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Monday, July 15, 2013

Kick-Heart: Anime For The (Non-Japanese) People... Really, Really, Weird Anime

If there is one absolute truth it is this: Anime is made for Japanese people.  Sure, there are exceptions, but those are because non-Japanese companies are involved.  Within the past year, though, that idea has been challenged to an extent.  Time of Eve, though made a couple of years ago, used Kickstarter to fund an international home video release of its Movie edit & even earned enough money to commission at dub done by NYAV Post.  Most recently, & still running, is the second episode of Little Witch Academia, which was already going to get made, but is using Kickstarter to add more length to the new episode & already earned more than 2.5x its goal with still slightly over three weeks to go!  But everything needs an origin, and for Kickstarted anime that start is Kick-Heart.


On October 1, 2012 anime studio Production I.G. & director Masaaki Yuasa (of Mind Game, Kaiba, & The Tatami Galaxy) announced a Kickstarter program to fully fund a 10-minute anime short about a love-story between two wrestlers, with the legendary Mamoru Oshii acting as a project consultant.  It was truly a one-of-a-kind idea: Anime fans funding the creation of an anime, regardless of actual length?  It was too good to be true, but over the entire month the program earned the $150,000 goal in its entirety & even went beyond that, totaling $201,164.  With that amount reached the anime was extended to 12 minutes (final running time is ~13 minutes), Spanish subtitles would be added to the video release along with English subs, an English dub would be done featuring Richard Epcar (Batou in Ghost in the Shell), & a special "Backer Dub" would be made featuring select backers that could make it to the LA dubbing studio.  Well, after some screenings at film festivals earlier this year, Anime Expo a couple of weeks ago, & a short LA theatrical screening this past weekend (they're trying for an Academy Award) the final product has finally become available to everyone who pledged $5 or more via digital download, with those who pledged at least $30 receiving a DVD version a little later (at least $60 for the Blu-Ray).  So, now that Kick-Heart is out, was the wait & pledging (I pledged $115, which also gave me a mention on the $100+ Sponsor Credits page) worth it?  Or did Masaaki Yuasa do what he does best: Messing with people's minds?

Maskman M is a small-name wrestler who falls in love with his enemy Lady S in the middle of a tag team match involving his partner Death Chicken & S's partner Vacuum Fat.  The only thing M wants more, though, is to get beaten up to a pulp by S, because he's also a masochist at heart.  Behind M's mask, though, is Romeo Maki, who donates his earnings & any other gifts to the orphanage he grew up in.  After ruining the ending to to the tag team match (M accidentally knocked Fat outside the ring, & his team won via count out) Romeo is worried his boss might kill him, so he steals some Lady S dolls & gives them to the orphans.  While at the orphanage, though, he meets Juliet, a new nun that he falls in love with at first sight.  Luckily for Romeo, though, Lady S wants a one-on-one deathmatch with Maskman M...

At only 13 minutes, ~11.5 minutes if you remove the opening & ending credits, Kick-Heart isn't long but it sure packs a good amount of content.  The two matches shown (M/Chicken vs. S/Fat, & M vs. S) are both surreal & fairly action-packed, the story in between the two matches is fast & informative, & there's even plenty of time for some good comedy as well.  If there's at least one thing Masaaki Yuasa is good at it's delivering something quick & impactful, not to mention sudden & memorable, and that's really where the comedy comes in.  For example, Romeo stops off at an erotic magazine vending machine in the middle of the darkness, but after the machine thanks him for the purchase, all of the lights from the buildings behind him turn on; though there's no real audio payoff, the viewer can easily fill in the blank.  Another funny one is where the orphanage's head nun tells Juliet that they must remove all of the sin from Juliet, & her response is to outright smack the nun!  Needless to say, Kick-Heart definitely has some good comedy chops.

But let's face facts...  This is Masaaki Yuasa we're talking about here.  I reviewed Cat Soup, the first title where Yuasa was allowed to go all out, so I know what you're curious about: How weird is this short?  Oh, it's weird all right, but in all of the right ways.  Probably one of the funniest weird bits of this short is that fact that Romeo Maki always has a censor bar over his eyes in order to hide what he fully looks like, but in numerous shots the censor bar is shown off as if they were simply sunglasses that Romeo wears for his own fashion sense; it's an entertaining joke on the sacredness of a masked wrestler's true identity.  For true weirdness, though, one only has to look at the imagery featured.  Honestly, there's so much crazy imagery going on in this short that I can't truly explain it all, not to mention that this is something that truly has to be seen to be believed.  Tears turning into small plants, rainbows indicating a sense of love, a heart appearing on M's chest every time he gets kicked there (title drop, people)...  I do hope that this short becomes publically available eventually, because it truly has to be seen at least once.

To go with that weirdness, though, Yuasa also went with a completely different animation style from most productions.  The entire short has a purposefully rough style to it, looking like crude drawings at times even for the harsher blows delivered in the matches, & the opening credits sequence is drawn like a child's crayon drawings coming to life.  This is only helped by the character designs & key animation done by Michio Mihara (Cyber City Oedo 808, Paprika, & Paranoia Agent), who made the wrestlers look muscular & simple-in-look, which allows them to be easily bent into whatever shapes Yuasa needed them to be in.  It truly helps to make this short its own thing, something that no other anime can claim stake to; there are plenty of videos of what Kick-Heart looks like, so check those out, too.  To go with Yuasa's crazy look is the soundtrack done by Oorutaichi, which is truly an all over the place production that fits the zaniness perfectly.  From the harpischord/guitar duet for the opening to the addictive experimental beat of the titular song to the fast & uplifting synth sound of M's potential comeback against S in the deathmatch Oorutaichi makes this title just as much of an aural trip as it is a visual one.

The Japanese voice cast doesn't exactly have a ton to say, but what's there is still good.  Tatsuhisa Suzuki (Andy Anderson in Solty Rei, Sakuya Kamon in Dancougar Nova) delivers in making Romeo Maki/Maskman M sound honest & kind-hearted as well as pretty odd in his masochistic desires.  Takako Honda (Gimmy in Gurren Lagann, Nayuta in Chihayafuru) likewise does a fine job as Lady S/Juliet (it's purposefully is a barely-kept secret), though she doesn't get that many speaking roles, admittedly.  The rest of the cast, made up of the likes of Wataru Takagi (the Father of the orphanage), Miyuki Satou (Vacuum Fat), Shinobu Matsumoto (Devil Chicken), Makiko Nitta (the Sister), & others, also don't get many lines but do their jobs fine.  I will admit that there are more speaking roles than I had anticipated, but this is still more of a visual performance than anything.

[The digital download is sub-only, so when I get my Blu-Ray I'll add in my thoughts about the two dubs]


Overall, Kick-Heart is a crazy 13-minute ride of an anime short & I can only hope that, eventually, we anime fans might be able to produce an even longer product (LWA2's Kickstarter is only slightly longer, adding 15-20 minutes).  As it is, though, this is a fine, if incredibly odd & weird, start to what can potentially become an interesting future into how anime could be made in certain circumstances.  Hopefully, once the physical release gets to the backers who pledged enough, like myself, this short will eventually become publicly available to anime fans, because with its short length it's worth at least one viewing, because stuff like this truly doesn't come about that often.  One a personal note, though, I just find it incredibly funny that anime fans crowdfunded a sports anime, something which is known to be an extreme niche within niches outside of Japan.  That's awesome on its own.

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