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Anime / Robot Carnival

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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,Explanation  making Robot Carnival one of the first tastes of anime to many American viewers.


Due to its nature as an anthology, the tropes have been sorted by the individual stories.

    open/close all folders 
This is for entries that have not been sorted into the other folders, or ones that do not fit into a single folder.
  • Art Shift: Between each segment. Meta-justified by each segment having a different director.
  • Become a Real Boy:
    • The hero of "Deprive" does this via hologram in his new body. It's probably symbolic of his awakened human passions and all that.
    • The segment "Cloud".
  • Bridal Carry: "Star Light Angel" has a flying scene with a robot and a girl; "Deprive" has a cyborg and a girl, etc. etc.
  • Dub Name Change: The villain of "A Tale of Two Robots". In the Streamline dub he identifies himself as Jonathan Jameson Volkessen III, whereas in Japan he's the slightly more unlikely John-Jacques Walkerson III.
    • This also goes for both "A Tale of Two Robots" and "Nightmare" themselves, being the only two (out of the principal 7 shorts) to be given new (and more Western-palatable) names for the early 90's American release. "AToTRs" was formally "Legends of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner's Invasion" and "Nightmare" had the far less complicated (but still cool) "Chicken Man and Red Neck."
  • 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."
    • The protagonist of "Deprive" is essentially the opposite of Casshern. Instead of a human rebuilt as a robot he is a robot who is given a human exterior.
  • Gone Horribly Right:
    • Franken of "Franken's Gear" successfully makes a gigantic robot which imitates his every move. Then he trips and falls.
  • In "Presence," the protagonist's creation, intended to be his "soulmate", develops herself so rapidly and completely, to the point that she figures out more about him than he's willing to admit himself, that he's terrified from the experience.
  • No Endor Holocaust: Averted big time. The massive destruction caused by the eponymous "Robot Carnival" in Opening is shown front and center.
    • Also averted in the segment "A Tale of Two Robots", where a battle between two Steampunk 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."
  • 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.
  • Scenery Porn: Mainly the "Presence" 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 a slightly futuristic 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. Opening and Ending feature human voices, but the "language" spoken by the characters is blatant gibberish.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • The Robot Carnival is an unstoppable terror on hard, flat ground, but easily bogs down in the face of a steep sand dune.
    • After a Heroic Second Wind allows it to overcome said dune, the stresses involved in the massive, aging machine reaching that speed, coupled with the various factors surrounding surmounting such a steep obstacle, cause it to seize upon reaching the top, before finally collapsing wholesale.
    • In "A Tale of Two Robots". What would a battle between two Steampunk 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. Not to mention all the energy it would take to get that far (the foreigner's batteries keep running dry and the locals have to cannibalize the wood exterior of their mecha to keep fueling its furnace).
  • Action Bomb: The kamikaze ballerinas have become this; gracefully floating down to targets that the artillery might've missed.
  • Base on Wheels: The Robot Carnival is a steampunk example, with the entire front being taken up by the massive "ROBOT CARNIVAL" sign that conveniently doubles as the anthology's title sequence.
  • Berserk Board Barricade: As the panicked villagers are scrambling into their homes, one man slaps a pair of boards on a window, and nails them in simultaneously with four quick strikes, before fleeing inside.
  • Circus of Fear: The eponymous carnival. It was once a normal (albeit mobile) circus, but years (decades? centuries?) of disrepair have turned it into a mechanical nightmare that simply razes everything that gets in its way.
  • Improvised Weapon: Pretty much everything produced by the Robot Carnival counts as this, as they were intended to be entertainment tools like fireworks, not full-scale artillery. Even the kamikaze ballerinas were probably supposed to gain some altitude first.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": During the first half, a young boy races into a village and tries to warn the residents of something that has clearly terrified him, even though the only evidence is a poster that had blown into his legs that doesn't seem to convey his intentions that well. Shortly after he gives up and flees, they look in the opposite direction to see what has him spooked, only to subsequently panic in turn after seeing the immense Robot Carnival approaching them, knowing full well what its various malfunctions have done to it.
  • Orchestral Bombing: The Robot Carnival takes this to its logical conclusion by bringing its own orchestra, which is concealed within the first "O" when not in use.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The chaos and destruction caused by the Robot Carnival is overlaid by a cheery tune that actually wouldn't seem out of place back when it's arrival brought grand cheers instead of panicked screams.
  • Stock Sound Effects: When the young boy runs to the village, sound effects akin to Hanna-Barbera are heard.
    Franken's Gears 
  • Came Back Strong: Damaged nigh-unto deactivation while trying to protect the girl he loved from an invading robot army, the robot managed to hook himself to a factory system that let him arrange a brand-new body with some major upgrades.
  • Eye Beams: The alien leader of the bad-guy robots has one of these. It hurts the hero when he's struck by it, but doesn't seem to do any real injury.
  • When He Smiles: The hero of doesn't smile even once until the girl he loves awakens, then his face just lights up.
