a talent to watch: her style is unique, manic, and well-suited to a tale that dives into the veins of lost identity. Give her more time and a bigger budget, and something special will emerge.