Anime Review: Pigtails and Other Shorts

By Drew Hurley 19.06.2019

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Pigtails and Other Shorts (UK Rating: 15)

Production I.G. is a venerable old house of anime, having been around for over 30 years now. In that time, it has produced some true classics in series and movies both. Psycho-Pass, Ghost in the Shell, Kuroko's Basketball, and so many more. In that time, they have also produced numerous OVAs and short movies, often for special projects and events in Japan, showcasing new or upcoming talent. Five such films are collected here - coming courtesy of All the Anime, the special collector's edition Blu-Ray/DVD combo set is available from February 25th, while the regular release is available everywhere from March 25th.
First up is a short that takes the title spot, Pigtails. At first, it seems to be about a young lady living in a little house on a beach. It's only as the story progresses that it becomes evident it's not a beach at all. It's a wasteland. The blue ocean actually a purple, irradiated pool. The narrators for this story are everyday objects. Talking pegs, umbrellas, pillows, portable TVs. While the human character speaks, none of it is heard by the audience.
The girl lives a quiet, everyday life. Alone. Alone in her wasteland. Alone until her regular visitors pass by. A group of masked men who come and bring her everything she needs to live. At the same time, they examine her, head to toe. The story sees a young man come to visit her, and the objects outside her home revealing the truth to the world beyond the wall to the objects that live in her home. Some pegs on the washing line argue between the old worn out red pegs, and the shiny new white pegs. The new toothbrush wonders why there are two old toothbrushes left alongside it, yet never used. The umbrella and cushion question the balloon as to what may lay beyond the wall.
This is, by far, the best of the bunch. Deeply melancholic. A chilling dystopian nightmare of a future painted in charming pastel. Based on Mitsuami no Kami-Sama by Machiko Kyo, this work was strongly influenced by the devastating Earthquake off the coast of Japan in 2011, which in turn resulted in the nuclear fallout in Fukushima. It's easy to see how. This is the directorial debut of Yoshimi Itazu, a man who has yet to put much more directorial credit to her name but shows great promise here.
Upon starting the next short - Li'l Spider Girl - it seems it could be something out of a weekly shonen series. Telling the tale of huge arachnid beasts that are wreaking havoc throughout feudal Japan. Fire breathing spiders the size of horses terrorise a town, at their head a monstrous half woman, half spider reminiscent of Arachne from Monster Musume gone full kaiju. Standing against them is a classic Onmyoji, throwing seals and slicing spiders like a master. This dramatic opening sequence is just a retelling though. A story of an old book, told by the bookseller, to the teenage girl who is working in his shop. A teenage girl who foolishly manhandles the antique book, breaking a seal and releasing a spider demon from the story.
This one isn't going to be crushing buildings and breathing fire though. It's the titular Li'l Spider Girl, a cute little girl in a Kimono with big watery, red eyes. The dramatic story at the start tells how after the Onmyoji slaughtered the great spider queen, the Li'l Spider Girl fell from the corpse of her parent. The Onmyoji took her in but found she was slaughtering the townsfolk. There the book ends, meaning the bookshop pair are left not knowing her true nature. This one is a deceptive tale that jumps between light-hearted and strangely dark. It feels much longer than its brief 25-minute running time.

Next is Kick-Heart and it's one for all the Pro Resu fans out there. When masked wrestler M accidentally wins a tag match alongside his partner Chicken against the lady tag team of Lady S and Vacuum Fat his booker is none too pleased. The only way out is taking part in a one on one deathmatch against Lady S at the legendary Tokyo Dome (or Tokio Dome as it's known here for copyright purposes!). It's not just about the wrestling though, as the story takes a look at M's life outside the ring, taking a page out of the book of Nacho Libre as he goes to help an orphanage full of kids.
Kick-Heart is one of the most adult of the bunch. Filled with innuendo and allusions. Not just that the M (masochist) male wrestler is desperate to get beaten by the S (sadist) female wrestler. Lots of scenes and moves really emphasises the positions. Kick-Heart goes for a cartoonish, fantastical style. For example, during the opening tag match, the female wrestler 'Vacuum Fat' is a towering, gargantuan ogre that absorbs M between her rolls of fat, within which the bones of past victims melt away. The one-on-one match at the conclusion has some actual wrestling moves but turns them into preposterous versions of reality, as the characters jump meters into the air before crashing down.
This piece comes from Masaaki Yuasa, a serious veteran of the industry. Though, this was not his first work, unlike many others. Since then he has directed some truly seminal works, including such memorable and fantastic works as Night is Short, Walk on Girl, Lu over the Wall, and Devilman Crybaby. The type of work he produced in those can be seen in its infancy here. The crazy, fluid, art style, the suddenly shifting between dramatically different tones. Fans who have just stumbled on his work, and are enjoying it, will be happy to see more of it here.
The next film comes from the same team that produced the insanity that is Dead Leaves, that being Hiroyuki Imaishi and Imaitoonz for Oval x Over. This is one of the weakest. Three, three-minutes shorts produced to advertise the Bridgestone Indy Japan 300 mile race. Each shows a snippet of the race, with some crazy over-the-top characters like a Speed Racer-esque homage. It's not particularly bad, it just doesn't deliver on what it's trying to be.
Finally, there is Drawer Hobs. This 24-minute short is the work of one Kazuchika Kise. A man who has long been part of the industry. From animating on series like City Hunter and Dirty Pair in the '80s, to acting as character designer in Made in Abyss and as animation director for the breakout Your Name, but this short was his director debut. Centred around a single, call centre employee named Hiiragi Noeru who is living alone in the big city. One day, her mother sends her an antique chest of drawers (or as some people think they're called, chester drawers… those people are mad. Actually mad). A seemingly innocuous gift, but one that turns Noeru's life upside down.
There are six of the titular drawers, each happens to be inhabited by a small child. This isn't some sort of creepy horror anime though. The children are helpful little spirits, like the Shoemaker's Elves. There's Masa, dressed up like a classic Japanese fisherman/chef, he cooks Noeru food and teaches her to cook for herself. Tae is a proper little Japanese lady, done up in her kimono with hair bunned up. She's dedicated to teaching Noeru to become more refined. Her counterpart Yuki is a little lady helping Noeru with her fashion and makeup. Daigoro is safety conscious and dedicated to keeping her safe. Finally there's a duo of questionable help. Daigoro is a chubby little meatball who likes eating and watching TV while Hanpei is a hyperactive little troublemaker, he just seems to like causing chaos. This group of children is here as attendants of the Hiiragi "Landlady," helping as they have many others in her family's history.
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10
A bit of a mixed bag, but more good than not. The best thing about this production is that every story feels like a tale that the creators wanted to tell. They're clearly invested, and the experimental nature of the art, animation, and storytelling is refreshing, even in the weaker of the films. The stars of the show more than make up for the missteps. From the heart-warming Drawer Hobs, to the madness of Masaaki Yuasa in Kick-Heart, to the engrossing story in Pigtails. There's something for every audience here.

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