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Cencoroll Connect

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 03/18/20 09:18:00

"Slackers and their giant monsters."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: There's a shift in the animation style somewhere in the middle of this film, but that's natural; there's ten years between the releases of "Cencoroll" and "Cencoroll 2", and you can't help but see the spot where they are fused into a short feature. The thing is, it becomes a bit of a different sort of anime at that point, introducing more characters who have clear purpose and sense of urgency, piling more action on, losing a bit of what made the opening feel unique even if it isn't necessarily anything completely new.

A sonic rift in the sky occasionally belches out strange creatures, which run around and fight and do some damage, and high school girl Yuki (voice of Kana Hanazawa) is fascinated by them. Getting too close to one of those showdowns, she discovers that her classmate Tetsu Animiya (voice of Hiro Shimono) is somehow bonded with one, communicating with "Cenco" and helping the creature to feed, but really not curious about all the rest beyond that, even as a similarly bonded teen, Shiuu (voice of Ryohei Kimura) is spoiling for a fight.

Short films like the original "Cencoroll" sometimes wind up in the same sort of place despite being made for opposite reasons, either as calling-cards to show bigger studios and producers just what makes a given team stick out or in a burst of independent creativity that they know they'll likely have reined in should they make the big time. Whichever is the case for director Atsuya Uki, he came to play, and his team seems to have a blast with exaggerated character designs, Cenco morphing into new shapes and the characters making the same sort of right-angle turns as they drive each other nuts. It's high-energy and a delight to look at, full of surprises even as the story is purposefully meandering and not exactly driving toward anything in particular.

Heck, a large part of the fun of the first act is the apparent reluctance to be a sci-fi action amine; hero Tetsu may be bonded to a giant shapeshifting creature, but he doesn't really have any interest in fighting others, or satisfying some girl's curiosity, or investigating where the likes of Cenco come from. Even villain Shuu seems to be more or less attacking because it's as good a time as any, and the fights have a sort of slow ramp-up until they're suddenly quite lethal - like everybody involved is thinking yeah, whatever, I guess we're doing this if we have to, then finishing it off as quickly as possible when they get bored. It's a good fit for the muted color scheme and simple, amorphous designs, an impressive bit of work in creating a certain sort of mood and not overloading the audience.

There's still a lot of that going on in the second half, but now there's a secret agency, titanic "kites" an order of magnitude larger than Cenco, connections between characters, and more action. It's not a bad example of this sort of amine, even if it's no longer quite the slacker version of it, but the brighter, more solid colors jar a bit during the transition and the action becomes a bit much. It almost seems to be holding a moment, extending the transition between the seemingly simple, laid-back take on the genre that "Cencoroll" started as and the blockbuster that the entire saga will become a little too long, and never fully arriving at that final destination.

Even the button during the credits just suggests a bit more to be revealed rather than a big, climactic shift. Maybe it will all fit together when and if the filmmakers can do part 3. Or maybe we'll never see that, and "Cencoroll" will remain something of a tease, a glimpse at monster-fighting teens that's enjoyably askew enough that one doesn't actually need the story finished, with the fun-in-a-different-way material at the end a sort of bonus.

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