The Ultimate Guide to the Animator Expo Shorts

by Kevin Cirugeda,

People love to bring up Hideaki Anno's grim outlook on the anime industry (even after he clarified he was being misunderstood), while overlooking his efforts to improve the situation. The creative genius behind Evangelion set up a project to allow many animation creators to do as they pleased, as long as their finished work was no longer than 10 minutes. Since Khara has an abnormally large pool of skilled directors for a studio that isn't particularly big, a project like this aligned with their needs as well. Animator Expo is the result of giving those top in-house people a chance, while inviting many talented outsiders. It has been available for free and so far they have tried to monetize it through other means, but most of the shorts will be taken down very soon – mere days from now, November 23rd - until the not-yet-announced but inevitable Blu-ray release. This is the last chance (for now) to watch some incredible shorts you may have missed!

Season 1

The Dragon Dentist
A young girl's dangerous trial to become a dragon dentist in a mysterious wartime setting. A curious way to start this venture, seeing how the short was helmed by Otaro Maijo who hadn't directly worked in animation before. The novelist came up with the concept, directed the piece and even debuted as a storyboarder. It's technically notable however, thanks to the assistance of who arguably is Khara's #2, Kazuya Tsurumaki. A director of his caliber doesn't need to be flashy to build a sense of scale and show how insignificant humans are. It wouldn't be a proper first entry of Animator Expo without its fair share of interesting motion, and thankfully it has that covered as well; Kameda's work as the animation supervisor is more restrained than you might expect, yet you can still easily notice his craft. Some of the highlight sequences have his rough lineart, and the snappy timing is there as well.

Recommended: Yes, but with reservations. The very first short presents one of the inherent problems of the format – large tales and settings feel constrained, and misplaced storytelling ambition isn't necessarily rewarded. In this case I feel like Dragon Dentist succeeds at showing us a glimpse of this fantasy world, but be warned that there's a larger story there that we'll never see.

Hill Climb Girl
A simple story about a highschooler cyclist who keeps losing against her rival classmate, produced by Khara's expanding CG department. They aimed for a very 2D anime-looking style and got Mai Yoneyama to design the characters for it, but the motion is floaty and the mostly static camerawork doesn't play to the strengths a 3DCG production could have had. Narratively void and visually unappealing, not much to see here.

Recommended: No, an easy skip. Yoneyama's character designs and a rather nice color design are its only strengths, and the former has lost relevance now that we know she is in charge of Trigger's upcoming original TV anime.

Me! Me! Me!
A young man trapped in cuddling fantasy, to the point it becomes dangerous. A lot more juvenile than some people have given it credit for, as it celebrates otaku culture as much as it warns of its dangers, and its director is hardly opposed to fanservice. Leaving the interpretations of the piece aside though, it's Hibiki Yoshizaki himself who we can consider one of the biggest surprises of this whole project; his incredible editing work elevates this short without a doubt, perfectly timing it to TeddyLoid's track while making sure every scene flows. Yoshizaki's Yozakura openings already showed how much emphasis he puts in scene transitions, and Me! Me! Me! takes it to another level. Some of the early titillating scenes move rather awkwardly, but overall the animation is note-worthy as well. Considering both the director and subject matter it's unsurprising that this attracted notable young animator like Shingo Yamashita, Shuhei Handa and Hakuyu Go. Even in this regard Yoshizaki's vision is a big factor, since the highlight cuts are also built with smooth transitions in mind.

Recommended: It's quite awkward to even bring up Me! Me! Me! as I try to highlight interesting pieces that were overlooked, and I won't deny that seeing its popularity not leak into Animator Expo as a whole was quite frustrating. As it stands, I likely don't need to recommend Me! Me! Me! as it is most likely the one Animator Expo short you're most likely to have already seen, but if for some reason you haven't, check it out before it disappears.

A straightforward yet very stylish revenge western story, and as violent as the title suggests.  Akira Honma's directional debut is a good excuse to examine his career – an unusual animator who focuses pretty much exclusively on film productions, as opposed to most of his peers having to make do as TV anime freelance artists. His rough designs fit the piece very well, and while the animation is scarce, its visual strengths lie elsewhere; lightning plays a big part in it, and obviously the main intent was giving it an old film look through the usage of filters.

Recommended: Yes. Could be a pilot for a bigger tale, but works as a standalone short with a vague ending as well.

