Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Feb 26th 2008
Nobody's Boy Remi
Sub. DVD 3-4
With Vitalis cooling his heels in the pen after quite justifiably assaulting an officer of the law, hard days are once again upon poor Remi. Thrown upon his own resources, he takes Vitalis' animal protégés on the road, trying to earn a living the only way they know how: performing. Without Vitalis' steady hand, the troupe does poorly and in a fit of desperate hunger Zerbino steals from a butcher and the entire troupe is driven out of town. At the frayed end of his rope, Remi sings his sad little song and serendipitously catches the attention of a lady floating her yacht down a nearby canal. Mrs. Milligan is a beautiful kindhearted woman of some means, and impulsively invites Remi to stay with her until Vitalis' release. She and her crippled son soon grow to love Remi, and he reciprocates in kind, experiencing perhaps the happiest two months of his life. Naturally it doesn't last. Soon he and the troupe are on their way yet again, experiencing non-stop tragedy as those around them drop like flies and Vitalis suffers from an ominous cough acquired in prison. For Remi, it never pays to get too attached, for if you were to look at God's shit list, he'd be right there under Job and Judas.
Some decades past, in the far-off era of the 1980's, the Violent Femmes put out a snarky tune called the "Country Death Song" in which a man pushes his youngest daughter down a well more or less because it was the most horrible thing that the group could think of. Nobody's Boy Remi kind of reminds me of that song. Previous to these volumes Remi lost his pet cow, found out that he was adopted, was sold into indentured servitude, and lost his only father figure to unforgiving French authorities. Over the course of these later episodes he finds happiness more than once, only to have it slip from his grasp in often the cruelest manner possible. Potential mother figures are abandoned, friends die, others are humiliated, and Remi suffers often at the hands of the callous and small-hearted. At its most depressing, the series can resemble a grotesque celebration of privation, a sadistically composed series of misfortunes and little more.
What saves it from that fate is the series' cautious optimism. For every black-hearted bully of a butcher and snotty soulless socialite, there's a family of farmers with hearts as big as a barn and a bowl of hot soup for the freezing passerby or a high-born lady on a boat with deep pockets and a heart of softest gold. Remi remains an underdog of the most loveable breed: sensitive and vulnerable, yet possessed of a slowly growing inner strength that allows him to face and overcome the worst—the very worst—that the world can throw at him. The tragedies, with their puppy-whipping cruelty, make the strongest immediate impression, but what ultimately lingers are those little triumphs—making friends, earning a father's praise—that allow Remi, or indeed any of us, to face adversity and come out on top. Not that Remi is in any way feel-good entertainment, unless you count the smug "starving kids in China" appreciation of one's own luxuries that it is bound to inspire in some. While Remi's warm people and emotions do linger, they are always tempered by the knowledge that sooner or later the other shoe will drop and Remi will once again be adrift in a raging sea of misery.
Director Osamu Dezaki's treatment of the series is exemplary, a perfect demonstration of what a skilled animator is capable of even with only simple tools at his disposal. With nothing more than simple pans over multiple planes and the simplest of movements, he creates nightmarish dreamscapes, surreal natural tableaus, and claustrophobic indoor tragedies. Little instances of smartly employed invention abound—upside-down mountains reflected in a passing river, a slow-motion undershot of leaping, heavily-shadowed deer—and the big, blunt-force dramatic score is peppered with songs of genuine beauty, including Vitalis' superb operatic traveling song. Characters look good, especially in close-up, and backgrounds are simply gorgeous—painterly and perfectly evocative. It has some issues with over-dramatization—if you got a nickel for every gleaming tear that drops, you wouldn't need to pay for the series—but Remi remains one of the American market's finest examples of a seamlessly unified style in animated storytelling.
Other than to prove that it is perhaps even more merciless (and sentimental) than the opening episodes may have indicated, Remi does nothing in its second quarter to betray what it built in the first. Filled with the same small joys and towering tragedies that marked its opening, it remains a resolutely old-fashioned treat for fans willing to brave its emotional abuse and languorous pacing.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Twelve more episodes of big, proudly shameless tragedy, tempered with just the right touch of optimism.
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