Anime: Robot Carnival

Robot Carnival (1987) is an anime anthology film, produced by APPP, comprised of a collection of nine short films about robots by a variety of directors, most featuring no dialogue. Many of the film's segments are directed by people who are primarily character designers or animators, not directors.

The bookend segments, "Opening" and "Ending", feature a huge machine, the eponymous Robot Carnival, chugging along over a post-apocalyptic landscape unheeding of any obstacles in its way. Once a magnificent showcase of mechanical prowess, the hulk is now a decayed, rusting, malfunctioning engine of destruction.

During the early 1990's, this anthology was shown frequently on the Sci Fi Channel and later on the Turner Network, often paired with other feature-length anime films such as Vampire Hunter D, Demon City Shinjuku, and Twilight of the Cockroaches, making Robot Carnival one of the first tastes of anime to many American viewers.

This film contains examples of:

  • Art Shift: Between each segment. Meta-justified by each segment having a different director.
  • Become a Real Boy: The segment "Cloud".
  • Betty and Veronica: In "Star Light Angel", the unnamed shy girl runs off crying when her more tomboyish best friend introduces her new boyfriend... whom the shy girl had been dating at the time. To her credit, when the tomboy finds out the truth, she wastes no time in dumping him!
  • Bridal Carry: "Star Light Angel" has a flying scene with a robot and a girl; "Deprive" has a cyborg and a girl, etc. etc.
  • Circus of Fear: The eponymous carnival. It was once a normal circus, but years of disrepair have turned it into a mechanical nightmare that turns the people of the towns it encounters into new performers... or makes them explode.
  • Costume Porn: The Robot Girl in the "Presence" segment.
  • Deranged Animation: The "Presence" segment. The animation for the characters is so smooth that it makes it incredibly eerie.
  • Expy: Hiroyuki Kitazume's involvement in "Star Light Angel" seems to have resulted in a number of characters from the Gundam franchise (Gundam ZZ in particular) being utilized for the segment. The main character appears to be a composite of Leina Ashta and Elpeo Ple, her friend is highly reminiscent of Elle Vianno (or a blonde Quess Paraya), and their two-timing hypotenuse bears more than just a passing resemblance to Char Aznable. A young lady with the likeness of Roux Louka also makes a walk-on cameo appearance early in the segment.
    • This has led to a couple jokes on Youtube about "Char breaking (more) young girls' hearts."
  • Five-Man Band: Used in a very tongue-in-cheek manner in "A Tale of Two Robots".
  • Frankenstein's Monster: "Franken's Gears", natch.
  • Giant Mecha: The segment "A Tale of Two Robots — Chapter 3: Foreign Invasion" feature two giant robots battling over Japan, the Western invader in his giant robot opposed by some kids in a robot designed for a parade.
    • The English dubbing of this particular piece drew some criticism because the voice actors put on thick Japanese accents when they delivered their lines. The original director, however, apparently wasn't offended.
      • The piece itself is a parody of Japanese propaganda films of World War II — the Mad Scientist villain is a greedy Eagleland type-2 Ugly American who's convinced that he can conquer Japan and ransack its treasures all by himself.
  • Left the Background Music On: Played with in the "Nightmare" a/k/a "Chicken Man and Red Neck" sequence. The score and a few sound effects are all that can be heard on the soundtrack, drawing a parallel with Fantasia (particularly the "Night on Bald Mountain" segment)... but the volume of the soundtrack actually decreases when the camera moves away from the parade of monsters to a drunk waking up in a nearby alleyway, and then increases when he wanders out. The music is temporarily treated as though it were actually being played audibly in the scene, but of that the film gives no confirmation.
  • Mood Whiplash: "Franken's Gears".
  • No Endor Holocaust: Averted big time in the opening and closing segments where the massive destruction caused by the eponymous "Robot Carnival" is shown front and center.
    • Also averted in the segment "A Tale of Two Robots", where a battle between two Steam Punk Giant Mecha in the middle of a Japanese port town causes more devastation than either one could probably cause on its own. This is hilariously lampshaded by one of the "heroes" at the end (in the dub, at least) when he looks out over the city from atop their Giant Mecha and laments all the destroyed buildings; he then runs to the other side of the mecha and comments: "On the other hand, this side looks okay."
  • No Export for You: For almost thirty years, the only legitimate copies of Robot Carnival in the West were copies of the Streamline Pictures VHS (which went out of print in the mid-Nineties) and a Region 2 DVD (that had a similarly short lifespan on the shelves). Not until February 2015 did any company — Discotek Media, for the record — announce any intention of distributing it on R1 DVD.
  • Pastiche: The segment "Deprive" takes your stereotypical Shonen-action series and boils it down to the barest essentials without missing a beat in the story and without a word of dialogue. It still works.
  • Reality Ensues: In "A Tale of Two Robots". What would a battle between two Steam Punk mecha with 19th-century technology be like? Well, they could be armed with projectile weapons, but it'd still take them several hours to walk all the way across town to confront each other.
  • Robot Girl: The segment "Presence".
  • Rock Beats Laser: Played with and (perhaps intentionally) subverted in the "A Tale of Two Robots" segment. While both Giant Mecha seem to be at the Steam Punk level of technology, the robot belonging to Doctor Volkessen is definitely more advanced, having a real cannon on its shoulder (as opposed to the fireworks used by the heroes) and brick-and-mortar "armor". While the heroes win, it was likely just dumb luck (although their leader is quick to attribute it to patriotic Heroic Resolve), and their Giant Mecha is definitely much the worse for wear... while the villain's robot winds up floating homeward.
  • Scenery Porn: Mainly the "Presence" segment.
  • Shoujo: The "Star Light Angel" segment.
  • Shout-Out: The "Nightmare" sequence makes obvious references to Disney works such as the "Night on Bald Mountain" segment from Fantasia and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
    • Katsuhiro Otomo worked on this, so another of the directors involved decided to pay him homage. Keep an eye out for the cameos of Tetsuo, Akira and the Colonel in "Star Light Angel" — a year before Otomo's film of AKIRA was completed.
      • The theme park itself in "Star Light Angel" is pretty much just Tokyo Disneyland with the serial numbers filed off. (Disney had opened the park only four years before this film was released.)
    • The male protagonist in "Deprive" seems to be based off 8th Man.
  • Silence Is Golden: Only "A Tale of Two Robots" and "Presence" have any spoken dialogue.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: The segment "Star Light Angel" features such a duo enjoying a trip to a theme park.