Developer: Crispy's Inc.
Publisher: Bandai Namco
This is by far the hardest and most futile review I've ever had to write.
See, I review videogames, but Short Peace is absolutely not one of those. It's a feature-length compilation of five standalone anime shorts, each hailing from a luminary in the field or left-field upstart. We have an opportunity to savour Shuhei Morita's Oscar-nominated Possessions, a fascinating and playful tale of animism that puts Pixar to shame, while Akira creator Katsuhiro Otomo sallies forth with the breathtakingly lovely Combustible. Hiroaki Ando and Gundam mech designer Hajime Katoki join them, bringing unique storytelling and eyepopping visual flair to the mix.
...and then there's Goichi "Suda51" Suda, the madcap if inconsistent auteur behind Killer7 and No More Heroes, who lobs a spanner into the works. His offering, Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day, absolutely is a videogame - yet the gorgeous, bonkers and fleeting experience can only be purchased alongside the rest of the compilation on a single Blu-Ray costing a whopping £40.
So over the next few hundred words, I'm going to try and make sense of the package as a whole, step out of my comfort zone to review an anime compilation, assess the game on its own merits and work out whether it can possibly be worth the premium price. Before desperately finding an appropriate number to slap on the end.
Stick around. This is going to be fun!
Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day
We'll start with Suda's segment, seeing as we're a videogame site on home turf. As you'd expect from any Suda title, the premise is off-kilter and barmy, starring a schoolgirl assassin bent on murdering her father with a violin bow, who's either a car parking magnate, Mexican wrestler or interstellar warlord. Maybe. The plot is fiercely entertaining despite being utterly convoluted, though I feel that it's purposefully attempting to be as zany as possible to provide the illusion of depth and subtlety without having to make sense. The lazy kind of crazy, perhaps.
At least the accompanying anime cutscenes and infrequent visual novel-style exposition sequences are well-written and jaw-droppingly crisp. Do be aware that the eternally-pervy Suda (sorry, but it had to be said) delights in lasciviously low camera angles, bestockinged thighs and gratuitous upskirt shots less than 90 seconds in, mind.
Gameplay proves to be much less imaginative than the premise suggests. Deserves? Ranko's Longest Day is effectively a sidescrolling 'endless runner' that challenges you to leap, dash and shoot your way through some tough levels while being pursued by a tidal wave of deadly symbolism. It's responsive and familiar fare, benefiting from truly exquisite and detailed visuals, yet offers gameplay that wouldn't feel out of place on a tablet or smartphone.
A few boss battles and imaginative gameplay segments switch up the pace and tinker with the mechanics in unpredictable ways, meaning that despite its streamlined approach, it'll keep you on your toes.
Ranko's Longest Day is challenging and enjoyable while it lasts (approximately 90 minutes, much of which is spent replaying levels due to the lack of checkpoints), but you'll be left wanting more. Replay value boils down to an underwhelming collection of concept art unlocks and alternative costumes, which you can barely discern given the distant perspective, lacking robust leaderboards or a metagame to keep you coming back. I personally wish that unlocks included concept work, interviews and bonuses for the other four anime pieces too.
Which means that what could have been a worthwhile iOS game or inexpensive PSN download absolutely isn't worth spending £40 on. But, of course, it isn't supposed to be, since Ranko's Longest Day is only 20% of the Short Peace package.
This is the tricky bit. Short Peace's real value stems from the anime compilation as a whole, which I'm not entirely qualified to critique. Though I love anime and have consumed an enormous amount of it over the years, I don't really have the grounding in Japanese culture (both in terms of history and zeitgeist) to make a fully informed value judgement. If you do, you can probably ignore everything I'm about to write.
But I'm going to write it anyway, because I'm the wrong man in the right place at the right time!
Short Peace puts its best foot forward from the start with Possessions, which was up for an Academy Award last year. A big-hearted itinerant repairman takes shelter from a storm in an abandoned shrine, but soon finds himself beset by resentful discarded tools who've developed souls and are a bit miffed at being thrown away after years of service. What could have been dark and edgy exploration of Japanese folklore becomes playful, upbeat and full of energy, telling a heartwarming and complete tale over its brisk well-paced duration.
