I’ve been recently on a slight nostalgia bent with giant robots, and I decided to revisit a franchise I didn’t really have any interest to check out outside its designs, the 1986 comic Five Star Stories, (which is still running) illustrated and written by in/famous Mamoru Nagano. Nagano is somewhat a divisive person, mostly known for his extremely flowy and detailed mecha designs. Outside his own works, he’s known for mechanical designs for Heavy Metal G-Gaim, but his career includes fashion designing, making music, directing and writing. He tends to rub a bit wrong with some people, as a person he is strong willed to put it diplomatically, and is overprotective of his works to a fault. He has his own publishing company to make sure he has reins on Five Star Stories, called Toypress. He sounds like a person who just wants to protect his rights as an artist, but the stories from the animation and comic industry paints him an asshole at times, sometimes obsessively hands on projects to the point of detriment. Nagano’s visual style has always been heavy on the detail, and whenever he can, he won’t budge on the quality. Nagano considers that his works on L-Gaim were never incorporated properly, mostly due to his style being rather different. For something like L-Gaim this isn’t really as problem, but with a show like Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, you need to consider the existing motifs and design language, something Nagano understood only later on. Ollie Barder has rather extensive interview with Nagano Forbes that I warmly recommend reading.
Guess what time it is?
My nostalgia of course lead me to return to Nagano’s Gothicmade, an animated film he started making at least since 2006, perhaps even earlier. When it was announced, people were rather hype about it, as Nagano’s style and designs are still considered some of the best in the mecha genre. People were very eager to see what his new project would be like, with it taking to come out so long, when projects get stretched beyond their initial goals, people tend to find other things to occupy their attention. The movie finally debuted in 2012 in theatres, and has been rerun every now and then for limited time. As the first Japanese animated movie in 4K with D-Cinema 5.1, Nagano has stated that this movie won’t be leaving the theatres, because that is the only way he considers the proper form to experience his movie. As it happens with me, a lot of this kinda slipped out of memory, as things tend to do when you’re revisiting something you were hyping up over a decade ago.
Nagano isn’t the first artista, auteur, artist or whatever you want to name him to do something like this. All creators have an intended way for experiencing their production, which the consumer can break, much to the dismay of the creator. To use an old and worn out example, an elaborate set of dishes are often meant to be consumed in order and in particular fashion. Breaking the intended way of eating may, for example, produce the wrong taste due to incorrect order or because such. Similarly, a comic creator may only want his works to be read through printed medium, with specifically chosen paper and carefully curated choice of colours in order to ensure that not only his vision, but the accuracy of it, is best preserved for the reader. Then some slob just squirts ketchup from his hotdog and smudged shit up and glues the pages together. It happens. Some musician supposedly don’t like their music heard outside live concerts, and disdain recordings. That might be just the money issue, it’s a bit harder to pirate live concert in its best form than just ripping off a CD or music stream. Akira Ifukube didn’t want his compositions for Godzilla to be available separate from the movie until the 1980’s, as in his view the film and music had to be together to have the best effect; that the two complemented each other and both would be half as weak without the other.
Nagano isn’t the first one to argue for the sake of integrity of his work. While respectable, it could also be argued that home consumer technology has already passed Gothicmade. 4K image resolution has been passed some time ago with 8K screen being the new standard and we’re already seeing proper research and advancements made into 16K, with some production examples already being showcased, like Sony’s MicroLED display tech. When it comes to sound, home users can get fine sound, if not sometimes even better sound, from their home systems or headphones than what a theatre can offer. However, not everyone has the money, or want, to build themselves a home theatre to take full advantage of what they have. Screen sizes have become largely academical issue with screens and projects being able to throw image absolutely everywhere.