20min Walk from Nishi-Ogikubo Station
Mahiro Maeda and Takeshi Honda became pillars of Animator Expo, and their first collaboration easily turned out to be one of the most notable shorts. Pretty much a non-stop action setpiece, as a woman who's woken up turned into a cockroach evades death in a house that's become way too big for her. It's got the animation magic required to make it work, supported by a line-up of artists that looks straight up of a sakuga fan's dream. Okiura's careful character acting is welcome, but the stand out sequences belong to the wilder animators; Nishi-Ogikubo sports a rather sketchy lineart to begin with, so highly idiosyncratic styles like Ohira's expressionistic drawings and Shinji Hashimoto's rough strokes feel very fitting. And of course Honda himself, proving once again why he has earned the nickname of Shishou, the master of animation, as he nonchalantly pulled one of the most complex sequences in the short.

Recommended: Without a doubt. The first thoroughly exceptional Expo short as far as I'm concerned, a small idea carried by outrageously good craft. Who'd have thought that a streamlined and lighthearted take of Kafka's Metamorphosis was what it took to make a masterpiece.

Until You Come to Me
An official Rebuild of Evangelion AMV, speculated to be the bridge between 3.33 and the last film. Hideaki Anno and Tadashi Hiramatsu came up with the layouts for the illustrations the latter drew, Tatsuya Kushida was in charge of the art direction and the music's by Shiro Sagisu – if this doesn't ring any bells, it pretty much is a selection of Rebuild staff doing a short Rebuild promotion. Can't forget that this is Khara's project after all.

Recommended: Not unless you are an Evangelion fan starved for new content and are dying to see Hiramatsu's gorgeous art - in which case you've likely already seen it.

Tomorrow from There
Another music video, this time focused on a young woman trapped inside her everyday routine and eventually learning to look ahead with optimism. And no one better to helm the piece than Akemi Hayashi, a meticulous director who has proven she doesn't need dialogue or a long runtime to capture the essence of daily life. Tomorrow from There is the spiritual successor to her From the Other Side of the Tears short for another anthology by top anime talent, Ani*Kuri 15. Her past at Gainax and working under Ikuhara have shaped Hayashi's style, and going by her penguin imagery she's not willing to let us forget her masterpiece Penguindrum #20 yet. It's easy to see how fond she is of recurring visual motifs through the many bird shots in this short, rather appropriate since the protagonist felt caged until she found out she could fly as well. Also notable is the art direction by Chieko Nakamura, another long time Ikuhara acquaintance. This short doesn't simply have beautiful colors, they're an important storytelling device; it's easy to notice when the protagonist's worldview changes simply by looking at the palette.
Recommended: Yes, go watch it. No need to add anything else, there are no ‘maybes’ here.

Lightning Superman Gridman
One of the more unique entries of Animator Expo, the comeback of a rather obscure tokusatsu series 22 years later in the form of an animated 2D short. Pretty much entirely produced by Akira Amemiya and Yusuke Yoshigaki, two Studio TRIGGER pals who simply wanted an excuse to draw a series they used to like as kids. And the result is about what you would expect, modern Kanada Style animation showcasing Amemiya's personal influences like Masami Obari.

Recommended: Its existence is more amusing that the actual film, and the fact that a passion project like this was allowed to happen is what I find most valuable. Its appeal is otherwise particularly limited, and rides on either very specific nostalgia for Gridman and similar series, or passion for the kind of mecha animation Amemiya is specialized in. For everyone else – there's nothing here for you.

A tragic love story set in feudal Japan that naturally leads to a robot holding a concert with his army of dancers. Don't worry, it won't make much more sense once you watch it. This music video is a collaboration between the CG artist Takashi Horiuchi and the 2D animator Masahiro Emoto, under the supervision of the legendary Ichiro Itano – yes, the circus guy. Aside from a couple nice postcard shots and some instances of interesting lineart it's never really a good looker, and the CG climax is frankly disappointing.

Recommended: You could invest about 5 minutes of your life in worse stuff. Seeing it gradually go off the rails narratively is amusing enough to justify it.

Power Plant No.33
Yasuhiro Yoshiura is THE modern Sci-Fi anime director, the brilliant mind behind Time of Eve, Harmonie and Patema Inverted. This time around he crafted a world in which humanity exploits kaiju as a source of energy, and decided to throw in some giant robots for good measure. Teaming up with TRIGGER to produce this is no surprise as they are both connected through Ultra Super Pictures, and seeing some pals of his like Atsushi Ikariya show up was to be expected as well. It has a distinctly Yoshiura-like look (with recurring details like the dust particles effect), mixed with Yuji Kaneko's visual flavor – some scenes look like they could belong in KILL la KILL.

