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by Trent Walters

There's something immediately gratifying about story animation that novels and live movies do not have: perhaps because of the animator's vision can be born out without limitation of image (mostly in movies, but due to its limitation, the novel relies much on the reader -- just as the eye depends on the mind -- to fill in what it cannot show at once). In fact, almost any movie of broad-scope imagination requires animation.

What human being can read and watch TV at the same time? We ought to use this to ferret out the aliens among us. Animation is far worse. Moreover, I have to watch a lengthier portion of an animated program before I can decide not to finish it (nor can I decide when to stop eating food I only marginally appreciate -- whether this is the animus or anima, I do not know: and yes, I know I should not have an anima, or an enema except in extenuating circumstances). Could a movie or a novel take a ten minute infodump and leave the audience entertained? Doubtful.

Animatrix Such is the case with Part 1 of The Second Renaissance of the forthcoming Animatrix DVD which picks up or fills in what it feels The Matrix world left out. Borrowing images from Pink Floyd's The Wall, Eastern religions, Vietnam, and WW II, it proceeds to amalgamate the story of the Jews, the Al Quaeda, and Iraq, belittling the groups as machines -- "In the beginning, there was man. And for a time, it was good.... And then man made machine, in his own likeness" -- belittling terrorist atrocities to two dead and belittling their respective ideologies (I doubt that any of the three parties would appreciate association with the others: an amalgam probably symptomatic of our semi-comatose Western mind). Misapplied analogies aside, that it even has an analogy worth digging for is exciting. This could become as interesting a polemic as any of the better polemical works by H.G. Wells, Ayn Rand or Robert A. Heinlein though I do hope they get to a main character fairly soon.

"Program" is the second of nine episodes (four of which are supposed to be free at the website link above). I'm afraid can't really describe what happens without ruining it (though it does a fine job of that on its own) except to say Crouching Tiger meets The Matrix in a mostly imitative with a few cool ingenious gimmicks like the early deaths. The loud sound effects yet quiet dialogue as well as the poor dialogue dubbing are all problematic throughout the series that will hopefully be corrected with the DVD. It also has the unfortunately high melodrama typical of plots written by those who concentrate their efforts on captivating visuals.

After these two episodes (~16 minutes), I don't think I could recommend the DVD except to those who can't get enough animation and/or The Matrix, and yet... I will definitely keep on the lookout for the next two free episodes before I make up my mind. Is this a symptom of eating or watching animation even when I know I'll be disappointed? Give me two more episodes to decide. I assume since you are reading this, you would too.

Scifi.com still has some animated originals that they've let mold over without even a direct link -- a few animations are well worth your time, a few if you're bored, and a few to skip. The first two are superior to the Animatrix, but the rest are in order of my appreciation:

Chi-Chian Chi-Chian is my personal favorite, it cannot be viewed solely as an animation. It only works as a rich multimedia background info to give you a greater understanding of this weird and wonderful world where the religious (of course) mind-controlled zombie warlord zealots, the Patahn Pahrr, who appear to be all male and bent on destruction of the peace loving cockroaches and their eggs in the catacombs beneath. While reading nine-point font gets tedious, the pain is worth it in the end. The Episode 4 background dump is an underutilized tool that I hope would have come into play in the episodes that the Sci-Fi Channel chose not to fund. The most interesting aspect that Chi-Chian's creator, Voltaire, may or may not have been aware of is the nearly universally shared male-female mythology that men are beasts or insects, and women are frail creatures needing protection (usually from men) -- in the form of armored suits. Either gender can be offended from this analogy if taken too far, and Chi-Chian only stands at the edge of offense where few will notice the implications (Pam Houston writes in her short "Symphony": "It has been the animals that have attracted me all along. Not the cowboys, but the horses that carried them. Not the hunters, but the caribou and the big horn. Not Jonathan, in his infinite loveliness, but the hippos, the kudu, and the big African cats.

"You fall in love with a man's animal spirit, Jonathan tells me, and then he speaks like a human being, you don't know who he is.". It's in our mythology as well: frog/princess, beauty/beast. Of all the animations on Sci-Fi Chi-Chian must be spared from obscurity: if only to turn it into a film for television. All right, so the Sci-Fi Channel let Farscape end a season from completion to start up a new cheaper frivolous series called Tremors that will quickly be forgotten among the other hallowed mounds of skiffy crap. It is an injustice, true. But at least Farscape had four seasons of episodes. It, at least, can take a chance against the cruelty of time. An obscure and incomplete 13 5-min episode series of darkly comic, Dune-epic potential tucked into a dusty corner of cyberspace is far greater an injustice. Will someone please fund the rest of this project? Or bring it up to a television/movie producer. If the show's writer needs help converting those info-dumps into drama, I'd love to help. It's a worthy cause. [Belatedly, I have found that they plan to make a film of Chi-Chian, after all. Also Chi-Chian began as a comic book series, hence the background infodumps. Let's hope the movie is better able to dramatize them.]

