Manie-Manie: Meikyuu Monogatari, or Neo Tokyo, it’s Western release title, has no relation to Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira. It is a film collection of three shorts of little relation, the last short being directed by Otomo was the source of the alternate name; an attempt to capitalise on Akira’s success. Naming aside, the shorts Labyrinth Labyrinthos, directed by Rintaro, Running Man, directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, and Construction Cancellation Order, directed by Otomo, are each wildly different. They are tales of intrigue each presented in a completely different world, with a different, vivid art style. The thread that holds them together, is that each story is loosely adapted from Japanese Science fiction writer and poet Taku Mayumura. Each story depicts a setting and characters that exist outside of the audience’s, and provides the viewer a window into their respective worlds as a stranger, permitted to observe, and interpret what they wish from what they see. These stories do not anchor the reader to a relatable protagonist, or strongly suggest what one should feel and make of an event. Considering their narrative disconnectedness, I’ll break down each segment individually.
Labyrinth Labyrinthos is an arthouse short, with no defined storyline or direction, instead portraying the bizarre, ethereal journey of a girl and her uniquely named cat Cicerone in their game of hide and seek, which happens to occur in a... you guessed it; labyrinth. Despite lacking a story, there are numerous interpretations to made from the surreal and creative imagery the short presents. This alone, results in a high re-watch value, as with each time, the short takes you on a different chain of thoughts and interpretations.
Similarly their is no real characters present, only a girl and her cat. We follow their journey, but their is no character development, nor should there been anything of the sort in this type of story that focuses on style and aesthetics. But, again, it can be fun to speculate as to what drives the girl, how many layers of metaphor the setting is under, and what on Earth does it all mean!? And that is ultimately up to you to decide, which can make or break your experience.
The art and direction, naturally is this shorts strongpoint. The animation is smooth, dynamic and lively, the character and weird creature designs are all hypnotic, whilst the backgrounds are fantastical, and often eerie. The emphasis on red is incredibly engaging and makes the short a marvel to look at, and the sound design is suitably atmospheric and dreamy.
Labyrinth Labyrinthos is vibrant, enchanting and just really weird in a great way. It serves as a framing device for the other shorts in the collection, establishing a brilliantly bizarre tone.
Kawajiri creates an ethereal and bizarre short too, yet its plot and starkly different artstyle crafts its own identity. The short follows Zach Hugh, the immortal, veteran racer, who participates in the infamous 'Death Circus', a not so shockingly deadly race. We explore his fragile and volatile mental state, as his years of racing has sent him to the brink of insanity. Secrets surrounding his victory are revealed, and an explosive climax to his career unfolds. Structure-wise, Kawajiri tended to intersperse flashbacks from fairly recent events into the short, which were ultimately a little messy. The content itself was upon re-watching was important, but the delivery was a little too obscure. Despite having the most straightforward storyline of the three shorts, I found Running Man to be the most incoherent, requiring a rewatch. Despite this, Hugh's desperate, manic and endless desire for first place was highly engaging, and left room to think about his motivations by the end.
A reporter character is inserted into the story to provide sparse exposition, and act as a stand in for the viewer, the events of the race unfolding before him. He has no personality of development and is merely a tool to advance the story. His expository was a little distracting, detracting from the deeply grounded story Running Man establishes, but his perspective as an outsider looking upon the mangled mess of a man that is Zach Hugh, aids Hugh's sense of mysteriousness and insanity. We see Hugh at breaking point, the weight of the countless deaths he directly and indirectly caused crushing him, his ever-present drive for first place overriding all logic and reason, his spiritual journey and conflict tells an interesting story of ego, lust and reliance, one which is incredibly re-watchable.
The production of Running Man, is arguably the best of the three. Dripping in 90's style, even the way the light raced across a set of iron bars brought myself immense satisfaction. There is not much not to love in regards to animation, art and sound. The racing is kinetic, the numerous explosions were a joy to look at and the roaring or the engines were satisfying. As for music, their was none, only an amalgamation of numerous HUD beeps, engine roars and glass shattering, which really grounded the race, and enhanced the tension.
Running Man is a spectacle, on both in production, and is the sad conclusion to the unbreakable Zach Hugh's career, one that should be viewed.
Construction Cancellation Order:
At last, Construction Cancellation Order, the short directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, from which the series' "Neo Tokyo" originated. With no relation to Akira, the short is the goofiest of the three, marveling in its worlds' hopelessness and foolishness. We follow our ignorant protagonist, a salary-man Tsutomu Sugioka, who perfectly embodies the shorts theme; our over-dependence on technology. Deep in the South American jungle, a mega-corporation mindlessly inserts itself into the ecosystem with an army of automated robots, the short explores the potential consequences and sequential horror that such robot dependence may bring about. The plot is linear, loopy and mostly just fun to watch, nothing much more to want. Considering the simple storyline, the fairly obvious message and lack of other ideas present could be a negative, but not much else.
As for characters, Sugioka, the dumbfounded and desperate replaceable employee, is probably the biggest detractor of this short. As the embodiment of human reliance and a lack of autonomy, he is understandingly annoying, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating to watch.. his exaggerated overbite doesn't help either. Contrarily, the leader, and manager of the robot workers, Robot 444-1 was incredibly memorable and charming. His innocent jittering and mannerisms conflicted with his sadistic, corrupted motives, making for an incredibly entertaining enemy. Both characters (the only characters) function very well as respective embodiments for humanity and robots; Sugioka, a little lame, but Robot 444-1 charm ensures most annoyances recede into the background.
The production, as with all of the shorts, is fantastic. The animation is smooth, bombastic, the artstyle is peak 80's and 90's wonderfulness, and the character designs (mostly the robots) are quirkily memorable. The sound is a unique cacophony of construction noises; clangs, dings and thuds, the tempo gradually speeding up, increasing the tense and distressing atmosphere.
Otomo crafted a fun, dynamic short with a strong, core message that will surely become more and more important as time goes on. Whilst not as technically impressive as Running Man, or whimsical as Labyrinth Labyrinthos, it's certainly the most comedic, fun, and perhaps enjoyable.
Manie-Manie Meikyuu Labyrinth was enthralling. Not perfect, and certainly a hit or miss for some, but its charm shone particularly strongly for me.