Aqualoid was a prosperous planet, but an attack from a mysterious life force, the Inorganics, transforms it into a post-apocalyptic shell of its former self. When Nam finds a mysterious sword, he is suddenly the object of a planet-wide chase. With the Inorganics closing in, will Nam and his friends discover the secret of the sword and save their world? Or will they destroy Aqualoid in favor of a new Birth?
Some two decades before Hiroyuki Imaishi made his directorial debut with the hyper-sexualized, over-stylized, action-packed short film OVA Dead Leaves—a defining work that collected nearly all of the stylistic signatures that would eventually establish him as one of the industry’s foremost young directors—was Birth (released overseas with the subtitle A Legend of Two Worlds). Years ahead of its time and ridiculously well-animated for its age, Birth stands as testament to the post-Macross era of the anime industry; only in that golden age of abundance could so much effort and money be poured into such a ludicrous title. And I mean this with
all the heartfelt sincerity and exuberance I possess. This OVA is, quite simply, incredibly absurd. And awesome.
To bite any potential misunderstandings in the bud, I’d like to first make it clear that there is very little by way of plot in this production. A great deal of it seems to be little more than a small but necessary excuse to showcase some incredible and at times mind-bending technical feats of animation and action presentation. This isn’t, however, an inherently bad thing. In fact, the extent to which Birth exercises its action-packed machismo and deliciously fluid eye candy more than makes up for the fact that the film holds absolutely no substance on a narrative level. The characters are defined more or less by their first appearances, and the narrative conflict is focused mostly on defeating mechanical monsters, falling debris, or motorcycle bandits. Things are simple and make no attempt at profundity, maintaining an artistic honesty that’s rather admirable.
That said, the absurd nature of the narrative serves only to highlight the surreal action sequences amidst the surreal settings. It isn’t a story that is intended to make any sense beyond the capacity of its superficial plot. Nonsense, explosions, smoke trails, chases, and falling debris are what comprise Birth from nearly start to finish.
So that brings up the question of what all of this looks like. Stylistically, it’s all rather cartoonish. The characters are ill-defined to the point that it’s difficult to tell when (or even IF) they go off-model amidst commotion. Backgrounds are pale, flat, uninteresting, manipulated images, or blurry textures—something helped no doubt by the mostly static setting. “Antagonists” are all nigh-identical mechanical monstrosities whose only purposes are to provide more exciting chase sequences or to generate a greater amount of falling debris.
But none of this matters in the face of one rather important aspect: the hitherto unparalleled use of animated dynamic cameras and complex tracking shots, influenced undoubtedly by Ichigo Itano’s animation work on the SDF-Macross series. But where the “Itano Circus”, as his technique has come to be called, was used at most three or four times every episode, Birth employs dynamic tracking shots for what practically amounts to a majority of its 85 minute runtime. Simply put, the action never stops moving. Machines burst out of the ground and the camera spirals up their torsos; motorcycles zoom through caverns and the camera follows, twists, and zooms around them like a mosquito; people get into fist fights and the camera jumps back and forth between close-ups of their faces, fists, and body movements all in the same take.
This isn’t even a common practice in modern-day animation works, never mind a twenty-some year old OVA that dwells in relative obscurity. This hyperkinetic depiction of action—if nothing else—establishes Birth as a title worthy of attention especially by modern fans already acquainted with modern-day Gainax titles from the likes of Imaishi.
All of this drooling over animation quality aside, it’s also important to note that although a visual feast, the animation still isn’t even close to ‘perfect’. Lips have a tendency to flap when characters aren’t talking, and sometimes characters talk without flapping their lips. Frames jump around a little, but it’s now worse than any other moderately-budged work from the time period. As should be expected, objects and textures become less detailed as the dynamic cameras kick into play, every once in awhile reducing objects to mere polygons (although this extreme a transformation only occurs in a small handful of scenes). Most of these things are standard fare for a mid-80s cartoon, so there’s really nothing of detriment to be found in this department.
All in all, this remarkably solid, shallow, and enjoyable title has relished in the dustbins for a bit too long. Seeing as how recent Gainax titles and more experimental Production IG, Studio 4C, and Madhouse works have been dwelling on the hyperkinetic and the absurd more and more, Birth no doubt deserves some recognition of a title that—although not doing anything new per se—certainly did hyper-stylized action extraordinarily well.
