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Buried Treasure

by Justin Sevakis,

How time flies. Just over a year ago we posted my first Buried Treasure, a piece on Robot Carnival. I started writing the column to get back into interacting with fans (as my then-barely-anime-related desk job didn't allow for much). I hadn't really been involved in the site for many years, but had stayed friends with pretty much the entire staff.

One day in August '06, Chris and Zac asked me if I wanted to write a review of Paprika, which was going to be premiered at New York Film Festival. (ANN had no staff in New York.) Being a die-hard Satoshi Kon fan, I jumped at the opportunity, and was a bit surprised at how much I had enjoyed myself in the writing of the review, and even more, how much I enjoyed the discussion on the forums afterwards. I had rediscovered something I'd lost: the immediacy of interacting with anime fans. I'm hard pressed to think of another subject and format that allows for such one-on-one discourse. (The writing practice certainly didn't hurt either.) Within a month I had another review under my belt, and a month later I proposed the idea for the column.

As with anything, there have been surprises along the way. I initially went in with a short list of shows I knew I wanted to cover, but soon found that some shows I had long since taken to be popular were, in fact, ones that few remembered. As the column was meant, in part, to expand the viewing repertoire of younger fans to whom Cowboy Bebop was considered "old school", I found covering such shows also had the dual purpose of inspiring discussion from older fans, who had loved that particular show in its heyday. Some of the more obscure shows I had planned to write about, I found, simply weren't good enough to inspire the 1500 or so words I write every week. Still, I try to maintain a balance between forgotten and completely undiscovered. (One show on my initial list, Windaria, I have been procrastinating writing about for the last year simply because it's too depressing to rewatch.)

The strange thing is, I hate writing reviews; in fact, trying to find something intelligent to say about volume 5 of a mediocre series that inspired little thought was like trying to wring water out of a dry towel. (It's actually what burned me out on maintaining the site itself oh-so-many years ago.) However, this column affords me the luxury of pointing out what inspires me, what restores my faith in the medium, and of following my tangential musings to see if they lead somewhere interesting. As someone who has always found pleasure in sharing the dirty nuggets of cinematic gold that somehow missed by everyone else, I can think of few more pleasurable things.

Now ANN is my full-time job (and you'll start seeing the fruits of my other labor in a few weeks), and the column has gone weekly (as you may have noticed). I may not have any more Time Strangers or To-Y's to write about, but hopefully the medium has left me with enough material to last a few years at this rate. If you've been reading the column for a while, thank you for your feedback and your time. I hope to keep digging with you for years to come.

a.k.a. Manie Manie (Labyrinth Tales)

To celebrate our first year's worth of anime obscurity, I can think of no more appropriate a title than 1989's Neo-Tokyo. Originally titled Manie-Manie: Labyrinth Tales (and renamed by Streamline for its theatrical and VHS releases, hoping to suggest a non-existent tie-in with the mega-hit Akira), Neo-Tokyo is an omnibus film featuring three shorts by Rintaro, Yoshiaki Kawajiri and Katsuhiro Otomo. It's thought of as a companion piece to Robot Carnival, though other than being an omnibus anime from the 80's, the two really have little in common.

Labyrinth * Labyrinthos Rintaro is an amazing visual director. This is not to say I'm a fan of his; usually when he's put in charge of conveying a story or anything with coherent logic, he falls down rather spectacularly. However, freed from the constraints of such a limitation, there seems no end to the man's visual inventiveness; his almost spiritual creativity. In Labyrinth * Labyrinthos, we simply follow the whimsical musings of a little girl named Sachi, a mischevious little girl who is of the age that lives as much in their own fantasy as in reality. Accompanied by her cat Cicerone, we watch as she pads across the city in search of adventure.

