The Curator of Schlock #375: Robot Carnival

The Curator of Schlock #375 by Jeff Shuster

Robot Carnival

Nine animators, One vision.

An army of rabid Tasmanian devils rushed the security guard and myself. I did what any sane person would do and ran for my life. Edwige, my kangaroo companion and two other kangaroos were locked away in cages. I slid the latch off of Edwige’s cage and crammed myself inside. I watched in horror as the Tasmanian devils lunged at the security guard, sinking their jaws into him. — To be continued.

This month is Anime Month on this humble schlock blog. I’ll begin with the feature that got me Japanese animation in the first place, 1991’s Robot Carnival. I don’t list a director as this an anthology film made of up many directors that includes a who’s who of the Japanese animation industry of the time such as Koji Morimoto, Hidetoshi Ōmori, Yasuomi Umetsu, Hiroyuki Kitazume, Manabu Ōhashi, Hiroyuki Kitakubo, Takashi Nakamura, and Katsuhiro Otomo. Each of these directors was given a task: create a short film involving robots.

Robot Carnival might be the closest you’re ever going to get to an anime version of Walt Disney’s Fantasia. No classical music here, but you do get an excellent electronic score by Isaku Fujita  and Joe Hisaishi, the latter best known for composing the scores for the films of the great Hayao Miyazaki. Like Fantasia, most of these shorts have no dialogue, In fact, the short Nightmare is a direct homage to Night on Bald Mountain segment from Fantasia.

I first caught this movie on the Sci-Fi channel back in the fall of 1993. We were visiting a family friend over the Thanksgiving holidays and they had this wondrous device called a satellite dish that gave me access to channels I had never seen before. One of these channels was the Sci-Fi channel and they were showing a movie called Robot Carnival during an anime marathon. I would sneak watch when no one was around, absorbed in the state of the art animation I was seeing on screen. I wouldn’t get another opportunity to watch Robot Carnival until I got regular access to the Sci-Fi channel years later.

I picked up the VHS at a Suncoast Video in 1996. I watched repeatedly and worried about wearing the tape out, a common problem back the days before DVD. I was an early adopter, picking up my first player in 1998. I waited patiently for Robot Carnival to make its DVD debut in North America, but it would not get an official release until about seventeen years later. And when it did come out on DVD, the shorts were in the wrong order!

Allow me to explain. Depending on which version of Robot Carnival you watch, the shorts are presented in a different order. There is the Japanese original, the North American theatrical, and the North American laserdisc. When Carl Macek released the movie in theaters, he wanted the reel changes to occur in-between the shorts so as not to disrupt them. The Japanese producers allowed him to do this. I figure the laserdisc order was changed so as to disrupt the movie as little as possible when you needed to flip the disc. Yes, you needed to flip LaserDiscs over to watch the second half of the movie.

I learned all of this from the wonderful supplements on Blu-ray release from Discotek Media. And the great thing about the Blu-ray is that you have the option of watching the shorts in the original Japanese order, North American theatrical, or North American LaserDisc. The North American LaserDisc order even has a fake LaserDisc load screen. Obviously, great care was taken to make sure the fans of this movie can watch their preferred version.

I guess I haven’t said much about this motion picture because you need to just experience Robot Carnival for yourself. It is available to stream for free through several apps such as Tubi, Vudu, and Pluto TV. Jonathan Greenall of CBR calls Robot Carnival an “unsung anime masterpiece.” He’s not wrong so check out what was for the longest time my favorite movie.

Photo by Leslie Salas

Jeff Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124episode 131episode 284episode 441episode 442episode 443, episode 444episode 450, episode 477, episode 491, episode 492, episode 493, episode 495, and episode 496) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

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