Well, this is a nice surprise: arrived with basically no advance hype whatsoever, we got a new
Shinichiro Watanabe short film! A Girl Meets a Boy and a Robotwhich screened at the 2022 Fantasia Film Festival, is apparently the first part of a bigger sci-fi anthology feature called
TAISUa Chinese production working with different directors from China, Japan, and the USA.
The international sensibility of this 20-minute short extends beyond its Chinese producers. Like many of Watanabe’s recent anime, A Girl Meets a Boy and a Robot is a collaboration between diverse talent from different countries. Atoine Antin, a French animator whose credits include
The Red Turtle, Napping Princessand the final episode of Space Dandy, is the animation director. Loic Locatelli of Studio No Border did design and layout. American musician Keith Kenniff did the soundtrack, which includes a memorable number played on a broken piano. I noticed Vietnamese, Bulgarian, Danish, and Indonesian names in the credits.
This team has designed a visually stunning post-apocalyptic world. The background art is incredible, the sort of thing that wouldn’t look out of place in the most experimental episodes of
Space Dandy. Character animation is also very good, with Gankutsuou-esque textured colors that stand out from Watanabe’s previous work. The aforementioned piano scene and its accompanying dance is an animation highlight, as are the robot battle sequences.
A Girl Meets a Boy and a Robot isn’t as distinctive story-wise as it is visually, failing to do much different from other post-apocalyptic sci-fi stories. The girl and the robot of the title are post- apocalyptic wanderers both suffering from that most overdone of anime/soap-opera clichés: amnesia. The boy is introduced last, but ends up making the strongest impression of the three characters as the only one consistently cognizant of the horrifying world he’s living in.
Aside from all the gorgeous abandoned vistas, the most interesting part of this post-apocalypse is that automated weapons are still fighting humanity’s wars, even as civilization has vanished and humanity appears to be on the verge of extinction. The amnesia plot device does allow for a couple of cleverly-executed if not particularly original twists.
Watanabe’s detractors often describe his anime as “style over substance.” Most of the time I would consider this unfairly dismissive, but with A Girl Meets a Boy and a Robot, the descriptor fits. Even so, the style of this short alone is enough to make it a worthwhile watch, even if it’s not a must-see. I’ll be curious to check out the other TAISU shorts to see how they compare.