It's also truly exquisite from a visual standpoint, colourful and expressive, if perhaps a little heavy on CG. On balance, it's my personal highlight of the package.
Katsuhiro Otomo's Combustible will compete for your affections, though, seeing as it's effortlessly, profoundly, achingly lovely. It's a classic tragic love story, simple yet powerful and timeless, packing raw emotion and strong characters into its brief runtime while grounding you in the period setting. However, you'll primarily remember it for the unique aesthetic, since the whole thing is designed to resemble one single flowing Ukiyo-e art scroll from start to finish, from the stylised woodblock characters to the canvas texture and ever-present borders.
The less I say about it, the better. Just go watch Combustible. It's life-affirming and brilliant.
A holy bear and Christian samurai set out to defend a village from a ravaging demon, testing a young girl's faith in the process. Gambo certainly has an interesting premise, but it's the weakest link in the package by far, serving only to set up a graceless, lumpy and shockingly gory battle that's an uncomfortable chore to sit through. Nightmarish and graphic sexual imagery sticks out like a sore thumb, meaning that you'll remember it for all the wrong reasons.
Characters are flat and the setting is limp, so it's a crying shame that Hiroaki Ando didn't spend his time exploring some of the more interesting themes (such as the massive illegal stigma of being a Christian Ronin) rather than courting shock value. One to miss; handily the lowest ebb of the compilation.
Happily Farewell To Weapons ends on a high, as a team of military peacekeepers descend into a ruined city to disarm a nuclear weapon while facing off against automated war machines that still stalk the streets. It's action-packed, slickly-directed and feels like the climax of a superb long-running anime series, notable for the utterly fantastic mechanical designs from Hajime Katoki.
Mecha fans will be in their element, but it's easy to underestimate how well Farewell To Weapons manages to establish the cast and setting in such a limited runtime, using both punchy dialogue, personality-laden animation and environmental storytelling. Deep without being pretentious and darkly comic throughout, it's a tour-de-force.
Okay, I lied. This is the tricky bit. British Otaku are probably already champing at the bit and are used to spending a huge amount of money to keep up with their hobby (thanks, import duty!), and this compilation is aimed directly at them. Or more specifically, their wallets. Being able to enjoy Short Peace as a whole will probably be too tempting to resist, especially considering the big names bringing their artistic A-Game to the table.
But we always consider value to be our primary concern here at Dealspwn.com -- a heady balance between quality and quantity relative to the asking price -- and £40 is a lot to spend on a couple of hours of animation and a brief if pretty game even if you're a hardcore otaku.
Where Short Peace ultimately fails is providing a premium special edition to warrant its premium price. There are no interviews with the directors or voice cast. No 'making of' documentaries or short films explaining Combustible's fascinating setting, or the art style behind it. No main central hub that ties all five episodes together, instead forcing you out of the game and onto the PS3's Blu-Ray application. No attempt to provide more than the bare minimum for a price that you'd normally consider for a box set. Yes, Ranko's Longest Day is fun, but it's galling to see what could have been a £15-£25 DVD and accompanying download game command such an enormous premium, and effectively hold its content to ransom for the dedicated UK audience. Just because it can.
But, then again, what's here is generally excellent and diehard anime fans will probably get their money's worth. Just be sure to do your homework and consider, perhaps, whether importing a DVD or waiting for a discount might be the smart play here.
- Possessions, Combustible and Farewell To Weapons are exceptional
- A neat conversation piece and curio
- Ranko's Longest Day is beautiful and fun...
- ...but short, basic, a little pervy and potentially unsatisfying
- Gambo is weaker, unsubtle and sets out to shock
- Lacks premium bonus features, dubious value for money
The Short Version: Short Peace delivers three utterly sensational anime shorts, a weaker offering and a gorgeous if basic videogame on a single Blu-Ray disc, but never quite provides a premium package for its premium price. What's here is well worth checking out by dedicated British otakus, yet £40 is still arguably a big ask.
Definitely do the maths and shop around before taking the plunge.