Jun 2, 2016
Someplace, lies in the recess of collective psyche a piece of Austrian Switzerland, a craggy network of mounts and valleys of which the Liechtenstein represents most vividly its expression. Indeed, disheveled minds would be prompt to populate the Schloss Vaduz's walls with the figure of doctor Victor Frankenstein. The mythopoeic representation of a Swiss Prometheus trying to vainquish Death can only excite reveries amidst the somewhat monotonous landscape of the Alps. However, one has to wonder what led Toei animation to produce a TV Special around the Monster of Frankenstein by mid 1981. Up to this year, Mary Shelley's myth had been seriously dented by
a vague of terribly executed movies commissioned by the decaying studios of the Hammer. Although the powerful performance of Boris Karloff had shouldered this bumbling grind for a while, beholder's lassitude quickly reared its ugly head. Does this animated movie turn it round and update the franchise? Or does it act as classicist gateway to the novel? Is it successful at either of these aims? Before replying these questions, let us venture into an overview of the title at hand.
In a daring narrative stance, "Kyoufu Densetsu Kaiki! Frankenstein" opens to the iconic sequence of the monster's revival. Of course, the doctor is firmly convinced of the righteousness of his scientific approach. Not so much for Zuckel, his assistant, who fears the experiment's outcome. What is the forceful is how the presented protagonists look so different from the rest of the length. Victor Frankenstein is a stern man, his assistant acts as the removed voice of the reason whereas the monster looks genuinely baleful. After the disposal of the threat, the ensuing ellipsis resets characterization. It is as if the exposition and its following were directed by different persons. For instance, the gothic background art of the beginning leaves place to a more serene setting reminiscent of a series like "Heidi, girl of the Alps". The focus on Emily, the doctor's daughter, further embodies this tonal shift. This esthetic change, albeit harmed by an off-character Zuckel, is an interesting choice to catch viewership off guard. Nevertheless, it fails to deliver as the first half of the story unfolds in an unsatisfactory way. The violent crimes, arisen to trouble spectator's lethargy, serve more to foreshadow Zuckel's shenanigans than the reappearance of the monster. It is highly detrimental to the atmosphere as the spectator is more keen on guessing Franken's creeping presence than some mundane blackmail. Thankfully, after the resolution of this tedious intrigue Franken develops into what is this TV special highlight. Poignant as a self loathing creature, tugged between anger and disarray, he delivers some powerfully moving scenes. It is unfortunately spoiled by the contrived twists of fate, turning an already disappointing tale into an inconsistent misery fest. These will not be revealed to you, reader, to keep your viewing experience intact in case you decide to still give the movie a try. Be only advised that the erratic quality of the storyline must be approached carefully.
We have seen together most of the characters. Little more emphasis ought to be put on inspector Belbo and the grandfather. The former, a hilarious lookalike of the inspector Kojak, serves sadly little purpose to the story other than to show that police exists and does decent work. As for the grandfather, his impaired sight, could have made for plot worthy misunderstandings. It is not exploited so that elder figure ends to take on the shirt of the stereotypical wise blind.
In terms of production value, this movie looks like a slightly darker episode of "Heidi" in tone. There is nothing to write home about it. Same applies for the standard drama soundtrack delivered by Haneda Kentarou. I do not know if it is specific to the western versions, but the highly anticlimatic music as Franken approaches the grandfather's shack sabotages what could have been another memorable scene. If Emily sings and her grandfather plays the guitar, why not letting us listen it instead?
All in all, it is easy to tell why "Kyoufu Densetsu Kaiki! Frankenstein" has been so obscure. It does nothing noteworthy to dust the franchise off. If you need an instance of a successful production with the updated concept look no further than Robert K. Weiss' "Weird Science". As for Japanese animation, "Kyoufu Densetsu Kaiki! Frankenstein" remains an unique case. Toei despised stylistic risks in favor of a more accurate approach as any self-respecting entry from the World Masterpiece Theater. This effort, not completely laying to waste, is commendable. However, its lack of mastery in doing so signs its ultimate demise. Actually, it fails to touch significantly an audience niche because of the introduction of sappy scenes in discordance with far too dark thematics. Too carefully calibrated to win over the deviant cult who jeered at Dracula eating a Whopper in "Yami no Teio: Kyuuketsuki Dracula" and not polished enough to compel the respect of purists, the Frankenstein myth lays dormant in the limbo of its former luster. In a way, this production is not unlike its eponymous character, a stitched up attempt to channel disparate elements back to life... Praise be unto Sacred Geometry~
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This section is dedicated to content indication in order to inform audience in a practical way. On the next paragraph, the buzzwords offer hints about the title's strong suits and drawbacks.
Violence meter: Graphically, this appears to be a family friendly production. Yet, the grimness of certain scenes makes this innapropriate for most children. A slain dog and a decapitated horse head among other things should dissuade anyone to screen it to younger audience. Reserve it for the +13.
xXx meter: Among the jarring elements of this TV special, ecchi fanservice does not stick out like a sore thumb. Blessed be to retro animation!
Fishing scene(s): So, Emily teaches Franken to make bread but not even fish in the nearby river? What a letdown.
+ A serious literature classic adaptation
+ An interesting time capsule
+ Good character development when it comes to the anti-hero
+ Undeniable dramatic intensity in certain scenes
+ Some potential in terms of atmosphere
- Lack of visibility
- Lack of consistence
- Erratic pace in storytelling
- Some contrived drama for the sake of tragedy
- Dated art (even for the era)
What did you think of this review?