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Buried Treasure
Twilight Q

by Justin Sevakis,

Twilight Q is an important, albeit little-known relic of anime history. The OAV was originally intended to be a showcase for important young directors in anime, but due to low sales it was canceled after only two episodes. Conceived as sort of a "Twilight Zone" anthology (as the title no doubt attests to), the two that got made involve some of the most important people in the last quarter century of anime. Both are interesting (one significantly moreso than the other), and neither has anything to do with the other.

Episode 1: Reflection - A Knot In Time

Directed by Tomomi Mochizuki (Ocean Waves, Princess Nine, Here Is Greenwood), Reflection is a light mystery that unravels like a pulp novel. Mayumi is vacationing at a beach resort with her friend Kiwako when, diving underwater, she discovers a camera stuck on a coral reef. The look of it intrigues her; the camera looks like it's been down there for quite some time. Discovering there's film in it, she drops it off to be developed. She gets quite a shock when she picks up the prints: SHE's in the pictures, posing with a guy she doesn't know. Of course, she has no memory of ever posing for them.

Luckily, Kiwako's older brother is a scientist, and he happily agrees to see what he can find out about the camera. Upon contacting the camera's manufacturer, they find out something even more bizarre: the camera is a new model that hasn't been released, or even properly produced yet. In fact, the serial number of the camera indicates that it wouldn't even be produced until a year into the future, and the condition it's in clearly indicates it's been around for at least a year already. But they don't get to investigate further; lightening strikes, and the camera disappears right before their eyes.

Driven by a desire to know more, Mayumi decides to go back to the island, and tags along with Kiwako's brother on a research expedition. The island has since been surrounded by a "red tide," caused by organisms overfeeding. The red algae can produce irritant gas, but Mayumi is more interested in a strange tree on the shore. Twisted and gnarled, as if it were made of perversely obtained human limbs. Drawn to it, she touches it and disappears.

Mayumi ends up time-slipping through various scenarios, past and future, and it's hard to tell what is real and what isn't. Eventually, she wakes up on Kiwako's brother's laboratory floor back in Tokyo, in a world where there is no red tide. And then, we see where the picture was taken.

If it all ends a little abruptly, it's because this story is simply not very good. There's just not enough information here to make a convincing or satisfying arc. Details of the mystery get lost because they end up being completely unimportant. The seeds are there, and the animation is gorgeous, as are Akemi Takada's (Patlabor, Kimagure Orange Road, Fancy Lala) character designs. The story seems to have been a simple writing exercise for Kazunori Itō (Patlabor, Maison Ikkoku, Zettai Shonen), but it's not a particularly successful one.

No matter. Time for episode 2, which is much more interesting...

Episode 2: The Labyrinth Real Estate - File 538

Written and directed by Mamoru Oshii, File 538 is a strange little OAV that will surely test a lot of people's patience. It's a slow experimental piece, heavy on dialogue and voice over and punctuated with pieces of visual absurdity.

The story is a strange one. One terribly hot summer in Tokyo, airplanes have been disappearing from the sky. According to eye-witnesses, they appear to be turning into large carp, but no actual evidence of gigantic carp in the sky has yet been recorded. Needless to say, the news media and the government are in total confusion over this (the public is strangely apathetic). But there's no mistake, as we see it ourselves in the first scene of the OVA. One minute the pilots are talking to air traffic control. The next minute, the hull is bursting into scales, the tail becomes the grand, semi-transparent tail of a carp, and a giant jet-sized fish is swimming across the sky.

But never mind that. The main character of the story is a private detective, down on his luck to the point of nearly starving. He finally gets a job, observing a strange man and a snotty-nosed pants-less little girl, no older than two and wearing an oversize metal helmet. Their last place of residence is a small apartment in a slum neighborhood on the outskirts of town. The building looks abandoned and derelict, and one day the detective is driven to enter the apartment. He finds no man, but only the girl asleep on a futon, as well as a carp gasping for air and flapping about on the futon next to her, and a word processor. The detective hits "Print", and a document starts printing: "This story has been prepared for you, my successor, who should be visiting this room in due time."

And so he reads the man's chronicle of his descent in this world of slow agony. In the roasting summer, the narrator (who was once an impoverished detective himself) took the same job. It seemed, at times, like there had never been any work for him, as he'd been without a client for so long. And then he got one: a strange, aimless request to take surveillance of a man and a small child living in a dilapidated old apartment building. Yes, the same one. He's unable to get any identification or records for either the man or the little girl, and the two apparently did nothing but eat, sleep and defecate from the window. He has a feeling they aren't really father and daughter.

The little girl loves fish, and when she sees a plane fly overhead, she shouts, "FISH!" and -- sure enough -- the plane turns into a giant carp. The apartment itself turns into a ruin when its inhabitants are away. As the days and weeks pile on, the narrator has an identity crisis, and enters the apartment himself. He finds, soon enough, that he has taken the man's place. And then the cycle starts again. What's become of the original adult? Well... there's fish for dinner.

File 538 is clearly an important work in Oshii's catalog; a reflection of the short time he spent truly down on his luck after Urusei Yatsura ended, as well as an ode to his father - himself a down-and-out private detective. (For Oshii fans, Detective Matsui of Patlabor is essentially the same character.) There's a claustrophobic sense of baking to death in the small apartment, and as the man sweats in the dark shadow of the place, his eyes roll into the back of his head. For Oshii, these insufferable, surreal days of summer are when the mind starts playing tricks on oneself, and the desperation of being down on one's luck starts to take its psychological toll.

The scenario with the girl (and what, it's revealed eventually, she is exactly) is no doubt a dream, one caused by heat, hunger and depressed desperation. In that case it's hard to say whether dreaming is an escape exactly, or rather the clouded perception of reality by a brain that doesn't want to function under these conditions. For Oshii, the difference between those dreams and reality scarcely matters. In Brian Ruh's book The Stray Dog of Anime, Oshii says, "for me, personally, whether it's a dream or reality isn't that important. You can't rely on memory, so the way you see yourself at any given moment is 'you,' and how you see the world around you makes up your reality."

File 538 is challenging viewing, and its experimental tone and minimalist production nearly require the film to be viewed more as modern art rather as "anime" as the world and most fans perceive it. The animation is scant, and often unmoving, like looking through surrealist photographs. The look of it is a foreign, strange landscape; a lifeless and bombed out city, constructed out of stills in an eerie, documentary sort of way. (This, no doubt, is inspired by Chris Marker's 1962 French sci-fi film La Jetée, of which Oshii is a fan.) Art director Shichirō Kobayashi (Utena, Loveless, TO-Y) further refines the blend of film noir and surrealist techniques he began in Angel's Egg. Just when it seems like the story pulls a deus Ex Machina, we see that it's not; but rather attempting another trick on our perception.

Twilight Q is a strange set of OAV's. Though Oshii, Ito and Takada didn't work together directly, it is this project from which the collaboration of Headgear and the genesis of Patlabor would be born. The work (particularly the first part) may be flawed, but its place in anime history is an important one, and the second part is doubtless one of the great experimental works that will likely be closely examined by university types for years to come. How much you get out of it will depend entirely on your ability to interpret art.

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.

How to get it:
Both OAV's have been released together on Region 2 DVD, at a fairly reasonable (by Japanese standards) price of ¥6090. (There's no English on it.) It's still in print, and can be had from most websites that sell Japanese import anime DVD's. There's little hope of a US release at this point. Fansubs mastered from the DVD are out there, though they may be getting hard to find.

Screenshots ©EMOTION.

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