Anime Review: Short Peace

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Short Peace is a compilation of animated shorts, each done under a different director, inspired by Katsuhiro Otomo’s anthology, Memories. I got a chance to watch its English dub premiere at last year’s Anime Expo; and finally I have time to actually review it! And while the four featured shorts in Short Peace are quite different, each one tells a brief story that would otherwise fade into our memories, but continue to impact us in a way to show that the very peace we try to hold on to… is short-lived. (Sorry, bad pun).

Before I get into the review, here are some limitations.

  1. I won’t be name-dropping all the directors and whatnot who were involved in this project. If you would like to know who did each one, read the Wikipedia article.
  2. This is an anime review, so I will not be discussing the Short Peace video game short, Ranko Tsukumi’s Longest Day.
  3. I will not be discussing the quality of the dubs, Japanese or English. While I do tend to watch things in Japanese first, I’m generally indifferent when it comes to dubbing.
  4. There is technically a fifth short in the anime, namely the introduction, but that’s all it is. An introduction. It does have some amazing visuals and an upbeat score, so be sure to check those out.

Introduction

Oh yeah… and there will be SPOILERS too!

The following “mini-reviews” appear in the order by which each one appears on Sentai Filmwork‘s BD/DVD release of Short Peace. Please support the official release.

Possessions (Tsukumo)

short-peace-possessionsOf the four animated shorts, Possessions is probably the only “family-friendly” one (I put that in quotes, because even this one can be quite the psychological trip). When a traveling tailor spends the night in a small shrine under cover of a storm, he finds himself in a vast microcosm of the world of tsukumogami. Tsukumogami refer to man-made things that have been cast aside for a long time; and it is said that in 100 years, the spirits that lie inside these dormant materials manifest a life of their own. Such is what the man encounters when he comes across old umbrellas, silks, walls, and a giant trash heap of a dragon!

The animation makes a great use of vivid imagery. Each scene is given great detail in color, and shows the vibrancy of things left behind. I think that capturing that detail sets the discarded items apart by being very significant to this short, rather than how we normally view trash in our lives today: a pile of unsightly things that are often destroyed or forgotten.

But what others might find worthless, this man finds use in these things once more. And as he goes about taking a discarded umbrella and a faded yet durable silk, he’s happy to bring life back to these once-possessions, by repairing every last one of them or putting their weary souls to rest.

A very fun way to start the compilation. But the peace doesn’t last very long from here on out!

Combustible (Hi no Youjin)

short-peace-combustibleOf the four shorts here, this one is probably the most unsettling. I remember when I watched the premiere, each short ended with an applause from the audience, but this one ended so abruptly, folks were too silent to know how exactly to react!

Combustible isn’t so much about the two main characters, Wakana and Matsukichi, as it is about the tragic situation that plagued the Edo period more often than we would like to think, and that is the rampant fires that literally torched inner city life. Heck, the very animation is delivered to us as if it were painted on a scroll (you can see details of the “scroll” on the top and bottom bars of the screen shot above). You don’t have to be a chemist to figure out that things on paper can easily catch fire!

But alas, our two childhood lovers find their homes set ablaze in one very trivial accident. Matsukichi wanted to be a firefighter against his father’s wishes, while Wakana anxiously waits for the time she is supposed to be married to some other guy. All of that seems meaningless when the very values of their households literally go up in flames!

I guess the lesson to be learned here is that we can hold on to a lot of valuable things in this world, from material heirlooms to customs passed down from one generation to the next. Just know that all of those things are combustible, and therefore always subject to perish at any given moment.

Gambo

short-peace-gamboDon’t let the above image fool you. This short presents itself as one very disturbing bloodbath, as a monster attacks a poor, countryside village with no hope left for their survival. No, not the white bear Gambo (trust me; he’s amazing). I mean a giant red ogre who brutally murders men and impregnates a young woman by raping her! But despite my typical opinion about things like that, I actually like Gambo the most out of the four. I’m pretty sure it was the bear that sold me.

While Gambo the white bear is considered a monstrous threat to anyone, this little girl learns of his true nature. And out of some mutual sympathy, they form a brief friendship. And when the ogre goes on yet another rampage, Gambo comes to deliver justice! A very gruesome battle follows, including the decimation of samurai and blood oozing out everywhere.

When the battle is over, the general asks the little girl what had happened, to which she says in a cheeky, yet heartfelt response: “I don’t think you would believe me.” Gambo’s legend may have saved the village’s last hope that day. And yet that moment in time had left just as quickly as it came.

A Farewell to Weapons (Buki yo Saraba)

short-peace-a-farewell-to-weaponsUnlike the first three animated shorts, A Farewell to Weapons has a more modern (or I should say, post-modern) setting. In this post-apocalyptic desert Japan, a squad of military specialists are out to retrieve weapons from the past war in order to clean up the violent mess. These guys are masters at what they do, and earn a relatively decent pay to send back home to their families. But as I’m sure you’ve guessed based on the Short Peace theme, this will be their last mission.

Fair warning: there may not be blood, but there are some things that are just as disgusting, such as vaporizing, laser shots through the head, or puking into a helmet. But these moments aren’t as gross as they are absolutely terrifying. And yet, as I reveal this SPOILER, I can’t help but laugh at the irony that goes on at the very end of this short.

I must be a terrible person, but I did chuckle at poor Marl at the very end, when he pathetically attacks a robot, buck naked, with whatever boulders and shrapnel he could find, while the robot brushes him off indifferently like some kind of insect. Apparently, the machines found in the desolate Tokyo area are defense robots from back when the war began. Their job was to clear citizens out while destroying any “threat” in their way, and when threatening indicators are gone, the robots go back to their normal routines, uncaring of how citizens like Marl feel about them. So much for peace!

Like I said from the beginning, all four of these animated shorts depict very brief stories that shows how delicate peace is in the world. Each one shows that while these moments impact our lives drastically in a very short amount of time. And yet, when all is said and done, there is at least one thing that remains constant, and that is… Mt. Fuji!

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What? What did you think I was going to say?

Apparently, when all the peace comes to an end, the majestic Mt. Fuji remains in every short (albeit I couldn’t find it in Gambo. If you manage to find it, let me know), standing nonchalantly in the background. I guess you can say that when it comes to Memories, Mt. Fuji is the one thing that remembers all of these events, more than we ever will! But who knows? Our existence is short, and the impact of such things as peace are just as easily perishable.

So if you’re looking for a recent, artistic, cutting-edge look at Japanese animation in short film form, and don’t mind feeling completely unsettled by the very end, watch Short Peace! And remember: life is short. So hold on to those small, precious moments in life dearly; you never know when they’ll just go away.

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