Kai Doh Maru
Perhaps I wasn't in the mood for anime this evening, but it's really hard to imagine what sort of a mood would make me ready for this. It certainly was short though, which is good if you've rented it but not so great if you bought it.
The story is set in feudal Japan, full of dashing samurai, intrigue and sudden bloody death. We get to meet a young girl, who has been raised to be a prince, who is being assisted on the last of the these three points. However a burst of anger, and a lucky rescue by passing Samurai (see point 1) allow her to gain her freedom. In best anime tradition, and against minor points like actual history, they raise her as a female Samurai skilled enough to earn a place amongst them. Which is a good thing, as they're going to need the numbers when trouble comes visiting the city they are sworn to protect.
That's about as much Synopsis as is useful. This is a pretty short video, and its strongly visually focused, so there's really not all that much story to go around. Certainly the back of the box (at least I assume that's where quickflix gets their blurb from) has a story that sounds a lot better. It mentions battles, warring factions, training, love and jealousy... but none of these were actually in the story I watched. Shame really, the one on the box sounds much better.
In reality what we have here is called a "tech demo". Some people had some new ideas on how to produce animation and a short video showing off this new advance was the result. The sales pitch almost certainly involved it being cheaper than traditional animation, while opening exciting new possibilities. They might even have said that it returned animation to its classical Japanese roots of sumi-e. It was equally certain that the story was not a vital part of the sales pitch, so it ends up as a somewhat confused collage of events linking together the visual moods they wanted to explore. There's not a lot of character or development and the leads actions are either off-screen (training, the final fight) or passive. In other words I don't think anyone is going to hunt this out for the story.
So, was it a successful tech demo? Not really, it was a bit of an eye-sore actually. It looks like they're trying to harness computer animation to create classic style art. The architecture and environments are complex because they're computer rendered and I suspect a great deal of the character work, and definitely the action, is based on live footage. To unify these two inputs, and the content that had to be hand drawn, they've used aggressive visual filters. In other words color and texture have been reduced to flat washes of color, which gives the appearance that the entire production was filmed in deep fog. The action scenes have been heavily edited, lots of camera movement, which ends up combining with the fuzzy vision to make me somewhat nauseous. This is also because there is not actually that many frames involved so its quite jumpy even before they start playing with the camera. Injuries are marked by gouts of solid red, possibly because they didn't really want their stunt people actually chopping each other up, which looks surprisingly artificial.
In short, I'll pass on this thanks. The disk is padded out with a lot of extras, the producers showing off their computer generated architecture which is what they'd been doing for most of the movie anyway. The disk I had also contained previews for Read or Die which was like emerging from the fog into brilliant sunshine. All of a sudden the characters are expressive, the style is not burdened by reality (historical or not), the colors are vibrant and the action is hot. Kai Doh Maru is moderately interesting as a free movie, or extra, showing off an experiment. But as a independent commercial release? I don't think so.
Samurai girls make the world go round... but there's really not much point getting interested in this one given the short running time, the empty story and the shallow characters. Instead you can look at the experimental "lost in the fog" graphic techniques... which pretty much end up making every other anime look a lot better.