Thursday, 10 January 2013

The ‘Could-Be-Worse’ of Anime [Roots Search (1986)]

From http://bludragon.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/roots-search-1986-ntsc.jpg?w=478&h=480

Dir. Hisashi Sugai
Japan
Film #10 of The ‘Worst’ of Cinema

[Note = This review will have quite a few moving images. I apologise in advance if this causes problems viewing the page or if it becomes too much for some readers. Some of the images are also quite freakish, like the one below this warning, and has flashing colours for one of them, so this is not a review for the feint hearted.]

From http://cdn03.animenewsnetwork.com/images/cms/buried-treasure/21703/rootssearch5.jpg

In the review of Psychic Wars (1991) for this season, this is the anime I was thinking of that lies unexpectedly on a video shelf and baffles anyone who rents it, or that is bought by anyone who could afford the tape or (as I have discovered) laserdisc  version back in the day. The 1980s has a far greater amount of these random one-off productions, both good and bad, that I have barely skimmed through as an anime fan, the money available in the decade before the Japanese economic crash meaning that numerous experimental, or weird, productions could be made without concern whether they would succeed or not. The nineties still has its vast quantity of OVAs and short form anime productions, but the eighties has the more obscure and unconventional works. It also had Roots Search. I will admit a twisted disappointment that this did not turn out to be so bad I felt physical pain, viewed as one of the worst anime works in existence and notorious for diehard western anime fans in the United States, but while the potential repeat viewings of it may be slim, the resulting 44 minutes of gloopy sci-fi horror is still pretty off. Off is the right word especially when you see the cover the anime had. With a photorealistic depiction of a woman in a cryogenic machine/cocoon, it looks like a H.R. Gigar painting, or his other creation for a Debbie Harry album, but it’s far from the case for the anime; the creators of it were still influenced by Gigar, especially his take on alien sex organs as background architecture, but Roots Search is its own weird animal.

From http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m4703lYMo31qdc388o1_500.gif
It may have passed by Alien (1979) though. On a spaceship studying ESP powers, including psychic Monica – who has a great and ridiculously large hat despite an attempt by the character designer to make her look cute that feels forced – the crew finds themselves against an unknown entity after Monica sees terrible visions of another spaceship crew being butchered by an extraterrestrial force. With the only survivor of that ship, that warps into their vicinity and lets loose the alien on their vessel, Monica and the crew have to deal with a being that claims to be a ‘messenger from God’ and plans to exterminate any human it crosses paths with for their sins. Either this stole part of the premise for Event Horizon (1997), where the crew is mentally tortured by their memories of loved ones and past events, eleven years before that film was made, or Paul WS. Anderson has been ingesting obscure, trashy anime without anyone releasing (even if that film is far superior to this). In such a short running time, Roots Search attempts to cram all of this into itself, along with tentacles and an alien which, to my apologies to my female readers, has vagina dentata for a mouth, as the characters that start to film find themselves being picked off one-by-one. As an OVA as well, with no restrictions in content, it can get very gory at times to and ridiculous in its gooeyness. The anime however, like Psychic Wars, sinks in quality as it drags itself along.

From http://www.anime-planet.com/images/anime/screenshots/rootssearch1.jpg

To begin with, while it can look distinct, even eye catching to me at times, the character designs and parts of the animation are terrible. The characters look like they’ve been squashed and distorted like plasticine at moments, where Monica (and another female character part of a character’s memories) can look like attractive women in one shot, but in another look like they’ve got the eyes of a Furby that are far too big for their heads, which is saying something considering how ridiculously large the eyes of female characters in anime can be. The screenshots are vital to explain this – the anime looks messy, not helped by its lack of budget to make it, with only the more sub-Gigar aspects standing out vaguely from the other parts. The strange combination of a brain and T-Rex, like a scrapped design for a Nintendo videogame boss, from one of the nightmare sequences also shows that, while it should be preserved in an anime of just ridiculous character designs, like Monica’s quasi-boyfriend Scott who has makeup surgically attached to his skin, the person(s) who allowed designs like it to slip pass should have been whacked with a designer’s ruler for undermining the ability to take the anime seriously.

From http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m4k0j4MBVJ1qdc388o1_500.gif

In such a short length, Roots Search attempts too much and doesn’t really do what it does very well. I will have to ponder still whether there is some merit to the OVA even if it’s unintentional, but only the morbidly curious or the most willing of anime fans, which dive into material like this on purpose, will have to see it. It does have its moments that raise one’s eyebrow, such as when Buzz, the survivor from the other ship, and Monica share a fantasy sequence of them frolicking on grass in front of a pink sky completely naked, and in a misunderstood riff on 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), has Buzz holding a floating foetus in his hand. I have spoken of most of the interesting (or inane) aspects of Roots Search, but in its favour actually watching sequences like that one has more of an effect than merely reading a description. The anime does attempt to have a serious concept behind it, with the alien’s motive and Monica have a monologue about humanity’s place in the world, but in 44 minutes it comes off as a scrawled idea than a deep concept. The ending - while better than many anime OVAs that didn’t have an ending and arbitrarily finished, enraging anyone viewing them - is not exactly helped by Roots Search’s attempt to be a metaphysical sci-fi, leaving it a befuddling mess with added riffing on Gigar artscapes and giant veins. The anime altogether definitely lives up to its negative reputation for its failings. I have seen far worse, especially in anime television series, however; Roots Search is merely a peculiar creation not based on anything or leading to any cult following to my knowledge let along sequels. It exists in its own polarity and has had no contribution to anime’s progression, except for dumbfounding American anime fans who had it released in their country, where red clay tentacles molest anyone they come across and a Furby eyed girl with a large hat should have had a better character designer for her let alone a spin-off.

From http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m4k0itwrWf1qdc388o1_500.gif

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