Some Animated Shorts


Let’s start with Pale Cocoon.

In the vague and distant future, mankind no longer inhabits Mother Earth’s fertile green fields nor her calm blue seas. Those bucolic vistas of days long gone exist now only in corrupted data archives.


Ura obsesses over the past, littering his abode with pictures culled from his work. He and Riko spend their days recovering and analyzing these archives, but Riko, like many others in the same field of work, is slowly losing her resolve. Her task feels utterly futile. As much as they try to understand history, as Ura puts it, Riko counters that it’s all just a fanciful dream. Their existence is one of towering claustrophobic towers in sterile, metallic tones. They wake up everyday to to the lonely glows of their computer screens and the unceasing hum of machinery around them. What good is history anymore when the lesson being taught is no longer applicable? Why learn to protect nature when it has already been destroyed?


Pale Cocoon is barely over twenty minutes long and thus feels rather incomplete. The messages are rather kind of cliché, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but Pale Cocoon doesn’t deconstruct them in any meaningful way. The anime poses big questions but then goes through the motions in trying to convey meaningful answers. If we aren’t careful, we’ll ruin this wonderful world we live on… well, that’s a nice lesson, but it’s also nothing new and has been explored on a much deeper and nuanced level in other anime (e.g. Mononoke Hime). On the other hand, Pale Cocoon does raise a question that most people don’t quite have a satisfactory answer to: why study history?

For Ura and Riko, what good is it to see mankind’s folly when there’s nothing left to save? The ending to Pale Cocoon seems rushed, however, and the twist at the end feels rather cheap, like something straight out of The Planet of the Apes.


The short story tells us that studying history will give us new perspectives on our existence, which is true, but it feels elementary* somehow. Of course, the length of the treatment leaves very little room for anything to be adequately explored, but it’s disappointing nonetheless. Pale Cocoon joins the pile of sci-fi stories, anime and otherwise, with interesting premises that all eventually fizzle out. It reminded me of how exciting the first few episodes of Ergo Proxy were only for the rest of the series to degenerate into a ridiculous shounen fighting show.

*Years ago, this same question was posed in a Western Civilization course I was taking. The answers given then were equally disappointing, especially when you consider that they came from college students, the self-proclaimed future leaders of the world.



I didn’t know there was any hype for this so, as a result, I don’t really quite understand the disappointment with it. I just think it’s not very good. In some alternate universe, strange behemoths show up and, fittingly for anime, they’re controlled by kids with cow licks. After 27 minutes of Cencoroll, I think it’s natural to come away with a ton of questions. What are these behemoths and where do they come from? Have they ever terrorized mankind before to justify all the civil and military response? Why and how are they controllable by kids?


Typically, none of these questions would really matter in a good movie, but this is neither good nor a movie. It’s woefully short and it has some serious pacing problems. I don’t know how something that’s only 27 minutes long can manage to drag in the middle but Cencoroll was plain boring. For a monster flick, that’s kind of pathetic. The showdown (if you can call it that) between the protagonists and the antagonist falls flat right from the start and might as well be some trumped up Pokémon battle. There’s no energy in any of the scenes and the soundtrack is strangely muted during (what should be) the most important scenes.


There seems to be a failure of the imagination from the narrative all the way down to the core concept. Even the beasts are nothing more than amorphous white blobs. The protagonist’s pet has the dubious distinction of being able to change into generic everyday objects. The antagonist’s pet, on the other hand, is so boring that it can literally become invisible. Is this a sign of what we can expect from the future of Japanese animation? Every character in Cencoroll is unremarkable and essentially a blank template (if you haven’t already noticed, I haven’t called any of the characters in this anime by their names because they are honestly hollow signifiers), an empty variable of dull existence as if to say “a genre film is just x and y in z–substitute in whatever you want.”

The Night on Taneyamagahara

This is equally as short as Cencoroll, but it’s hardly animation. I found myself just as bored too when I tried to watch this, but on the other hand, its backgrounds are amazing and someone might find it worth watching in that case.


