From the Dustbins: Birth – A War of Two Worlds

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), spearheaded by animation director Yoshinori Kanada.  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.

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About Merridian
Merri lives with his wife in the USA. He writes fiction and blog posts, plays music, and teaches CMA when he isn't working. He wrote for Forced Perspective while the project was active, and he is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of QNUW.

3 Responses to From the Dustbins: Birth – A War of Two Worlds

  1. busterbeam says:

    This is by far the best review of Birth that I’ve ever read. Of course that’s not saying much considering the only other English review that attempts to judge it fairly instead of labeling it as the Troll 2 of cartoons is the one I wrote on MAL and I’m a horrible writer… but I think it’s pretty well written on its own too. Pretty informative and accessible, which is perfect for convincing people to get into this kind of stuff.

    ps. can you please remove my last comment? I entered the email I once used to make a fake account on some awful anime website (complete with kawaii moe uguu avatar) and for some reason that avatar is attached to every comment I make on a whole bunch of websites if I ever use that email.

    • Mac Colestock says:

      Thanks! I’ve tried to make most of the reviews I’ve submitted here accessible to audiences that aren’t necessarily knowledgeable about anime, particularly any Dustbin titles that are actually worth checking out. I’ll try to drop by your MAL when I get the chance.

    • downsyndromextreme@aol.com says:

      theres actually 1 review on animenewsnetwork

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