Reviewby Theron Martin,
Three diverse tales are collected together in a single anthology by chief director Katsuhiro Otomo, who also directs one of the segments.
In Magnetic Rose, the crew of a deep-space garbage collection team in 2092 answers an SOS, only to discover a wreck filled with the holographic memories of the once-star opera singer who may or may not still reside there. In Stink Bomb, a young researcher with a cold unwittingly takes the wrong experimental medicine, which in combination with a flu shot and other cold medicines causes his body to release an overpowering odor which can incapacitate people in addition to other aside effects. He's unaware that he is the cause of the calamity around him as he tries to deliver the experimental medicine to Tokyo. Cannon Fodder, meanwhile, focuses on a day in the life of a family whose existence revolves around firing a giant cannon at a distant enemy.
This 1995 anthology project was originally released on (subtitled-only) DVD in the West in 2004 and subsequently rereleased in both 2005 and 2016 in combo packs with other movies. Its recent addition to new anime streaming service RetroCrush provides a good opportunity to make a proper review of one of the often-overlooked marvels of mid-'90s anime.
In all, Memories runs 113 minutes, with that span composed of three distinct and entirely unrelated components run back-to-back. Katsuhiro Otomo is the Chief Director for the overall project, the original creator of all three parts, and the writer for two of them, but he only personally directed Cannon Fodder. The other two entries include staff whose names would become anime staples over the decades which followed: Magnetic Rose features the writing of Satoshi Kon and an early soundtrack by Yoko Kanno, while Stink Bomb was the directorial debut of Tensai Okamura, who would later go on to helm titles including Wolf’s Rain, Darker than Black, Blue Exorcist, and the first The Seven Deadly Sins series. Hence there's a lot of premium talent at work in this project, and it shows in the results.
Magnetic Rose, which is based on a 1990 one-shot manga by Otomo, leads off the trilogy and is the longest segment at 44 minutes. It is a hard, gritty sci fi tale somewhat in the spirt of the American classic Alien. The story becomes progressively creepier as a team of space garbage collectors investigate a strange SOS signal from an area of space known for dangerous magnetic fluctuations. While they don't find a lethal alien which gestates in living hosts, they do find something nearly as dangerous: a trap of memories which can lure the unwitting into potentially fatal delusions. This is easily the strongest of the segments, as it carefully paces out its revelations of underlying stories and skillfully orchestrates a mixture of wonder and dread in the wreck that is the setting. All of this is powered by a soundtrack which is a mixture of classic operatic vocals (from Madame Butterfly, I think?), haunting choral vocals, and orchestral and piano arrangements, all of it premium work. The animation effort by Studio 4° C is outstanding, with a spectacular level of detail (especially in animating fields of floating debris) and art direction equally adept at sumptuous-looking venues, basic spaceships and astronaut gear, and ruined mechanics.
The second entry, Stink Bomb, clocks in at 40 minutes. It is an anime-original work which takes a far less serious tone than Magnetic Rose despite subject matter which could be just as weighty: an accidental biochemical disaster which turns one young man into an unwitting walking weapon of terrible potency (albeit one whose additional side effect is to make plants bloom out of season). The tone is furthered by a somewhat playful soundtrack, a seemingly ridiculously-overkill military response, and a highly expressive animation style more typical of older anime series. The technical animation effort is still pretty high in this segment from Madhouse, down to a similar explosion of detail and busyness to Magnetic Rose, though the overall artistic style is a bit different. The concept here is neat, but it runs a bit longer than it needs to and has a very less-than-flattering portrayal of Americans in it.
Cannon Fodder is the last, shortest (at 22 minutes), and by far most stylistically distinct of the three. In fact, not much else in anime looks anything like it. Also produced by Studio 4° C, it features thick lines, drab coloring, and much more limited animation than either of the two previous entries, although the animation effort is noteworthy for one unusual feature: the whole thing is one nearly-continuous tracking shot. The design aesthetic is the other interesting aspect, with a city where nearly every building has a gun turret, apartments which look like something out of a steampunk setting, and ugly character designs which nonetheless fit exactly with the overall style. The main cannon that the father works for uses shells that look to be a whopping 5 feet (60 inches) in diameter; that's almost double the caliber of the largest rifled weapon ever fired in combat. How the shells are loaded and fired is shown in meticulous detail, but more interesting is the distinct totalitarian feel to it all. Everything about it suggests a 1920s/30s feel and a repressive society, down to a “No Conquest Without Labor” sign where the S is styled somewhat like a Nazi SS symbol. Whether or not the enemy being fired on even exists can be called into question.
In other words, Cannon Fodder is the one segment which seems to be making a vague statement, though both it and the whole project in general can probably be appreciated without ever considering that. This is much more about providing a variety than sending any kind of messages.
The stream that RetroCrush has for the title is only available in a max resolution of 480p, but it still looks a little better than the original DVD release does. Like the DVD release, it is only available in subtitled form; though it was dubbed into several other languages, that never happened for English. Not present is the 29 minute “making of” documentary included with the DVD release.
Stylistically speaking, Memories shows its age in the sense that some of the visual styles used harken back to earlier decades. However, the story content stands up just fine even 25 years later. The whole thing skews more towards older fans, but it is a movie that I can recommend for just about any adult anime audience.
Note: The ratings given below are overall averages. I would rate Magnetic Rose individually a step higher on all categories and Cannon Fodder a step lower on each.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Strong animation and visual detail, varied style, interesting concepts
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