Anime Review: Memories

There’s sort of a Big Three list of anime anthology films that are frequently recommended, all of which have Katsuhiro Otomo involved to some degree or another – Robot Carnival, Neo-Tokyo/Labyrinth Tales, and Memories. I’ve seen Robot Carnival a couple times in the past (and should probably give it a review here), and I got to see Neo-Tokyo as part of the OVA film festival at the Hollywood Theater in Portland. After that screening, they announced their next event would be a screening of Memories – so I had to finish up the hat trick.

Movie poster for Katsuhiro Otomo's Memories.

Memories is made up of three short films, each adapting a short manga by Otomo – Magnetic Rose, Stink Bomb, and Cannon Fodder. Each is adapted by a different director (and in some cases studio), with Otomo doing the third of the three segments, giving each one a very distinctive visual style.

Magnetic Rose is a science fiction ghost story – a group of Alien-esque blue-collar space salvagers picking up an automated distress signal, and ending up in a situation that they can’t escape from and which will basically lead to their deaths. The short plays up the idea of “sufficiently advanced technology indistinguishable from the supernatural (not necessarily magic)” incredibly well – with the derelict that the crew is sent to investigate messing with their minds using holograms – but using information that it can’t have any access to. All of this has a really strong sense of dread for the viewer, without falling back on cheap jump scares (which I appreciate).

Stink Bomb is a salaryman satire in a similar vein to Order to Stop Construction from Neo-Tokyo. A salaryman gets an anti-viral shot, goes to work sick at his pharmaceutical company, takes an experimental drug, and ends up having an unexpected reaction that leaves them emitting a massive cloud that knocks out (and possibly kills) anyone within who gets exposed to it. Like any good salaryman, he goes to take a sample of the drug to his superiors in Tokyo as per their request, no matter what roadblocks (literal and figurative) are put in his way, refusing to question his orders in the face of the sheer amount of opposition that is thrown against him. As a more straightforward comedy, this had some of the more audible reactions of the night – with a big guffaw from the audience at the short’s conclusion.

Cannon Fodder is a similar satire, but played a little bigger – the main character is a family in a mobile city, which is engaging in artillery battles with other mobile cities, and every aspect of life is based around firing these massive cannons at targets that are well beyond line of sight, so there’s no idea if there’s an actual enemy present. It’s not exactly a new story but what makes this one work is the presentation – the story is done as one (mostly) unbroken shot, done completely with conventional animation, with no digi-cels. From a production standpoint it adds a degree of complexity to the presentation that you don’t get in the same way with a live-action film with a similar style (like 1917). Also, if it worked any of the common “cheats” that similar works use to mask things like reel-changes, I didn’t catch it.

These all played tremendously well on a big screen. This was both in terms of how the visuals panned out in all of the films, both in more overt ways (the camera “moves” in Cannon Fodder, the detail of the animation in Magnetic Rose) and in more subtle ones (the big screen emphasizing the sense of scale of the stink cloud in Stink Bomb). This was also a great experience to see with an audience. Hopefully, you’ll have a similar opportunity to see Memories at a local convention or theater.

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