Referenced and revered by such modern animators as Seiya Numata (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roNIB248mco) and Hiroyuki Imaishi (Dead Leaves, Gurren Lagann, Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt), Birth is considered by some to be master animator Yoshinori Kanada's magnum opus. This might initially come off as a little weird... considering it was directed by the relatively unknown Shinya Sadamitsu. Mere minutes in, however, the reason for this becomes apparent: Birth is, quite unashamedly, a total animators' OVA. With Kanada (creator of his very own unique, frantic and cartoony animation style back in the 70s that still influences many young animators to this day) at the helm, the animators are
the real stars that make this silly little OVA work.
I guess it's time to point out once and for all that THIS IS NOT A MOVIE YOU SHOULD WATCH FOR THE STORY AND WRITING. The script has a few funny lines from the characters, and Bao's introduction is an enjoyable little skit, but the visuals are clearly the main event here. If you find the idea of watching a cartoon to appreciate its visual creativity alone unappealing, trust me; this is not your cup of tea by any means. Assuming you're into fast-paced, cartoony animation and can get past the not-obscenely-high-budget production which results in a somewhat messy, unpolished look during a handful of less important scenes, this OVA is a great visual treat with a lot of nonsensical and silly yet brilliantly joyful action. At its best it's like looking at the drawings of a ten year old kid who's grown up on a steady stream of sugar, Looney Tunes and 70s anime, only the kid is actually a very skilled animator.
Some of my gripes would have to be the sound direction (sometimes a sound will come too early and a characters' mouth will start moving BEFORE the lines come out which can be pretty grating) and the fact that the second half of the movie honestly drags for a bit too long. There are some talky bits where the art & animation quality take a serious hit which the movie really could have done without, and most of these are during the final chase scene (which, by the way, could have used a slightly better choice for a 'final boss' enemy). Lastly, despite its overall cartoony, Kanada-style look, this is still an 80s anime made by 80s animators and occasionally some odd glimpses of a more standard, less cartoony anime style will randomly pop up in the middle of otherwise loose and undetailed scenes and you will wonder if you've just accidentally switched channels to an episode of a different show.
But these are all minor gripes with a film that generally succeeds at being precisely what it intends to be: a fun, visually creative ride. All in all, this is an OVA you should definitely watch if you enjoy fast paced cartoony action and can deal with some minor yet undeniable flaws. It's not for everyone, and it certainly shows its age, but I feel that even in this day and age it's a very impressive and enjoyable example of auteur animation. A more cynical viewer might expect something so old and rough around the edges to come off as a decrepit relic of the past compared to the modern works that its influence led to... but despite all odds, it still manages to give the young whippersnappers a run for their money and stands as not merely an interesting old-school example of Kanada-style animation, but also as a genuinely enjoyable experience.
Art: Terrible. Everything is crudely drawn as if by a 5 year old, character designs are simple and ugly. Whole thing just screams ugly.
Animation: Lots of stuff hovering over the ground, movements look choppy, frames are inconsistent.
Choreography: Movements look completely weird and trippy. Example: motorcycle driving up the stairs nearly 1 hour into the movie. Just watch it. Doesn't look realistic at all, as in consecutive frames don't even match each other. Totally off.
Conclusion: This was a waste of time. I don't recommend this movie to anyone.
In the late 80’s, at the peak of the Japanese bubble economy, money was being thrown around almost arbitrarily, and as a result a large amount of incredible looking OVA’s were being funded, regardless of whether they were any good or had the potential to sell. This, besides cementing the time period as the most visually interesting time period in anime history, would be the downfall of the anime industry and directly lead into the sluggish(though certainly not irredeemable) early 90’s. The mid 80’s however were slightly different. Yes, a large amount of OVA’s were flooding the market, but most of them were porn. And
if they were not they were often summary films, side story or sequel episodes to tv anime or short 24 minute films. Just before, thanks to porn, the OVA market exploded, however, a small handfull of OVA’s largely defined what OVA’s in the future could and would look like. Among these were Dallos, which was a high budget space drama, several short films like Rain Boy, directed by Osamu Tezuka, several porn OVA’s like lolita anime and cream lemon, which were more noteworthy for their out there visuals, than for their sex scenes, and, most interestingly in my opinion, Birth, the first feature length direct to video Japanese animated film.