That is of course beside his main point. It’s not that home technology is well up to the task of showcasing Gothicmade to the home audiences, but that it is not intended to be viewed at home with any sort of system available there. You’re supposed to your way out there to get a ticket, then get into the theatre with other people of shared interest, sit on a cushion away from all the stuff you have at home, all the little mundane things that may scratch behind your dark unconscious mind, relax and take int the (supposedly) breath taking visuals on the screen, hear sound mixed as intended and proper volume and simply experience the marvel of the work. That is, if the work can actually deliver its intended effect.
Gothicmade was in the works for some six years because it was handled by Nagano himself and other small group of people. Nagano of course took the bulk of most tasks, and I recall jokes how he and three others worked the movie in his basement, which probably isn’t too far off the mark. Budget has never been revealed, but working in 4K in 2006 probably cost an arm and a leg, and then some. For all the reviews I’ve read throughout the years, Gothicmade has had the same criticism; it’s rather badly animated outside vast, spanning shots of the environment, it has pretty music and good voice acting, but action is very much lacking despite the detailed robot designs. The story is described something between trite and interesting, but ultimately dull. All this really shows in the trailers we’ve seen thus far as well, though most of them try to get around this and show the best bits.
Note how the trailer faps at the pretty robots by hammering home with the line How beautiful robot
There has been numerous theories why Gotchimade was kept in such a small team. Most often it’s assumed that Nagano doesn’t exactly like his works being adapted, after he was disappointed in the 1980’s movie adaptation of Five Star Stories, despite that movie has praised to heaven and back how beautiful it is. Incidentally, that movie will last the test of time better, as digital video dates itself extremely fast. Five Star Stories, for being on film, will ultimately find itself being remastered in higher resolutions as long as the original masters are intact, and even then magic can be made happen to up the quality. Unless Gothicmade‘s raw material is done on something that scaled at will, for example if everything was done with vectors. Somehow I doubt that. Five Star Stories was criticised to be pretty to look at, while light on story, but if we believe the reviews, Gothicmade fares no better, if not stumbling worse.
Then again, maybe Five Star Stories looks too detailed and overtly animated for its own good. Boatloads of cash and cocaine went into making these scenes, probably killing an animator or two. Nothing in Gothicmade‘s trailer comes even closer to this in terms of quality
Nagano probably is well aware of the criticism he has received from the viewers. I doubt any of that has affected his view on the work, as he has retconned Gothicmade as a major part of Five Star Stories comic, which some have found detrimental while others take it as a breath of fresh air, renewing the IP’s vigor. Part of me can’t help but wonder if Nagano is not willing to let his movie out of theatres because he knows of its value, or the lack of it, but wants to keep it as closely guarded secret as possible. Something that is kept limited from others has more perceived value after all, it makes people want it more. This of course ups the perceived value, and the holder of course gains more vertical value in eyes of others. This sort of thing can be seen on the Internet in various communities. Someone might have an image of a rare game and is refusing to share it, as that want adds value to the holders and others in the community. The same applies to scans and other materials, licensed, copyrighted or not. Perhaps Nagano knows that Gothicmade is rather lacklustre movie, but holding it at bay will keep its value up. Perhaps I’m blowing shit out as usual, maybe he really believes it to be a masterpiece and simply doesn’t want anyone to experience it the wrong way, though I am sure there would be licensing firms willing to simply sub the movie and have a limited run in local theatres or festivals.
Then again, Gothicmade‘s music and artwork has been released for home consumers with CDs, books, magazines, model kits and toys. Nagano is willing to license the work for other products, but home release is denied seven years after its initial debut. Hey, it gets asses into seats and apparently makes money that way, no reason to pay further distributors. You might argue that it’s not about the money, but it’s always about the money. Artists are just shit with finances by default and often won’t admit it or can’t even ask the proper sums before learning lack of finances the hard way. Does this serve the product itself to any significant extent? Perhaps it’s not about the movie experience. Considering how worshipping Nagano’s fans can get, perhaps Gothicmade would be best treated as some architectural painting you can’t see elsewhere but on the spot, a painting on the wall or a building itself. Something worth a mundane pilgrimage, or to be checked out when you’re around the neighbourhood.