This Week in Anime
Is Netflix's Action-Packed Sound & Fury Musical Art?

by Michelle Liu & Andy Pfeiffer,

Grammy-award winning musical artist Sturgill Simpson is known for his versatile sound, having found success as a country artist and opened for the likes of Guns 'N Roses. His fourth studio album Sound & Fury expands his talents into "sleazy rock 'n roll" accompanied by an anthology Netflix animated film that includes talent like director Junpei Mizusaki (Batman Ninja), Takashi Okazaki (Afro Samurai), and the animators of Kamikaze Douga. The musical action is both head-scratching and even beautiful, but is it capital-A art?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead. Not Safe For Work warning for content and language.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet


Andy
Hey Micchy, I know we normally talk about anime, but apparently Netflix has once again decided to force my hand, and it's time for us to talk about everyone's favorite thing
from the 70s, CONCEPT ALBUMS
Micchy
Okay, correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure there isn't a Pink Floyd album about a dual-wielding katana vigilante taking out a mob boss and a vaping Joker.

In other news, I guess Sturgill Simpson is now anime?
And that's why Pink Floyd will never be remembered as well as Sturgill Simpson who, hot off wasting a lot of folks time with an entire movie based on a single song, has teamed up with Netflix to produce Heavy Metal 2019.
Sorry sorry I meant
What you're telling me is Sound & Fury is the modern equivalent of INTERSTELLA 5555, except instead of blue Daft Punk aliens it's post-apocalyptic ronin.
For most of the songs, yup!
Yeah, I'll admit I'm not that big into Sturgill Simpson; in fact, I hardly know who he is. But I do know that a good number of big-name anime people worked on this visual album with him, including Koji Morimoto and Michael Arias. That's more than enough to pique my interest, like how did that even happen?
The story of this production is probably as entertaining as the final product and I sure hope we get it at some point. Until then I'll have to settle for some of the cooler visuals Netflix has thrown under it's conglomerated anime banner.
The a benefit of being an anthology of music videos is that shit that most things would exposit at you has to be told visually, and this is done in both some pretty fun and hilariously on the nose ways.
It's a little weird having to approach this project through a different lens than we're used to; it's less a movie or TV series than, like you said, a string of music videos that construct a narrative separate from the music scoring it. Obviously, the closest thing a music video has to conventional storytelling tools like dialogue and exposition is the lyrics, sometimes (like here) only barely related to what's happening onscreen. Which means that I'm a little torn in how to approach this - do I treat it as an anime film with a Sturgill Simpson soundtrack or a Sturgill Simpson album with a Junpei Mizusaki visualizer?
That's my long-winded, kinda pretentious way of saying I'm not sure how best to digest this other than going "wow cool katanas"
I think the actual answer there is both? It's somehow a visual interpretation and I don't know if that part is Sturgill's or Mizusaki's. Rather than being overly literal and translating lyrics to screen, it's more about capturing the feeling and putting that in motion. Which in this case can be the physical embodiments of capitalist greed and hedonistic pollution storming a temple and killing a cowboy blacksmith and Afro Samurai?.
Which if nothing else the villain designs in this thing are pretty great
It's creative, I'll give it that! Extra points for the gratuitously bloody way the yakuza guy blasts people's heads off.
I'll be honest. I expected a bit more resistance from the good guys here but boy do they get violently dunked on. Like sure the jobbers should go out easy but the heroic designs struggle futilely and then get salt in the wounds.
Which there's your message, I suppose.
"Remember to Breathe" is one of those bits in the anthology where the constraints of the format really show. Y'all have the 2 minutes and 56 seconds of the song to kill the heroes and kick off a revenge story, better chop chop. 2:56 to introduce the villains, kill off the jobbers, and inspire this guy to dual-wield his way to (failed) revenge, it's gotta be brisk.
I nearly missed that he forges their souls into the swords until that comes back in a big way. But overall this running revenge story is a lot of fun? And it's a shame parts of it are condensed like this because it feels like it runs out of gas too soon and swaps to some one-shot stories in what I can't tell is supposed to be the same or different dystopias? I honestly just want to spend time with the Mad Max Samurai Revenge.
Well, they had maybe six or seven chunks of story to tell but ten tracks on the album, so something had to go I guess? Or maybe it was an excuse to let the guest directors do weird things, which is a perfectly respectable goal. I gotta agree that Samurai Imperator Furiosa is the strongest part of the thing though; her story is the closest the film gets to being like, tonally consistent and cohesive.
More importantly though, just look at her smug face. She's perfect.
You know we anime when we get the reveal that surprise it's not the Samurai we saw earlier but big tiddy assless pants time.
The thing that stands out in the 3D modeling to me is definitely the exaggerated facial expressions and they do a great job of making this girl super likable.

