If November 2012 belonged to any one film it was unquestionably Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo. The Evangelion hype machine caused many to forget about the release of another significant (artistically, if not financially) theatrical anime film: Gothicmade.
The name Five Star Stories may not ring as many bells as Evangelion, especially in the States, but it’s a hugely significant franchise in and of itself. A long-running manga series started in 1986, Five Star Stories is a sprawling mech drama often compared to science-fiction series with a similar epic scope like Dune or Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa. The hugely successful manga is the work of Mamoru Nagano, who reportedly eschews assistants and crafts, by himself, the unique feminine, slender style of both Five Star Stories’ characters and mecha.
Five Star Stories was the subject of one anime adaptation, a 1989 movie that attempted to cover the first arc of the manga. Talk over the years was that Nagano wasn’t particularly satisfied with the film, and no further adaptations were forthcoming.
Now, twenty-plus years later, Nagano has, for the first time, taken his own crack at the anime director’s chair in the form of Gothicmade. Originally announced in Newtype magazine in 2006, Gothicmade took six years to be released – perhaps because Nagano seems to have created this film almost singlehandedly, writing the script and drawing the storyboard, layouts, and much of the key animation by himself in addition to directing.
Not officially a part of the Five Star Stories timeline, but sharing virtually all its stylistic and thematic elements, Gothicmade takes place on planet Carmine, a colonial world under the jurisdiction of the planetary federation. The main character is a girl named Berin, who, as the story begins, has been chosen as a successor in a long line of songstresses who have acted as great leaders throughout Carmine’s history. To complete the ritual necessary to become a songstress, she must make a pilgrimage to the holy city of “Ha-Ri.”
Problem is, there are forces at work who don’t want her to make it there. Despite her and her people’s hatred of violence, she’s forced to compromise and accept as an escort the warlike, brutal Toriharon.
Despite their differences, as things happen, something begins to grow between Berin and Toriharon as they make their way to Ha-Ri, especially when he’s forced to defend Berin’s convoy using his GTM, or gothicmade, an elaborate, powerful mech.
Because of Nagano’s reported dissatisfaction with the ’89 Five Star Stories film, and his insistence on doing everything by himself, it’s hard not to see Gothicmade as a kind of response to that film – almost as if he’s saying, “this is how I’d do it.”
If that’s the case, unfortunately, the count is Five Star Stories ’89: 1, Gothicmade: 0.
For one thing, Gothicmade’s animation is, to put it mildly, bad. Nagano’s character designs are elaborate and beautiful, and stay that way, so long as they’re standing still, but things go downhill once they start to move. Hair blowing in the wind, for example, looks oddly clumped together like noodles. Even simple actions like walking or arm movements look odd and jerky. The movement of the spaceships is largely along straight lines: they’re usually single cels simply moving left or right across the screen instead of displaying any dimensionality. One particularly embarrassing shot features six identical ships moving in formation, and the lack of any distinctive scarring or detailing makes it painfully obvious all six are the exact same element copied and pasted six times.
One piece of animation fares better than the others, and that’s the robots. It’s clear Nagano cares greatly about how these look, and look great they do. So it’s too bad there’s exactly one scene involving the so-called gothicmade, and it lasts about three minutes.
Nagano spends the majority of the film in quiet, dialogue-heavy scenes between Berin and Toriharon. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that – his emphasis on storytelling over action is admirable. But the ratio of mech stuff to drama – especially since he teases a final, climatic battle that never comes – had to frustrate more than a few viewers. Add to that the mere 77 minute runtime, and it’s not hard to feel the film is simply… unfinished.
There’s actually a lot to admire in Gothicmade. It’s entirely hand-drawn, with no CG robots, unlike another certain franchise whose name has already appeared in this review. And it’s impressive to see an animated film released today with such a small production crew and that’s so obviously the vision of one individual. But, unfortunately, Gothicmade’s ambitions can’t overcome its faults.
Official site: http://gothicmade.com/