I like short films. It was Robot Carnival, a compilation of shorts all about, well, robots, that was my first taste of anime beyond Robotech. I'm a big fan of Memories, Neo-Toyko, and The Animatrix as well. I think perhaps it's because in the short format, directors feel freer to experiment and explore. And if one doesn't hit that tingly spot in your spine, not a big loss. Small investment but big rewards -- I like those odds. And sometimes, you'll get a glimpse of future glories in a short film. Pixar may have created several of the best animated features of all time, but you can't appreciate their versitility and creativity until you've seen some of the "featurettes" where they tested new ideas and designs.
Noiseman is a 15-minute film (including the credits) that, on its own, has a huge amount of kenetic energy, so much so that it blazes through the fact that, if there is a real plot, it's virtually unintelligible on first viewing. Back when it was released in 1997, I'd never heard of Studio 4°C, or at least I didn't recognize their work. But looking back after seeing their sumptuous (if not always coherent) work on display in 2006's Tekkon Kinkreet, you can see the gears in motion ten years earlier.
As the short opens, a crazed genius -- Dr. Franken, a nod both to Mary Shelley and to a very similar character in Robot Carnival based on her work -- creates a creature that looks like a living triangle. Said triangle soon grows to immense proportions as the good doctor completely loses control. Head forward in time, and kids wearing garish fashions are whizzing about on what appear to be giant rocks one would expect were chiseled directly out of a mountain somewhere. Mr. Triangle, who is now Noiseman, apparently is stealing sound. With another of his creator's inventions, he can turn sound into crystals. But what good is anything without noise? So the kids go on a rampage to take Noiseman down. At least, I think that's what's going on...
While I thoroughly enjoyed the wind-tunnel exuberance of Noiseman, I'm not sure I "got" it, or if there was anything there to get. It's not really about the plot, anyway; it's more an excuse for kids sailing around on huge cliffsides and whatnot. That isn't to say that it's not fun; the design work means that you haven't seen this sort of thing very often in this manner, at least not in anime. Most of the time, there's a lot of activity going on in anime, but you've seen variations on it before. Here, it's fun to watch because you're not sure what's coming up next. Make sense out of it? Hardly. But for impressive visuals and entertainment value, it works.
I would be lying if I said that I knew what I was getting into the first time I watched Noiseman...I had no clue who had animated it and so on. But within a couple of minutes, I knew it had to be from the makers of Tekkon Kinkreet. The incredible cityscapes and odd but compelling character designs were highly reminscent, so much in fact that if it wasn't the same studio, somebody would be ripping somebody else off. That said, I think that this show might appeal to those who found themselves turned off by Tekkon Kinkreet. Though it has the same level of ambiguity and "what was that?" to it, it doesn't feel the same, for better or for worse. Truth be told, you should see at least one of the two just to familiarize yourself with the visual effects, because they are a treat. I don't know if this wound up being a calling card for Studio 4°C to get the Tekkon Kinkreet job, but I wouldn't be surprised.
So why not a better grade? There's really nothing underneath. Short films don't have to be profound, but to hit the top tier, they've got to have a point, either a funny coincidence or an ending joke or some concept that sticks. Noiseman just doesn't have that. If it weren't for the eye candy, it'd be pretty forgettable, if not even a little frustrating. It does stand up to repeat viewings, but not because it has meaning or purpose. Had the studio put a little more into the plot, I would have been happier.
So is it worth the effort to find? With it being readily available even on YouTube, I don't see why not. It won't move you or make you laugh, but you'll probably find it superior entertainment for your eyeballs, and if you go in knowing that...well, sometimes that's enough.
Noiseman -- profanity -- B+