Honestly it reminds me more of character models in Final Fantasy 14 than any anime show.
Well, she don't got no dialogue, so the film's gotta sell her personality the best it can through distinctive body language. And for the most part, that's what it does. Sometimes, though, detailed character animation falls to the wayside, like in the absurdly complex dance number that suddenly happens in the middle of the movie.
The dance numbers are so much fun! Especially since the supporting dancers are the extremely choice crews of the villains battle barges.

This one is for all the Steves out there.
The thing is, the dance number crashes out of nowhere; leaps into a surreal montage that, of all things, reminds me of the Black Death scene in Belladonna of Sadness; and then is never referenced again. It's bizarre!
And it includes a helpful recap!
Not sure why you'd need a recap for 20 minutes of story, but sure!
Excuse you it was 20 minutes of music and like, 5 mins of story. Which is fine when some of that is giving me human missiles clutching TNT.
Oh I am extremely not over the human missiles.
Evil Capitalist Man has upgraded from bullets in a big way. I love the little touch of him printing out invoices for every attack.
He's makin' it rain, except everybody else gets to pay for that shit.
So yeah, the main story in Sound & Fury is nowhere near subtle. It's interested in being as excessive and blunt as possible, and sometimes that means bringin' in the environmental hazard vape clown.
Where's Captain Planet when you need him? Though as you mentioned earlier I'm not exactly sure whether to critique this thing as a whole or more part by part. Because as a whole I don't like the swap from excessive blunt fun to close up of actual human eyeball.
But as a stand-alone the Hazmat banana dystopia tour is a perfectly fine music video.
It is a bit jarring to hear crooning English vocals over shots of Asakusa, but there's nothing wrong with the clash per se. Just an example of how global anime is, you could say.
There's such a thing as universal imagery.
Tho speaking of the live-action segments, what'd you make of the one about the shirtless guy who grows wings out of hair?

Because I'm mildly unsettled and unsure if I like that or not.
That one was one that I felt was probably stifled by not being spread out more. Also a bit horrifying because I keep forgetting I have a thing about flesh strips and then it shows up and my skin crawls. But I like the imagery of this person trapped in a space and then turning into weird flesh orb seedling.
Visually "Mercury in Retrograde" is pretty striking, yeah. It's out-there compared to the rather straightforward main story, but the imagery there is real neat, progressing from clockwork to the freedom of a flying bird-man thing.

Conceptually, it's really cool! But seeing that, my brain's reaction is "what the hell am I looking at?"
Yeah it's a bit unnatural and I get what it's going for but I think I wanted a bit more from it? Seeing the strands turning into fashion was also kind of interesting and weird but lacks cohesion, which is thematically at odds with the visual of strands coming together??