Maatkara Plot- and adventure-wise, Maatkara has heads above all the rest. Chi-Chian has so much unusual material to work with, but it needs to be careful in how it plays its cards. Maatkara could easily be lifted straight to the big screen or television series. While not as unusual as Chi-Chian, the world is deep and built richly enough without half the tedious info-dumping. Let's see if I can tell the plot as plainly as they convey it: Networq Khamit is what used to be the internet but became sentient along the line. A supernova has weakened its power against The United Front, who appear to be the good guys. High Councilor Uer is the top man for the Networq and is hoping to find something useful in the fight against The United Front behind the Seal of Enpu. Behind the Seal is another world that left Earth long ago. In this world Set, God of Chaos, is bent on the change of power to the Chosen One (don't balk -- you know you still love to read stories about the Chosen One). The God of Chaos sends out his Esfet spies and soldiers to destroy the Chosen One. Meanwhile, Senset, a female soldier from the South has come to protect the Chosen One as has another. But much confusion lies ahead on the choice. Now that someone has looked into producing Chi-Chian, what about Maatkara? It falls occasionally into the melodrama trap and uses many of the old genre elements, but mostly to good effect. Just cut out the melodrama and leave in the drama. Easy enough.

Eclipse Eclipse has interesting well-drawn graphics on an interesting background with cool transparent overlays but the character movements are rather stilted, which works better on a humorous show like South Park. It has some come interactive parts that I could never get to work fully. The story removes Thomas York from the past into the future to help fight the Others -- whoever they may be. Apparently this animation project cost too much for the animators to finish the project but the story does have some resolution. This is the last of the truly original animations. It might work well on television, too, but the background isn't quite as rich and the plot a little rustier in its hanging on to humans when it would be far simpler to just go back and kill the necessary ones, taking no prisoners.

Mean Planet From Mean Planet (or is it toward?) comes Zak on a boring mission to destroy Earth -- boring until Zak sees a hot Earth babe is daughter of the American general he is supposed to spy on or kill. The story keeps your attention with some originality and interesting gore humor in 50s/60s spoof-ball graphics (i.e. Superman's parents who want children and X-files searching for aliens), but what brings this story down is the unoriginality of the high school love triangle. Spoofing is fine, but you still have to come up with enough original ideas to keep the story feeling fresh. Still that paralleling of fathers and pop culture jokes were enough to keep the viewing a pleasure.

Freedomland NYC In Freedomland NYC (a comic not an animation) Jack Nation has to save his daughter from the evil clutches of an intergalactic, interdimensional Satan who tortures her into the conviction her dad is really Charles Manson, which turns her into a beast bent upon rampaging New York. The melodrama at times becomes laughable: "Jack doesn't hear the screams around him. He's oblivious to the horrors around him" while in the background his daughter beast taller than the buildings wrecks havoc. Freedomland NYC is far more original the "Mean Planet" but somehow its plot captivated me more. After this comic, however, viewing is at your own discretion.

Edward the Less Edward the Less is written by the hilarious MST3K guys, poking at J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings in the vein of Hitchhiker's Guide as if it were to take place today. The results are a little less than hilarious, however, as they are unable to give Edward any incentive to adventure (call it character or plot if you will) other than boredom with his people, which I suppose is no worse than a Hitchhiker tossed hither and thither around the galaxy with ideas picked up and discarded with equal aplomb. Some of the jokes are pretty decent with a modicum of familiarity with Lord of the Rings, but unlike Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the imagination is lacking: good gags like the Dark Riders of the Bus get carried on too long and don't hold up as well Adams' wit.

Barbarian Moron Barbarian Moron is, well... let the title speak for itself. It's silly entertainment, presumably spoofing He-Man, but the Super Heroes are less heroes than bad guys who have their own bad guys and who have mostly worthless super powers like exploding boobs, see-through torso, short stature, and body odor. Worse ways to spend your time are on the television, but the monotonous guitar riff does get, well... rather monotonous.

Roland 99 Roland 99. Pretty cool music. Non-stop video game plotting. Fair to sloppy animation. The lead voice is much dopier than the semi-shaved head might lead one to assume. The story voice-over is 3/4's cliché melodrama -- "I swam out of the darkness as if waking from a nightmare....it was all leading up to the big punch line and the joke was on me" -- occasionally redeemed by black comicly dense noir -- "scars and burns like a trench dog." The disjointed story of a mad scientist father who needs to be destroyed by his biobot daughter is rather thin as though the writers weren't sure of what to write about but had some cool nonsensical chase scenes in mind. The science is a bit off too: distilling a biofluid will make cyborgs suddenly mind-read? Jet propulsion boots that should give her the hot foot? You should probably spend the time clipping your trench dog's toenails.

Astro Chimp Astro Chimp lays claim to some "existential" purpose, but has no purpose. Calling itself "existential" when there wasn't a damn thing existential is like people wanting a word that sounds meaner than "prejudiced" so they grab "bigot" -- nice and harsh Anglo-Saxony sounding with all those consonants (though it's French). But it's the sound they're after, not the meaning. Here they wanted a word for a pointless, waste-of-your-time cartoon and picked "existential" -- a thesaurus might have confirmed their choice. All you can do is scratch your head and say, "Read Camus' The Stranger."

Copyright © 2003 Trent Walters

Trent Walters' work has appeared or will appear in The Distillery, Fantastical Visions, Full Unit Hookup, Futures, Glyph, Harpweaver, Nebo, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Speculon, Spires, Vacancy, The Zone and blah blah blah. He has interviewed for SFsite.com, Speculon and the Nebraska Center for Writers. More of his reviews can be found here. When he's not studying medicine, he can be seen coaching Notre Dame (formerly with the Minnesota Vikings as an assistant coach), or writing masterpieces of journalistic advertising, or making guest appearances in a novel by E. Lynn Harris. All other rumored Web appearances are lies.


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