There’s a play being told behind all these images, but it’s fairly simple and short enough that I won’t get into. Personally, I’ll pass but it was an interesting concept.

La Maison en Petit Cubes


The shortest of the shorts here was by far the most enjoyable for me. Fittingly enough, it won an Academy award for best animated short earlier this year. There’s an understated poignancy in LMPC’s simplicity.


It’s only twelve minutes long so I won’t bother to divulge any details about the plot here either.


It is simply a wordless reflection of a man’s life.


I respect its straight-forward presentation. Up, a movie I saw as recently as last week, also has a similar montage of a man going through life. Up, however, tugs at too many heart strings for my liking. Of course, had Mr. Fredericksen not grown despairingly lonely, there would be no rebirth for him and we would have no movie. Still, there’s something that separates it from previous Pixar films and I think it’s the fact that the movie just feels forced. LMPC, on the other hand, feels natural.


A story doesn’t have to be long, but it has to hook the audience from start to finish. That’s Cencoroll’s problem. A story doesn’t have to be complex, but you can’t open the can of worms and leave it at that. That’s Pale Cocoon’s problem. La Maison en Petit Cubes isn’t animated brilliance, but it executed what it intended to do.

3 thoughts on “Some Animated Shorts

  1. AReelFan

    Your diatribes are as shallow as your apparent attention span. Cencoroll is the result of Gainax’s influence on the culture of anime. It’s a testament to the strength of out-side-the-box storytelling while serving as a benchmark in independent animation. I haven’t been so excited for a short since Voices of a Distant Star.
    A window in the lives of the male and female protagonists has been opened and we get a glimpse at the drama that unfolds. It just so happens that the audience meets the unlikely heroes (the archetypal hyper-spunky girl and self-indulgent antihero) as they meet each other in the midst of crisis. Yes, there are weird shape-shifting aliens, and no I don’t want to know why. It’s better not to know. Dive right into the story! Who can’t figure out that extraterrestrials and 14 year old Japanese kids go together like peanut-butter and jelly?
    The unexpected, yet seemingly innocuous, betrayal of the male protagonist by his globular alien, Cenco, was a fascinating turn of events prompting me not to ask WHY, but WHO! Who knew that the link between alien and manipulator was so strong that if one died, potentially, the other would too (considering the compromise for losing an alien’s limb means the hero loses his too). And . . . Who will control Cenco now?
    The relationships and power positions change as readily as the alien’s form. Was he ever anyone’s to control? He’s stubborn, a taciturn (well . . . mute) curmudgeon with as much personality as any anthropomorphic figure I’ve seen in animation. And it’s up to him, and the two heroes straddling the line between growing love pangs and seething anger, to resolve the issues of a complicated future.
    The ending, even the beginning, leaves the door wide open for sequels and prequels. It’s an excellent short, which shines like a flashlight in a dim room, highlighting only the most poignant events in the time in which the story takes place. It’s not meant to be perfectly wrapped film that answers all of your questions. It’s a Slice of Life cinematic work! There’s conflict and action. You shouldn’t expect much in the way of character development and plot in what would be a 15-20 page short story. It’s but a chapter. The “failure of imagination” falls on your part. Either that or the Sapporo International Short Film Festival and numerous North American cinema circuits are grossly misinformed. And at the very least have some modicum of respect for the work of art one man painstakingly created for the world. Kay?

    1. E Minor Post author

      I never said that it had to be a “perfectly wrapped film” that answered all my questions. I admitted that in an entertaining film such requirements are unnecessary, but because Cencoroll left me bored, my mind began to wander over the gaps in the storytelling.

      Either that or the Sapporo International Short Film Festival and numerous North American cinema circuits are grossly misinformed.

      The “failure of imagination” falls on your part.

      The monster designs were non-descript. Their powers are vague and boundless. The children controlling them could be cutouts from any school anime and their motivations were equally vague and boundless. I think the implication is quite clear.

      And at the very least have some modicum of respect for the work of art one man painstakingly created for the world. Kay?

      I respected it enough by even pausing to analyze it. I did not like the message implied within the story–this does not mean disrespect.


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