Wednesday, 17 August 2011

トワイライトQ / Twilight Q

What a peculiar little piece of animation the Twilight Q OVA episodes are. I don’t know exactly when or where I got hold of these 1986 episodes, but it was at least two years ago. Very mysterious, I’m sure you’ll agree. With the title drawing immediate comparisons to The Twilight Zone, the episodes also revolve around mysterious supernatural events, and are rather unimpressively realised and unveiled. The biggest mystery about these two half-hour pieces are why they both fall under the same title at all – the only thing they share is the element of empty mysteriousness masquerading as something clever and sophisticated, and the concept of things slipping in time in ways that cannot be explained. Otherwise, they are extremely different, in art style, setting, execution, humour and characterisation – they are even animated by two entirely different studios – the first by Ajia-Do Animation Works, and the other by Studio Deen, back when the only series that had distinguished them were the second half of Urusei Yatsura and Maison Ikkoku.

Possibly the reason I originally thought to check out the OVAs was that the second was directed by Oshii Mamoru, famous for his Ghost in the Shell work, Patlabor and more recently Sky Crawlers. If anything, though, the second episode was the less engaging and intelligent one, though it was the one that took more risks, and more experimentation might have made Twilight Q truly memorable rather than a bit of ephemera connected to some big names.

The first episode revolves around a camera found by two girls on a beach. A picture of one of the girls is on the film, with a boy she has never met, and it soon transpires that the camera is still in a pre-production phase and ought not to exist yet. As the plot thickens, the camera ends up disappearing in a disappointingly lame scene, and ultimately it becomes clear there is no explanation beyond magical time warps. However, the mini-episode is at least engaging and brisk, and the inevitable final scenes give a sense of closure, at least in the story’s own terms. The art is also rather nice, extremely 80s in design but at least showing why the way characters were drawn in the 80s came about, still looking cute and appealing today – where so many 80s designs look hideous.

The second episode only really has three significant character designs – or two, depending on how you look at it – and they are meant to be comedic rather than pretty. One is a toddler drawn in more or less SD style, with a huge head about the same size as the rest of her body, enhanced by a big helmet. She lives wearing only the helmet and a t-shirt with her father, a filthy man who looks like a clichéd anime burglar or some such, and does nothing all day. Meanwhile, a private investigator is hired to look into the strange father-daughter pair from the room next door, and begins to suspect the man is also a private eye. Or perhaps one or the other doesn’t exist, or indeed, none of it does, but it is all a plot made up by a novelist to give him an escape from his own stifling life. Multiple levels of reality are toyed with, coupled with some very heavy-handed imagery featuring parallels between a koi carp, the child and aeroplanes that have been disappearing. It is full of good ideas, and certainly the multiple levels of reality make for a more engaging mystery than magically-appearing cameras from the future, but ultimately there is the same hollowness at the core, and the characters and setting are far less accessible and appealing than in the first segment, making this one by far the duller one.

I feel glad to have seen what seems a fairly significant piece of anime history, for its length, but I can’t say I hold Twilight Q in high esteem, or would care much for a repeat viewing.

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