This month, the Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia 2017 is being held in Tokyo and Yokohama. Among many other short live-action movies from around the world, it gave us our first look at several brand new CG works of animation, among them being a special guest entry, Ylion & Callysia.        

Ylion & Callysia tells the story of a young warrior struggling to reach a sacred land where he believes his sister is being held captive against her will. On the way, he must battle a giant monster and finally confront the mythical unicorn who watches over the land.

Being a short film clocking in at just shy of the seven-and-a-half minute mark, there is a limit to what I can reveal without spoiling it entirely. However, rest assured that renowned animation director Takashi Nakamura (AKIRA, A Tree of Palme) gives the work the sense of motion and design that he is famous for.

In particular, it is interesting to see the film in contrast to the other entries in the lineup of eleven short CG works of animation at the event.

In general, the possibilities of CG animation now make it possible to explore virtually any theme or topic, and create any world or character using a completely blank slate. That may sound like stating the obvious—or perhaps even like an affront to traditional, hand-drawn 2D animation—but one advantage to animating using computer graphics is that, these days, things can be as photo-realistic or as abstract as the creator chooses. The virtual camera can be placed anywhere in the artificial 3D space—able to be manipulated in any way, with every element being created from scratch.

Such a malleable tool can create a wide variety of expression, and thus, looking through the event program, we find a range of films delving in every genre across the spectrum including action fantasy (Ylion & Callysia), satire (Relaxatron 5000, Neverdie), science-fiction (Green Light), comedy (Gokurosama, Our Wonderful Nature: The Common Chameleon, ), avant-garde surrealism (Balcony), human drama (Way of Giants), heart-warming cuteness (Water Colors), and even a suspense thriller (Down to the Wire).

While all of these works had a unique visual style, some were clearly meant to invoke some sense of photorealism, while others used a variation of art styles and movements that mimic certain pre-established cinematic tropes. For example, Neverdie smartly used 1940s film noir imagery, which at times is darkly gothic, to tell a story about death. On the other hand, Way of Giants used a clever blend of angular, 2D-like designs with a purposefully limited frame rate to invoke a certain emotion in the viewer.

So how does Ylion & Callysia stand out in this selection, which runs the gamut for visual expression? The key is in what it is trying to invoke. If we compare it to the other entry from Japan, Water Colors, we can see a completely different approach. Yet both still maintain some elements of the lineage of “Japanese anime.” Still shots do not convey this very well; this is seen in particular in the ways the characters move, and the composition of the shots. Water Colors uses cute and wobbly characters which move around the screen in unique ways. Their overall “tension-and-release” style of motion—jumping and stopping in mid-air for a pose, for example—calls back some of the techniques used in traditional cel animation from Japan.

Conversely, the look of Ylion & Callysia is an attempt to replicate the hand-drawn familiarity of more orthodox “anime.” In this case, the staff appear to be doing this by controlling the frame-rate—sometimes it is high, sometimes it is low. Variations in the frame rate depend on the nature of each scene. Originally, low frame rates were employed by the pioneers of TV anime in the 1960s as a cost-cutting measure. This visual grammar then evolved into a staple of Japanese animation, with still shots or scrolling layers and such being used to convey certain emotions. Now that we have CG as a new tool to mimic the appearance of 2D, the idea of controlling the frame rate is not really so necessary as a cost-cutting technique anymore because in-between frames would no longer be drawn by hand. Yet, it may still remain nonetheless as an anime tradition: This may give us hints as to the direction anime may go in toward the future.

Image source: ショートショートフィルムフェスティバル‏ on Twitter; ©DWANGO Co., Ltd.

Ylion & Callysia will be screened again during the Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia 2017 in Yokohama on June 14 and 23. Details are here. Those in Scotland can catch a screening of it as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2017, on June 27. Details are here.

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