Image Copyright: © Beyond C.／文化庁 あにめたまご2017
This past weekend, we saw the Red Ash anime as part of Anime Tamago 2017. And while it may not be Mega Man Legends, it certainly feels like it is.
Back in 2013, Kenji Inafune, one of the creators of iconic video game Mega Man announced that he was Kickstarting a successor to the series in the form of Mighty No. 9. Then in 2015, his studio attempted to kickstart a second game, Red Ash: The Indelible Legend along with accompanying anime Red Ash -Magicicada-. And as Mighty No. 9 would be inspired by Mega Man, Red Ash would be inspired by spin-off series Mega Man Legends.
Now while Red Ash: The Indelible Legend didn’t reach its kickstarter goals, it found new sources of income through Chinese company Fuze. The the successfully kickstarted anime (now retitled Red Ash -Gearworld-) became apart of the Young Animator Training Project.
[Update 3/16: Originally this article stated that neither the game nor anime kickstarters reached their goal. This was a mistake and has been corrected.]
The Young Animator Training Project is put on each year by the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs and funds several 30 minute anime short-films in order to help train the next generation of the anime industry. In the past, some of these films have acted as pilots for full length TV series–e.g., Death Parade and Little Witch Academia. All this culminates in the film festival Anime Tamago.
Red Ash is set in a world where few humans survive. Some, the “pure humans” live in luxury in a giant skyscraper. The rest live in slums and infected by nanomachines.
These nanomachines are a double edged sword. On one hand, they grant super-powers like invisibility or pyrokinesis. On the other, they have a massive failure rate. Or to put it another way, every time you use your powers, there’s a very real chance of death.
Thus, most people wear a suppressor to stop them from using their powers. But the fact of the matter is that the nanomachines are basically a death sentence. However, there is hope–if a small one. Those who can make enough money can undergo an operation to have the nanomachines removed, becoming a “pure human” in the process and leaving the slums behind.
Of course, this is an all but impossible dream, but that doesn’t stop scores of people from becoming hunters–traveling to parallel worlds hunting for elusive creatures to sell.
The plot follows two such hunters: Beck and Tiger. As they head to the titular “Gearworld” to do some hunting, they find a stowaway in their dilapidated mobile home–the girl Call. Despite her sudden, unwelcome appearance, Call is invited to join the group but it soon becomes apparent that she may be more trouble than she’s worth as a group of thugs will stop at nothing to capture or kill her.
Thanks to this setup, we learn a bit about each of the lead characters. Tiger is the leader and a man suffering from the nanomachine-caused death of his and Beck’s former companion Lucy. Thus he is eager to add a new member to the group and protect her–which he was unable to do with his friend.
Beck, on the other hand, is much more cutthroat. His only goal is to make enough money to leave his current life behind. He has seen through Lucy’s death that his own time–and those of his loved ones–is coming sooner rather than later.
Call is simply shrouded in mystery. Seemingly happy-go-lucky, she is clearly on the run from dangerous people and is not above getting others caught up in her mess. However, the bond she forms with Beck and Tiger, while new, is a heartfelt one–telling us a bit more about what kind of person she is behind her happy facade.
And she’s not the only one who values her new friends as Beck is willing to put his life on the line and use his power–the titular “Red Ash”–to protect her.
Given Beck’s lineage–be that Mighty no. 9 or Mega Man–you might expect his arm to turn into a gun. However, the Red Ash power allows Beck to turn into a cloud of ash and reform somewhere else. This means he can become incorporeal in a fight and seemingly teleport at will. As far as powers go, it is exceedingly strong and visually, it is the highlight of the film.
While a 3D anime, it isn’t trying to look like a 2D one–nor is it trying to look like ultra-realistic 3D anime. Instead it has a unique style that perfectly fits the dirty, rundown world of the anime.
It is in the mixture of the visuals, character designs, and the world that Red Ash feels the most like Mega Man Legends. The group hunts through strange ruins they don’t fully understand; their main mode of transportation is also their home; and they keep running into a group of thugs who is up to no good–but are less dangerous than they would at first appear. Moreover, it’s a great little adventure is is one that balances both fun and danger perfectly.
So while tone, world, and animation are a spot on, the anime does suffer from one major problem. As Red Ash is set in a world vastly different from our own, there is a lot of world-building that needs to be done in order for the viewer to follow along. The best way of giving this information is to weave it naturally into the plot through character dialogue and visual storytelling. A bad way to do this is to have the characters talk about things they should already know in clunky exposition.
But the worst way, the Red Ash way, is a constant stream of footnotes in yellow text at the bottom of the screen explaining each character and proper noun that appears over the course of the film. To call this “distracting” is an understatement–especially given the fact that there is always something interesting happening on screen that you miss out on by reading the footnotes. Worse yet, some of the footnotes don’t even have anything to do with the overall story–I don’t need the specifics of a coffee maker explained to me, for example. It all just serves to pull you out of the world.
However, outside of the unnecessary footnotes, Red Ash -Gearworld- is a solid little anime. Clearly meant as the start of something bigger, it is an introduction to the world and characters that makes me long to see more. And with a multiverse of infinite possibilities for Tiger, Beck, and Call to explore, there’s no end to the adventures the group could have.
Red Ash -Gearworld- was released in Japanese theaters as part of Anime Tamago 2017 on March 11, 2017. There is currently no word on a Western release.