Recommended: As a fan of Yoshiura's work I feel weird saying this, but no. He comes up with fascinating worlds he then proceeds to obsessively explore, but the short format here only allows for a quick and unsatisfying peek. Thankfully this isn't his only participation, since he came back later to deliver an absolutely hilarious short.

Evangelion Another Impact (Confidential)
Shinji Aramaki's industrial-looking Eva is nothing like the organic monster from the original series, which is quite unfortunate when the only thing this has going for it is the Evangelion brand.

Recommended: No. It looks like a car commercial and is about as engaging as one.

Season 2

The next time you see someone complain about the lack of varied sources for anime adaptations, remind them of this short film based on a Czech play from 1927. Mahiro Maeda tops himself with a frenetic and exhilarating short about a man who, fed up with the downfall of humanity's virtue, decides to make a new world only to be driven to madness by his own creation. As a work depicting how ugly the human nature can be in an amusing way, Kanón constantly uses exaggerated character art, with characters abruptly changing their distorted expressions; they're not beautiful, and they're not meant to be. This applies to the palette as well – many scenes avoid color harmonies, and the more chaotic moments become strident mixes. Maeda knows how to make every single scene memorable, not shying away from non-standard visuals but making it all eye-catching rather than unappealing to look at.

Recommended: Absolutely. I would extend the recommendation beyond people trying to get into Animator Expo or anime fans in general, this is a short about everyone should give a try to.

Sex & Violence with Machspeed
The title alone should tell you that this is the most Hiroyuki Imaishi work that Hiroyuki Imaishi has ever conceived. An incompetent detective gets his client smashed to pieces and through a series of sex doll accidents – don't ask – ends up in a full-on war against a yakuza clan. The visuals are appropriately pure and undiluted Imaishi as well; start with his characteristic cartoony designs, which move in Kanada Style fashion through a series of exaggerated body poses, then add some of his personal tells like sketchy linework (in drill form, even!) and massive text onscreen. Even stripping all colors but one is something he's done in the past. Sex & Violence with Machspeed is a crash course in Imaishi's style.

Recommended: Yes, as long as you are fond of Imaishi's particular brand of juvenile and crude cartoons. If he hasn't won you over yet, this definitely won't change your mind.

A complete change of pace, despite also coming from Team GEEKS members like Imaishi's previous short. Obake-chan had been Shigeto Koyama's mascot of sorts for years, and so he took Animator Expo as a chance to turn the adventures of his cute yet very incompetent ghost girl. A quick succession of short gags, a bit reminiscent of Nichijou's Helvetica Standard segments. There's nothing much to it, just relatively amusing and relatively absurd humor, coupled with cute art – enough to be perfect T-shirt material.  

Recommended: Not enthusiastically, but yes. Obake-chan feels like something that could air like a short length TV anime as is, a fairly charming if not memorable series of gags.

Tokio of the Moon's Shadow
Kamikaze Douga have gained lots of recognition for their excellent work in the Jojo's Bizarre Adventure and Gatchaman Crowds openings, and their partnership with the eccentric Goichi Suda (better known as Suda51) brought us Tokio of the Moon's Shadow. The only overarching visual theme of this bizarre sci-fi short is having no defined style whatsoever, constantly switching its looks and using quite special mixes of 2D and CG animation.

Recommended: No. Unique to say the least, but mostly weird in an off-putting manner. Impossible to get invested in its narrative and while the attempt at combining different types of craft is commendable, there are way better hybrid productions within Animator Expo.

Three Fallen Witnesses
A short film featuring detectives looking for incriminating proof in a murder case, using a time traveling device. It's very apparent that Satoru Utsunomiya is behind it, mostly due to his characteristic stylized designs; even people who have never seen any of his main works before might recall his episode of Aquarion with radically different character art and wobbly animation. He's a lot more conservative this time around, but you can still appreciate rich cuts of character acting at a level most directors wouldn't bother with. The credits are full of idiosyncratic animators yet their styles don't feel recognizable at all, since Utsunomiya heavily corrected it all to give it a uniform look.

Recommended: Hesitantly so. It's a short detective film without actual mystery, and just barely enough of an emotional high note at the end to be worth it. Not the most exciting visuals either, even if the character animation is rather nice.

The Diary of Ochibi
Masashi Kawamura's project based off Moyoco Anno's comic consists on a series of stop-motion seasonally themed sequences, using appropriate materials. A rather ambitious idea that required extra crowdfunding to be produced, but I don't think I need to explain the appeal of this sweet little thing.

