"While traveling the realm of dreams, I found a small planet, called Phantasmagoria. This has been a story from that planet".
There is two things that can be said about Shigeru Tamura when it comes to his few animated works. First, the fact that he is an ilustrator is clear from the outset. He likes to make contemplative pieces, and his narrative is more guided to build a depiction than to tell a story. For him, the representation itself is more important than the "substance", so to speak. And second, he definitely LOVES surrealism. A Piece of Phantasmagoria in particular is Tamura's ode to it. Walking
buildings, giant clocks, cafés shaped as kettles or bakeryhouses made of bun... everything you can imagine, you can find it here, in Phantasmagoria. Join me while I explore it.
A Piece of Phantasmagoria is a world-driven animation series. That being said, its world building is entirely focused on representation. You barely know something about the world that it's showing you, because that's not what this piece tries to do. Phantasmagoria wants you to contemplate and feel all its beauty, and HELL it is gorgeus and delightful. But don't take this affirmation as granted. Let's use the fourth short as a brief example:
Christmas is getting closer and snowmen are preparing to help Santa Claus. He has travelled all over the world and, after a delivery, he talks to a snowman about some of the paradises of the southern country. A region where everything is made of squares, an island where dinosaurs born of trees or a place where robots chisel rainbow diamonds. The snowman was surprised, so he decides to go see it for himself. What he see during his journey is just as beautiful as he thought it would be. A city made of bun, a planetary projecting the stars or a maze-city... Sadly, earlier than later he realizes that the south is too hot for a snowman and that he misses his hometown. But everything is alright, because Phantasmagoria has a place for everybody.
Sounds nice, doesn't it? Now, note that that was just what happens in one single short, and there are fifteen of them... So, is it excused that the series doesn't have a proper world building beyond some basic notions? No, it is not; but for all intents and purposes, it was impossible for me to not appreciate all those delightful panoramas Phantasmagoria is filled with.
But what's a world without its inhabitants?
Let's focus on the characters and narrative for a bit. There isn't a protagonist in Phantasmagoria, unless you think of the world as one. Every short has its own point of view, and although you can find a particular old bearded man occupying the protagonic role in more than one short, he's just a "device" to showing us the surroundings (and, sometimes, a little moral), just like everyone else. Yes, all the characters do something, or something happens to them, but that's just a plain excuse. I am a fervant supporter of the idea that characters are the most important thing in any kind of story, so this is a problem I can't overlook. I got the point, this series is composed of little tales so the characters don't need to be explored or developed, but that doesn't change the fact that they're too much of nothing in this anime, and that's always a bad thing no matter what... and this leads to how the narrative is used. Every episode is a different story in the same world, so there isn't a plot. I can't even say it's episodic since the only relation between shorts is the world. A interesting thing is how the type of narrator changes constantly. The point of view is sometimes first-person and other times third-person. Sometimes the narrator will use direct speech, other time they will use indirect speech. Sometimes there will be no narration at all. Sometimes you will hear the narration, some other times you will read it. You can say that all of this is useless, and you are somehow right, but as I see it, it works to play with the mood of the tale, the whole idea of it and the pacing. When the narration is just written, the music is responsible to keep the tone. We revisit some of the lands more than once throughout the journey, but we end up learning different things more often than not. When the point of view is third-person omniscient, you can focus more on what's happening around. When the point of view is first person and the time past, you can focus more on the character being there. This changes are by no means perfect, it stops being as captivating after a while just by the sole effect of repetition, but it satisfies the commitment the majority of times.
About the stories... well, there isn't much to say again. They all are kid-friendly tales, about people wondering around or extraordinary things happening, and whilst I predominantly enjoyed the depicting, there's no effort in making any story outstanding. They're flavor, just like the characters. Some tales are better than others, but as a whole and given the purpose of the show, I find them average at best.
So, how does this world looks? How are the visuals? Well... Your response to them depends on what you were expecting. The animation and drawing are pretty weak tecnically speaking, but for the budgets this series had, I am willing to forgive this. The artwork though, although minimal and also cheap, is very diverse. If you have read the review you know that by now. The backgrounds are the epitome of surrealism, the use of colors varied and all the thing itself is minimalist, but in a good way. Character figures are just as varied, buuuuut the fact that the drawing and animation are so limited made them look ugly frequently. As a whole, the unlucky limited animation reduce a lot of the visual value, but I still find it completely worth.
You can expect an interesting soundtrack from a show like this, and that's exactly what Phantasmagoria delivers. The music score is really good. As simplistic as it is, the music knows how to transmit a feeling. Happy, relaxing, extravagant... it know what to do and when to do it too. I don't know if I would call the soundtrack "memorable", but I guarantee you will feel good while watching the series, and probably after finishing it. The voice acting is dull intentionally. I get they made it like that to give the series an "undergound" feeling but that doesn't change this might make the experience boring for a lot of people.
A Piece of Phantasmagoria has a lot of flaws. They didn't put any effort to a lot of things. The characters and stories are just devices —often uninteresting—, the animation is heavily limited and there's no exploration of anything more than the world. But out of all, the use narrative was interesting, the world Tamura created was beautiful and the art and sound are remarkable even with the low budgets this should have had. It's not something I would recommend often, but I think it deserves some respect and it is overall above average.