Birth wasn’t a very big succes, neither in Japan, nor in the west(though I heard it got two dubs for whatever reason), and this was for a good reason: it wasn’t very good. It wasn’t very uncommon in the 80’s for an OVA to have amazing visuals, but to be terribly written and Birth is a perfect example of that. Immediately upon starting the film you are greeted by boring shots of space, followed by boring landscapes of some boring desert planet. The first minute of the film seems deadset on convincing you the setting is not interesting in the slightest and you’re immediately put off. After this you’re somewhat pulled back into the film by this weird yellow goo ball eating a plant and being chased by another, bigger goo ball, this one being blue and holding a triton. The high usage of background animation is immediately striking and there is this awesome shot of the blue goo ball running into a rock and the rock breaking into a million pieces. Next the yellow goo ball gets saved by a girl in a weird outfit and pacing falls flat again, and so does the films attempt at comedy, as this boring scene is mostly meant to be comedic. This is then again followed by some awesome shots of the girl flying around accompanied by some mind blowing background animation, just before the pacing comes to a halt again. The film for it’s entire run keeps switching between these awesome traveling and destruction shots, with fantastic animation, and more boring moments, where the completely uninteresting plot is being developed or equally uninteresting characters take the spotlight. The biggest problem, however, is that the boring moments become longer and longer throughout the film and the really cool looking moments don’t.
The most common complaint given againts Birth, is that the plot is hard to follow. Though I don’t disagree with this complaint, I personally don’t really think that’s too important. This is clearly the type of film that is just trying to be fun and I don’t think that a good plot is necessary to achieve this. The problem, however, is that the film is almost never fun. It’s almost always boring. Though a good plot could probably have helped, I don’t think it’s the main reason for why so much of the film is boring. Rather, I think the characters are the main issue. The main character is a hot girl and exists solely for the purpose of being the hot girl you can put on the cover art for the video tape. She’s completely clichéd and generic. Besides her there is the guy who swings a sword, some old space boy who is just a cliché old man who likes hot girls and some other guy who works with him in his space ship. Never in the entire story do these characters bounce off of eachother in a funny or endearing manner and never do these characters do anything interesting or do they have their emotions explored. Anytime the films focusses on these characters and they’re not chasing or being chased the film falls completely flat.
The actual plot of the film focusses on MC girl being chased by Inorganics, weird green aliens that are implied to be wiping out all organic life in the universe, but are more portrayed as generic, dumb punks. Their only purpose is to ensue chase scenes(and god bless them) and fighting scenes. That brings me to the MC boy who finds some cool sword that the Inorganics are trying to find and that makes him really powerfull. He takes the Inorganics down in some laughably poorly choreographed fight scenes, in one of which there is a small cut away in the middel of the boy’s attack inbetween which the boy and the big Inorganic he fights are suddenly in different positions and the boy cuts the beast in a way that he couldn’t possible have without the cut. It’s extremely disappointing that this film, which has some stellar animation, did not manage to have stellar fights scenes. The plot continues with all the characters going to some big city and fighting some big organics and it’s all terribly unexciting.
I’ve been implying that the only good aspect of the film is the animation, and this is not entirely true. I also love the score, which is filled with tons of cool 80’s beats and really helps with giving the film that cool 80 aesthetic, which so many people nowadays seem to crave and have nostalgia for. Sadly the other aspect of the sound, the sound design is fairly lacking and it’s not uncommon for a ton of stuff to be happening on screen whilst only half of it is being heard and as a result these scenes feel like you’re watching something that is so old it has become unwatchable(which is not something I often feel, as someone who watches quite a bit of old anime). It doesn’t help either that these types of scenes are generally already the boring ones and take you completely out of the film.
Ultimately I can’t say I regret watching this film, as it did give me some nice eye candy, but it’s certainly not good. I only recommend this film if you’re really into old 80’s action films and you can appreaciate some good background animation. Otherwise I recommend you go watch something else. For example, go check out the film Magnetic Rose, a must watch film and the first of three shorters films that make up Memories. Have a good time!