  • Ambiguous Robots: The prologue to the short is an Uncle Pennybags spear carrier getting his head kicked off by a bunch of schoolchildren playing ball, while nobody — including the old man — is disturbed more than if they'd stolen his hat. The protagonist is also able to find a dumpster full of half-destroyed Ridiculously Human Robot heads and other parts to scavenge from, for no particularly explained reason.
  • Costume Porn: The Robot Girl's fancy outfit.
  • Deranged Animation: The animation at points is eerily smooth and detailed, especially with the robot girl, emphasizing them and drawing the viewer towards those elements. Unlike the other shorts, Presence is something of a Mind Screw, so this is likely by design.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: When the protagonist is frightened enough by the robot girl, he's shown picking up a wrench. The scene changes to a wind-up toy, that briefly starts to move before a flying bat toy dives onto it, with a mild crash noise. [[spoiler:After the first Time Skip, the protagonist returns to the cabin to find the broken body of the robot girl.
  • Manchild: The protagonist kept a collection of wind-up toys in his shack along with the Robot Girl. The girl even says that the progtagonist is "still a little boy" when he starts playing with the toys when her conversation with him becomes too uncomfortable. After the Time Skip, it's implied that he's still keeping up with this habit in his old age, and even making toys for his granddaughter.
  • Missing Mom: The protagonist states that he lost his mother when he was young and that he has "never known a mother's love". To this early trauma he attributes his difficulties with women; he married a driven career woman who turned out not to be quite as motherly as he thought, and the first time someone else — his own creation — offers him unconditional love, he finds himself unexpectedly terrified by it and deactivates her immediately.
  • Robot Girl: The protagonist's secret is that he is building a robotic girl in an abandoned forest cabin when he's away from his family and his job.
    Star Light Angel 
  • Betty and Veronica: 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!
  • Cyberspace: In "Star Light Angel", the ride the main girl ends up on after running away from her friend seems to be a virtual reality ride that taps into its riders' minds. Notably, there's a Holodeck Malfunction when Robot Suit Guy accidentally re-awakens the main girl's crushing heartbreak.
  • Love at First Sight: Robot Suit Guy is immediately fascinated with the main girl when she runs by him with a joyful smile. It takes her a bit longer to reciprocate.
  • Shoujo
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Features such a duo enjoying a trip to a theme park.
  • No Plot? No Problem!: The only thing happening in this short is our robot protagonist walking through very open landscapes with spectacular clouds in the sky.
  • Walking the Earth: The robot boy spends most of his time traveling from place to place without stopping.
    A Tale of Two Robots/Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner's Invasion 
  • Five-Man Band: Used in a very tongue-in-cheek manner.
  • Giant Mecha/Steampunk: The segment features two giant robots battling over a Japanese port town, the Western invader in his giant robot opposed by some kids in a robot designed for a parade.
  • Rock Beats Laser: Played with and (perhaps intentionally) subverted. While both Giant Mecha seem to be at the Steampunk level of technology, the robot belonging to Doctor Volkessen is definitely more advanced, having a real cannon on its shoulder (as opposed to the repurposed fireworks used by the heroes) and brick-and-mortar "armor". While the heroes win, it was mostly 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.
    Nightmare/Chicken Man and Red Neck 
  • Left the Background Music On: Played with. 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.
  • After the End: The flashback shows civilizations with major cities and complex technologies. Either the world has regressed into a preindustrial state after nuclear war and climate change, or the Robot Carnival was reprogrammed to traverse through third world nations when it's builders grew bored of the machine.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: After getting itself stuck on a dune, then spending the night reminiscing about it's heyday, the Robot Carnival decides it would rather shake itself apart trying to surmount the dune than give up and wait for nature to wear it down. It succeeds.
  • Explosive Overclocking: After getting bogged down, the Robot Carnival supercharges its engines to surmount a dune at the cost of its entire superstructure, with only the first 'O' reaching an appreciable distance.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: Two consecutive examples:
    • During one of the flashback scenes, the Robot Carnival is shown emitting a proportionally large amount of smoke from its exhaust funnel, even though it doesn't emit any in the present. During its Heroic Second Wind, a small wisp of smoke does indeed escape the funnel, suggesting that it had been running in a low-power state due to its age.
    • As it is ascending the dune, it is also shown emitting centuries worth of rust from it's funnel, in addition to the horrific sounds coming from its superstructure. As soon as it reaches the top, it subsequently collapses from the strain.
  • Heroic Second Wind: The Robot Carnival bogs down trying to surmount a dune. After spending the night reminiscing about it's heyday, a sudden surge of energy the next morning allows it to reach the top.
  • Nitro Boost: The Robot Carnival does this after spending the previous night stuck on a dune, spurred on by the memories of it's past.
  • Taking You with Me: A belated and possibly accidental example, but even after the Robot Carnival destroys itself, small, self-contained devices salvaged from its wreckage still continue to wreak havoc years later. A prime example being the music box from the epilogue, which despite being no bigger than an ostrich egg, manages to vaporize a small shack shortly after activating (presenting the final "END" of the film).