Recommended: Yes. One of the entries that showed just how wide the range of visual expression that Animator Expo allows. Impressive craft behind it, and simply adorable result.

I can Friday by Day!
Tiny aliens piloting highschool girl-sized mechs, camouflaging in our society as they try to obtain the rare crystals that can only be harvested from hot boys. Tremendous creative force behind this, with FLCL's director Kazuya Tsurumaki working with the concept Hajime Ueda (known nowadays as the artist behind all the Monogatari ending sequences) came up with. A nice re-encounter, since 15 years ago Ueda was tasked with adapting FLCL into a manga. Staggering design talent as well, with really stylish concept art by Take that the one and only sushio made made more expressive. I'm sure people will notice the resemblance between Friday's early cartoony scenes and all the KILL la KILL Mako art that he's been drawing, and the soft lineart throughout is very pleasant to look at. And of course, he added his sushiobunny everywhere. The actual animation lives up to it as well, especially when it comes to the effects – the flat FX with unusual colors might be the highlight here.

Recommended: For sure. Tightly directed, colorful, simply a joy. Kazuya Tsurumaki's career is a bit tragic in that we know he's got more FLCLs and Diebusters inside of him, yet he's still chained to Evangelion and Anno's shadow. This is further proof that he deserves more.

Iconic Field
An all-stars lineup with Gundam Unicorn's Kazuhiro Furuhashi, accompanied by two other modern mecha pillars like Sejoon Kim and Iwao Teraoka. All lead by Ikuto Yamashita, who you might know as the person who designed the Eva01 Unit. It couldn't go wrong, but it decided to tell a story and then completely fell apart.

Recommended: The mecha fan in me weeps as I say no. As a showcase of mechanical design and animation it's excellent, but the short feels like an incoherent Hollywood trailer for a movie that was never going to exist. A perfect example of how convoluted narrative is way worse than lack of any narrative whatsoever. I don't exaggerate when I say it's better appreciated muted and without subtitles. At least Kameda can soothe the pain.

On a Gloomy Night
A tale of the downfall of modern society in just over five minutes, framed through personal story of a young revolutionary. Tadashi Hiramatsu is known to be one of the most politically active anime creators, so it's not surprising he chose a novel with such a premise for his Animator Expo piece. It's technically adequate, the most notable aspect being the hand-painted background art by Ogura Kobo and Ghibli associates.

Recommended: Yes. It's obvious that it's a teaser for what could be a greater film, but since the personal story it follows is ultimately very simple, it still manages to feel conclusive enough to be satisfying.

Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen
Moyoco Anno returns to promote another manga series of hers, this time set in a 1900s Paris brothel. Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen explores the idea of perversion, while it follows the life of a prostitute who suffers as she willingly lets a gigolo take advantage of her. There's no animation to speak of in this short, which is essentially a summary of the first chapters of the manga beautifully edited into a teaser of sorts.

Recommended: The original series is worth checking out for sure, and those already reading it might want to check out how nice it looks with a fresh coat of paint. Otherwise, skip.

Rapid Rouge
The last film of Animator Expo Season 2 sees the return of many recurring staff members like Mahiro Maeda and Kazuya Tsurumaki, while allowing Rebuild's CGi director Daisuke Onitsuka to debut. Shades of red are the only colors in this otherwise monochrome short depicting the siege of a fortress, mixing 3DCG and 2D animation. Aided by the heavy shading, the CG models could easily fool people into thinking they're hand drawn, but their motion is still a bit awkward. Admittedly it's a shame that the finer design work is lost to the CG, but the aesthetic is excellent and I would consider it a mostly successful visual experiment.

Recommended: A mild yes. The ‘To Be Continued’ ending feels more playful than mean to the viewer, seeing how they never intended to actually tell a story – you have to go and read the site to find out about the setting and what is going on, but neither of those really matters. Rapid Rouge is a stylish attempt at hybrid animation, and it fares well enough as that.

Animator Expo is what people dream about; creators gone wild without a worry about the market viability of their work, a whole anthology of passion projects with incredibly diverse styles. Don't hesitate to check it out, since a project with this creative range is bound to appeal to you in some way. Now that the end of the free distribution for its first two seasons is approaching, everyone has an excuse to finally check out all those shorts they had been missing – hopefully a less daunting prospect thanks to this guide!

And when everyone has caught up, let's meet again to discuss the third (and so far final) season of shorts. As high as the first two set the bar, the grand finale steals the show.

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