*YouTube Dept: This one's for Abhay, in case he hasn't seen it yet - a highlight reel showcasing the works of beloved key animator Norio Matsumoto, he of the special flowing style. It's NOT SAFE FOR WORK. I can't think of another active Japanese key animator that has as much name recognition as Matsumoto does among US fans, solely for his work in key animation, and this link will give you a decent look at why. Obviously it's the wild action bits that put the asses in seats, but the presentation also takes a look at the man's skills with quiet movement and gesture. The odd soundtrack also makes it seem like a Joseph Cornell short.

For added fun (and very little in the way of quiet movement and gesture), be sure to check out the famous episode of Naruto he worked extensively on, Episode 133, which is apparently considered quite a major moment in Naruto history by fans in terms of plot. Honestly, I think the story's awful, so awash in shounen action cliches that it's almost self-parody, but yeah, that's some damned pretty fighting.

*In other anime-on-the-internet news, Sony Pictures Classics has announced a May US theatrical release for Paprika, the new film from Satoshi Kon (Millennium Actress, Paranoia Agent), and they’ve got the entire opening credits sequence up on their site. The plot concerns a research psychotherapist and her more beautiful, more gregarious alter ego, who become involved in reality-bending adventure after an experimental device is stolen, one that allows the operation to enter people’s dreams and toy with their personalities. So, yes, actually the plot is remarkably similar to that horrible 2000 Jennifer Lopez vehicle The Cell, though the source material here is a 1993 prose work by sci-fi author Yasutaka Tsutsui. And Kon is a skillful director, and the subject matter is very much in his comfort zone, and the footage provided looks interesting, so here’s to the best.

*And moving on to shows I’ve actually watched on a television recently, there’s the seminal 1985 OVA Megazone 23, which is utterly fascinating, albeit almost exclusively beyond its merits as a piece of entertainment. Helmed by several of the top talents behind Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, including director/co-writer Noburo Ishiguro and character designer Haruhiko Mikimoto (who actually only does one design as a special guest), and planned as the follow-up television series project of ARTMIC Studios, which had just finished Genesis Climber Mospeada, the show ran into a huge roadblock when one of its key sponsors unexpectedly pulled financing, forcing the team to hastily retool their planned 26 episodes as a single 81 minute presentation to be released in the then-burgeoning OVA market in the hopes of recouping costs.

And they did. Megazone 23 turned out to be a massive success in the direct-to-video market; indeed, it’s often pointed to historically as the big, necessary hit that sealed the financial viability of the OVA form for a decade to come. In a way, it’s not that hard to see why; the show’s got an obviously talented team behind it, with a zeitgeist-capturing premise and an assured, polished visual style, but there’s also no getting around the fact that this is an often clumsy, somewhat poorly-paced and disjointed production, that never once lets you forget that it was obviously intended as something different and wound up in its final form largely by accident. There’s more than one moment where a character just happens to overhear other characters explaining detailed plot points at length, so as to press through the premise with maximum speed, and some of the character arcs are obviously abridged.

But there’s something about Megazone 23. The story follows a young street rough named Shogo, a biker kid who spends all his time away from his McDonald’s job causing mild public trouble and flirting with girls - he’s never so abrasive he might alienate a large portion of the audience, but he’s the kind of ‘rough’ hero character that doesn’t really care about hurting people. He and his friends live in the economically-thriving, peaceful consumerist paradise of ‘80s Japan. Except - they really don’t. One night, Shogo comes into possession of an advanced test bike, one capable of transforming into a large robot, and his misadventures eventually lead him into an association with a gang of rebels who’ve discovered that reality isn’t truly real: it’s actually an illusion forced upon humanity by a controlling computer, and everyone’s actually onboard a faded metal spacecraft hurtling through the void.

This no doubt sounds familiar to you. But Megazone 23 is frankly much more morally and politically complex than it initially seems. Shogo doesn’t really trust the human forces, with good reason; they’re militaristic extremists, who’re probably going to institute a total police state (with themselves as police) as soon as possible. They care nothing for killing all who oppose their mission. But they also genuinely do believe in human protection and self-actualization, just as the controlling master computer has a honest mission of keeping peace among the ruins of humanity (there’s a good reason they’re fleeing Earth), at all costs. There’s also the matter of the (almost never seen) sinister forces that have been sending their own spacecraft to scout the place out. Obviously the product of a more militaristic society, the outsiders have weapons half a century ahead of the happy, peaceful society of Shogo’s, and the rebels figure there’s not only no harm in instituting a top-down program of warlike propaganda and intense mobilization, it’s mandatory to the very survival of the species, while the master computer and its (perhaps genuinely) Quixotic mission of peace-though-lies needs be taken down.

Basically, it’s like The Matrix, except it seriously entertains the value of taking the blue pill, stops to consider the implications of mowing down all those security guards in the big lobby battle, and generally refuses to subscribe to any simple concept of virtue striving against a solidified wickedness. Which means the story plays out in a wholly different way.

And like I said, it’s not a terribly satisfying way. Shogo spends much of the runtime wandering around and lashing out, having sex and fooling with friends, being angry and seething, slapping women around for giving him lip. There’s the occasional blast of real inspiration, like a computer generated idol singer suddenly stopping a song to scream for help as a manifestation of the master computer’s plight. I have no doubt this precise premise could have been much more satisfying in other hands, or even these hands, given more favorable production circumstances. As it is, it’s mainly a triumph of ideas and implications, and disconnected displays of very lovely animation, right on down to the infamous ending, which categorically refuses to resolve anything concerning the ‘main’ plot, instead seeing most of the young, naïve characters shot dead or made to leave the area. Shogo is ferociously beaten by the main human fighter, who leaves to continue his mission, and the program ends with Our Hero staggering around the empty streets of his fake city, bloodied and entirely lost in every way, but still defiantly alive.

Once again, I’m sure that’s more due to intense time and space limitations than artistic mission, yet I understand how the graceless anxiety of it might strike a chord with an audience, especially when so glossily animated. Eventually, Megazone made enough money on VHS that a sequel was put into production the following year to give the story a more ‘proper’ finale, and that (while aesthetically controversial in its own regard) proved popular enough to extend the story to a third, 1989 episode. The project even caught the eye of early anime-in-the-US adopter Carl Macek, who attempted in 1986 to dub it for a US theatrical release under the title Robotech: The Movie, mixing in footage from the Robotech television series (which, you’ll recall, was comprised of footage from the aforementioned Macross and Mospeada, along with the series Super Dimensional Calvary Southern Cross), rewriting the script to fit in with Robotech continuity, and commissioning a brand-new, completely exclusive, far happier ending from the Japanese creators. That project too was scuttled after test screenings, at least for the US; I’ve heard it actually played in other countries. Supposedly, this US version made the human rebels seem much nicer. Sometimes, a show can’t catch a break.