Labyrinth is surprisingly dark. The dark shadows of society, the march of the salarymen, and the death-rattles emanating from passing commuters threaten to swallow our heroine in baggy pants, but she laughs them off as if they're nothing. Her final destination is a circus, which seems as impressionistic and intangible as anything German surrealism has ever thrown our way. There's a kind of logic to things, but it's the sort of logic that would elude anybody over five. It's fascinating, but deeply disturbing and perplexing. The animation follows in fluid, Disney-esque motion that reminded me of some of their experimental work in the 50's.

The Running Man A decidedly film noir sci-fi (influenced, quite obviously, by Blade Runner) Yoshiaki Kawajiri's usual sense of cool, dystopian sci-fi gets perhaps its highest budgeted workout in this short. Told from the point of view of a sports reporter, we are treated to witnessing the undoing of Zach Hugh, a race car driver on a new, highly dangerous Sci-Fi sort of race track. At first, he's simply going mad, slowly gaining telekinetic powers in the process. Then, in his final race, the other contenders blow up around him, and the control center realizes that Hugh no longer is even alive.

The Running Man seems to have the least going on under the surface, but the short is undeniably fun to look at. It was recut into four-minute chunks and played in fairly heavy rotation on MTV's experimental animation showcase Liquid Television, which also launched the hit show Aeon Flux. While I wasn't a fan, the show was undenyably cooler than anything they've shown in the last decade.

The Order to Stop Construction Easily the most sharp-witted (and accessible) film in the anthology, Katsuhiro Otomo's short is endemic of his social satire period (which also gave us the amazing Roujin Z). A nerdy little salaryman named Tsujioka is dispatched from corporate headquarters down to a construction project in Aroana, a tropical swamp/rainforest country that recently underwent a coup d'etat. As the new government isn't supporting the project (apparently loads of natural resources can be mined in the region), the project must be shut down.

And that, of course, is the problem. Tsujioka arrives at the site to be greeted by a hilariously stammering, passive-aggressive foreman robot. The entire site is run by robots, in fact, and the phrase "shut down" is simply not in their vocabulary. Unfortunately, "stop anybody who threatens the project" is. Tsujioka is summarily ignored by the foreman robot, who feeds him progressively worsening meals as the entire project is washed away or destroyed by itself, a machine that insists on continuing its toil even when the job itself increasingly looks like it was a bad idea to begin with. (Robots + rainy season = bad.) Tsujioka, branded as non-cooperative, is locked in his room. Trying to use logic against a never-ending tide of robotic "get-the-job-done" types should be pretty familiar to anyone who's ever worked for a big company, especially in Japan.

Produced by Madhouse and Kadokawa, Neo-Tokyo is some of the best, most visually amazing stuff Japan has ever made. Its lack of underlying theme or plot doesn't dampen the experience; rather it's the dark tone that carries through the three like a current. It should not be missed.

A Abundant. Available anywhere that carries anime.
C Common. In print, and always available online.
R1 US release out of print, still in stock most places.
R2 US release out of print, not easy to find.
R3 Import only, but it has English on it.
R4 Import only. Fansubs commonly available.
R5 Import only, and out of print. Fansubs might be out there.
R6 Import long out of print. No fansubs are known to exist.
R7 Very rare. Limited import release or aired on TV with no video release. No fansubs known to exist.
R8 Never been on the market. Almost impossible to obtain.
Adapted from Soviet-Awards.com.

Where to get it: Streamline's VHS went out of print way before the company itself closed shop, likely due to the issues facing Kadokawa Shoten at the time (its president was arrested for drug trafficking). The unfortunate result is that after Liquid Television went off the air Neo-Tokyo became something of a rarity.

Strangely, ADV Films produced a nice DVD version in 2004. The DVD features a beautiful 16x9 transfer, though it's unfortunately flagged as 4x3, so it won't play correctly on most televisions. It went out of print almost immediately, and now goes for well over $50 used. If you can track it down for less, it's absolutely worth it. The original Streamline dub is preserved on the disc, and it's surprisingly faithful for its era.

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