It looks pretty sweet though! And again, I'm not sure what any of the imagery has to do with the song, but I'm down for art that's weird just for the hell of it. The imagery's plenty evocative; I'm just not sure what it's supposed to be evoking. But I'm glad Morimoto went for something this offbeat, even if just for the aesthetic.
Yeah I'm down with it. Especially in contrast to the crime that was the first person segment. Like, how dare you

This is such a good kitty!
The first-person gimmick is a nifty animation exercise, but in practice it just makes me panic about not seeing my feet the way all first-person shooters do. Between that and its abrupt start and end I'm not sure it serves much a purpose in the film other than filling 2 minutes, but I respect the attempt at doing something interesting.
I'm sure it was a fun technical challenge for the animation team, as the sequence involves a lot of being thrown around and manipulating objects, but it really doesn't have a theme beyond "and bad things happen."
Which is fine! These kinds of anthology projects are the perfect avenue to try out different techniques without having to worry too much about how it fits into a larger whole - though personally, I'd rather the one-shots tie more into the main story, get different creators' takes on the same setting/premise.
and not murder cats
Or friends!
Slave camp was a little uncomfortable. There's only so much I want to see people menaced by these Overlord wannabes
Yeahhhh I'm not sure what the thinking was behind "slave camp with Zelda Phantom guards," but I dunno, maybe that wasn't the most tasteful of premises.
And this is a case where being too on the nose comes back to bite the whole thing, because the killing everyone once only you escape is a little yikes when this is everyone.

Is the message that they're better dead? That this one guy that got out is so broken that he puts revenge over their lives? It's messy in multiple uneasy directions.
That's a story that needs nuance, but the storytelling limitations of a music video don't allow for much more than broad strokes. So the format works fine when the conflict is between a ronin vigilante and larger-than-life symbols for greed and destruction, but complicated themes like the violence of class or racial oppression get seriously shortchanged.
It really makes you pine for revenge child and her ghost guardians.
Ghost-turned-robot guardians, you mean,
here to exact righteous judgment on their killers.
Which I'm glad I stuck through the credits to get the continuation of!
Like ha, get owned, nothing holds a candle to
Afro Samurai and cowboy blacksmith robots.
Even if you have a very cool gun.

Because the spirit robot can punch through your tank missile.
It does amuse me that, after all this kickass boss-beheading violence, the film is ultimately dedicated to "victims of senseless violence".

I sat in stunned silence for a second before laughing out loud at that. Cool, I've read Vagabond and I just watched some really cool violence you put on for me so it's not exactly a "How dare you" but more of an exasperated "Really my dude?"
Hey, maybe Sturgill thinks giant robots and dual katanas are sensible tools of violence, you never know.
Fair! To clarify I'm not calling him a hypocrite, but more of how insecure that statement is. You've got an entire 45 minutes of different visual and audio to make that point and you still felt you needed that?
The dedication falls flat, that's for sure, but it's nowhere near enough to ruin the fun of that 45-minute bloodbath imo. It's just highly ironic to follow up said 45-minute bloodbath with "but don't do violence kids!"
You portrayed a villain firing human missiles as Panzer Corps!

There's whatever this is!

Let your weird art speak is all I'm saying, even if I don't know what it's saying that comes across better than stamping that onto the end.
It's like taking the Dezaki moment with the bikers
Fury Roading it up.

and then following it up with
You forgot the part in the middle where it specifically inserts a moment of saying you don't care about making friends if you can make honest art.
Well, I think we can agree that this film is messy and won't 100% appeal to everyone. But is it honest art? I'd say so, if honesty in art means letting your creative instincts go free to make something as weird as you want.
On the scale of Netflix anime, if you go by time invested to enjoyment level, it's kinda one of the best offerings they've given us! And yeah even the parts that don't work are interesting in both their conception and execution. This is the kind of project you don't really see too often. We sometimes get really cool things like Shelter but even that is a single music video.
Even INTERSTELLA 5555 is nearing two decades old at this point!
It's really not often that music and animation bring together so much high-profile international talent, so I really would like to see Netflix help make more projects like Sound & Fury happen. There's so much potential to be mined in the possible combos of creators across the world, and even if that process churns out a Neo Yokio or two, I'm deeply interested in seeing what comes out of it.
Same! Or just give me more of her.

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