Oh, for what could have been.
Anthology series are often such a rare recipe for even mild success that it’s a surprise to many when they do pop up. And in Japan, when such a concept is applied to the animated world, this becomes quadruply rare. Even after popular shows such as World Masterpiece Theater, and the like, the science fiction vignette concept certainly sounded like a perfect marriage. Especially in the latter 1980s, when the genre and the medium seemed at perfect sync with each other. So when looking back at the lost OVA series, Twilight Q, I am reminded of what potential might have been, and how certain animators saw it as a means to stretch their experimental wings- perhaps to its detriment. A defiantly literate concept, Q was the coming together of what would become something of a dream team of anime luminaries. Produced by a very young pre-Bandai Visual, and with only two episodes to its name, it remains something of a footnote in the history of these would-be legends.
First Episode: Time Knot – Reflection
The first installment concerns teen girl, Mayumi who on vacation with a friend, discovers a near-intact camera on a beach with mysterious clues written all over. After attempting to develop pictures from a roll within the eater resistant casing, most is indecipherable save for one shocking image – one of her with a boy she has never met before. Troubled by this, her best pal’s big brother takes it upon himself to investigate the camera’s origins, only to discover that it is not of any preceding/present time frame! A very laid back, and almost poetic journey ensues as Mayumi (and in turn, the audience) is taken on a trip between eras that not only explain her role in all of this, but of Japan’s path toward ecological disaster. Written by longtime Oshii collaborator, Kazunori Ito, there are clear parallels to what would become a solid theme in his work, looking into a nation’s less than flattering past as a means to ensure young people like Mayumi some manner of clarity. While less science fiction than wisftul, Time Knot is presented in a more deceptively sunny, reflective manner than one would expect. And also contained within its very short running time, an almost stealthy level of meta-humor holding it all together.
Ito, and director, Tomomi Mochizuki (Ranma 1/2, Umi Ga Kikoeru) take full advantage of the short’s sunny skies, and light-hearted musings to paint a portrait of prosperity on borrowed time. As Mayumi finds herself drawn even further into the mystery, there is almost a feeling as if it isn’t merely time that is being manipulated, but also reality. The implications of Mayumi’s world being a quasi-parody of anime’s overt compensation for reality, is a potent one if viewers are willing to take the trip. Even without it, there is plenty to chew on considering how brief the short is. On top of this, the presentation remains gorgeous.
And then run headlong into..the second and FINAL episode..
Mystery Article File 538
What one could consider an odyssey into social isolation, and borderline obsessive insanity, 538 tells the tale of a lone detective who has found disturbing typed testimonial whilst investigating the connection between a recent rash of jumbo jet disappearances, and the lives of a man, and his toddler “daughter” in a disheveled apartment. And the closer we intently listen, the more confessional, and bizarre the tale becomes. From the very beginning, the totems of a particular anime voice are established loud and clear as we listen to the narration being read, and the revelations that this case has indeed been going on longer than many might imagine. Obsessions with endless meals of noodles, lack of human interaction, detailed descriptions of a life cloistered, and even imagery of JAL planes becoming scaled, breathing carp telltale the presence of the one and only Mamoru Oshii. And in classic form for the anime auteur, the findings in File 538 are less about aliens, espers, or time travelers, it is more of the surreality that is modern Japanese life.
Very much a spiritual follow-up to perhaps his most obtuse work, Tenshi No Tamago, 538 is much more concerned with atmospheric montage and rambling theory than perhaps Oshii’s most impenetrable works. As we are drawn into the lives of the aforementioned “man”, and his pantsless toddler child, are are also given glimpses into the hidden metropolitan. Parts of Tokyo that have become reclaimed, and often discarded whilst the economic engines of the era pretend that all is fine. There are even some challenging notions regarding Japan’s role in the contemporary asian sphere as we see both nature and human sprawl scroll across the screen. In many ways, the obsessions displayed in 538 are ones that would eventually become major components of Oshii’s more mainstream works to come (most notably the first PATLABOR film, which was clearly in the wings at this point). It’s clear that despite his yen for comedy, Oshii’s temperament had decidedly become more solemn, more sober in only a mere few years. 538 is a mostly forgotten, but important bridge between a famed director’s most well-defined poles.
It’s also no wonder that the concept only lasted as long as it had. Even in the formative days of anime as global populist entertainment, this is perhaps as uncompromising as it gets. And while Twilight Q might not seem to be the best, most well-realized hidden treasure anime around, it is certainly one of the most interesting. As the opening warning in red states; This is a show that is capable of controlling your reality. And as a very brief visitor, I was certainly hooked
Oh yeah, and…Twilight Zone..Ultra Q..