"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 animated works. First, the fact that he is essentially an ilustrator more than an animator is clear from the outset. He likes to make contemplative pieces, and his narrative is more guided to build a depiction than to tell us a story. For him, to depict his work is not as important as the representation itself. And second, he LOVES surrealism. A Piece of Phantasmagoria in particular is Tamura's
ode to surrealism. Walking buildings, giant clocks, cafés shaped as kettles or bakeryhouses made of bun... everything you can imagine, you can find it in the world of Phantasmagoria. Join me while I explore it.
/*Ah, and don't worry about spoilers. Even if I reveal some details, there is no plot as such after all.*/
A Piece of Phantasmagoria is a world-driven animation series. Having said that, its world building is entirely focused on representation. You barely know something about this world as such, that's not what this series tries to do. Phantasmagoria wants you to contemplate and feel all its beauty, and HELL it is gorgeus and delightful. Let's use the fourth short as an 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 south 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 beautiful, doesn't it? Now, note that that was just what happens in one single short, andd 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 I can respect all the beauty Tamura putted in his world.
Now, let's focus on the characters and narrative for a bit. There isn't a protagonist unless you think of the world as one. Every short has its own protagonist, and although you can find a particular old bearded man occupying this role in more than one short, he's just a device to showing us the world, just like all the characters. Yes, all the characters do something, or something happens to them or so, but that's just an excuse. I am a fervant supporter of the idea that the characters are the most important thing in any kind of story, so this is a problem I can't overlook. Yeah, I got the point, this series is composed of little tales so the characters doesn't need to be explored or developed, but that doesn't change the fact that they're simple devices in this anime, and that's always a very bad thing no matter what. This leads to how the narrative of this series is used. Every episode is a different story in the same world, so there isn't a main 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 the only reason I can find for the constant change of narratives is to play with the mood. When the narration is just written, the music is responsible to keep the tone. When the point of view is third-person omniscient, you can focus more on what's happening. When the point of view is first person and the time past, you can focus more on the character being there. This changes in the narration are by no means perfect, there is quite some meandering, but it satisfies the commitment the majority of times.
About the story... I can't tell much about the first one since, like I said before, there is not plot. The focus is the world, and even if I predominantly enjoyed the depicting, there's no effort in making the little tales plausible or outstanding. They're flavor, just like the characters. Some tales are better than others, but as a whole I find them average at best if you exclude the world representation.
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 plain weak tecnically, 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 more than once. As a whole, the animation work reduce a lot of the value this section, but I still find it above average.
You can expect an interesting soundtrack from a show like this, and that's exactly what Phantasmagoria delivers. The music score is in my opinion really good. As simplistic as it is, the music knows how to transmit the mood. 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. Characters and story 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. I wouldn't recommend this series to everybody, but I think it deserves some respect and it is overall above average.