Robot Carnival (ロボット・カーニバル Robotto Kãnibaru?) is a Japanese anime anthology film released in 1987. It consists of nine shorts by different directors, many of whom had not directed before. This film has gained a small cult following.
The shorts come in a variety of styles. Only two shorts ("Presence" and "A Tale of Two Robots") contain dialogue.
Opening: Directed by Atsuko Fukushima and Katsuhiro Otomo. The opening takes place in a desert. A boy finds a small "coming soon" poster advertising the Robot Carnival, and becomes frightened and agitated. He warns the people in his village, most likely to escape, when a huge machine with many robots performing in niches on its exterior grinds its way right over the village. Once a magnificent traveling showcase, it is now a decayed, rusted, malfunctioning, engine of destruction.
Franken's Gears: Directed by Koji Morimoto. A crazy scientist tries to give life to his robot with lightning, just like Frankenstein. When it comes to life, the robot copies everything the scientist does. Overjoyed, the scientist dances with glee, trips, and falls. Seeing this, the robot dances, trips, and falls on the scientist, killing him.
Deprive: Directed by Hidetoshi Omori. This segment features a humanoid robot and an invasion from space. The humanoid robot was obviously 8 Man inspired.
Presence: Directed by Yasuomi Umetsu. This segment (featuring dialogue) tells the story of a man who has an obsession with a robot girl he has been secretly constructing in an attempt to compensate for the lack of any close relationship with his wife and family. The setting seems to be British and of the early twentieth century, but also suggests another planet or a future which has attempted to re-establish a former social structure. When the robot takes on a personality of her own, far beyond what the man had programmed, he smashes her in a fit of panic, and leaves his secret laboratory for what he believes is the last time. Twenty years later, the man has a vision of his robot appearing before him, but then blowing up before he can take her hand. He returns to his shed to find the robot still sitting smashed in a corner, just as she had been left years earlier. Another twenty years elapse, and the robot appears again before the man. This time, he takes her hand and walks into the distance with her, before vanishing in front of his shocked wife. This is the first short that contains intelligible dialogue (characters in Opening speak in gibberish), but little of it is actually spoken on-screen - all but a few lines are given in voice-over, or with the speaker's mouth obscured. Yasuomi's art style and them used in future works such as Kite is obviously shown in this work. The art style of the main character is taken from Les Maîtres du temps.
Star Light Angel: Directed by Hiroyuki Kitazume. A shōjo story, featuring teenage girls at a robot themed amusement park who are friends. One of the girls finds that her lover is now going out with her friend. Running away in tears she finds her way to a virtual-reality ride. Pleasant at first, her memory cause the ride to summon a giant laser breathing mecha. But one of the park's 'robots' finds himself in the role of knight in shining armor, and allowing her to let go of her darker emotions, and to move forward in her life. While at first confusing, this is deceptive, as many of the elements are logical in hindsight. The visual style of this segment was heavily influenced by the music video for A-Ha's "Take on Me." This short is also notable for the numerous background cameo appearances put in by characters from anime that Kitazume had previously worked on as well as fellow Robot Carnival contributor Katsuhiro Otomo's Tetsuo Shima & Akira. The music heard is the theme of the original Final Fantasy.
Cloud: Directed by Mao Lamdo. This short features a robot walking through time, and the evolution of man. The backdrop is animated with clouds that depicts various events of the universe. Such as the modernization of man, to the self destruction of man. Most the events in the backdrops takes place from Rome to present day society. Eventually the same angel who cries for his immortality, makes him human towards the end. The main character is reminiscent of Mighty Atom
A Tale of Two Robots -- Chapter 3: Foreign Invasion: Directed by Hiroyuki Kitakubo. This is set in the nineteenth century and features two "giant robots" directed from within by a human crew. In the style of a movie serial of the sound era, a Westerner in his giant robot attempts to take over Japan, but is challenged by locals operating a "machine made for the parade" -- a Japanese giant robot. The style of this segment is somewhat reminiscent of a Japanese World War II-era propaganda film. Despite the title of this segment, there is no known prequel or sequel. The voice acting of this piece are a mix of English and Japanese with the Westerner speaking English and the Japanese speaking their language. The story obviously takes place during the dutch trade period of Japan. However the period is over exadurated dividing the land into outsiders and Japanese. One outsider can be spotted using a early film camera, making the segment taking place during the 1800's.
Nightmare (a.k.a. Chicken Man and Red Neck in Tokyo): Directed by Takashi Nakamura. The city of Tokyo is overrun by its machines, as they all come alive for a night of revelry, with only a single, drunken human (Chicken Man) awake to witness it.
- This segment was inspired by the "Night on Bald Mountain" segment of Fantasia and is also said to be influenced by the Legend of Sleepy Hollow segment from c The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.
- This features the recent Japanese myth that machines can grow by connecting onto other machines, regardless of the purposes for which they were designed (as seen in Roujin Z).
- The "Chicken Man" character is considered by some to be a caricature of famous anime director Rintaro.
Ending: Directed by Atsuko Fukushima and Katsuhiro Otomo. The Robot Carnival is stopped by a little hill in the desert. Unable to climb the sandy obstruction, the Carnival stalls at its base. As the sun sets over the traveling relic, flashback stills recall the grandeur of the Carnival at the peak of its existence—an unparalleled engine of mirth that brought timeless joy to the various cities it visited. At sunrise, we see the platform chug forward with a sudden burst of power and crest over the dune in its way. The final push proved to be too much for the aged contraption, and it finally goes to pieces in the desert. The bulk of the film's credits are then shown concluding with an epilogue.
Epilogue: Centuries later a man discovers an orb among the remains and brings it back to his family. It is a music box featuring a miniature robot ballerina. As it dances, the children applaud. The ballerina finishes its dance with a leap into the air and explodes, blowing up the shack where the family lived, leaving "END" in enormous letters lying it its place as the only survivor, the family's pet llama, struggles to regain its footing.
The film has never received an official Region 1 DVD release, most likely due to complicated rights issues. At one point, Super Techno Arts, an American division of Studio A.P.P.P., announced plans to release a Region 1 Robot Carnival DVD, but this release is generally considered to be on indefinite hiatus. There has been a Region 1 DVD release, but it's only available on amazon.com and can go for $37.
A Limited Edition Region 2 DVD of Robot Carnival was released in Japan, but it is now out of print.
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- Most of the film's music (except for the "Cloud" segment) was composed by Joe Hisaishi, who is best-known for working frequently with Hayao Miyazaki and Takeshi Kitano.
- The script for the English-dubbed version of "A Tale of Two Robots" is significantly different from the original Japanese version and even adds a few jokes not present in the original version. In addition, a passing reference to Japan's 1854 opening to foreign trade is removed and the foreign antagonist's English dialogue is re-recorded with a slightly more cartoonish accent. Some have criticized Streamline's dubbing of the Japanese characters as being stereotypical and racist.
- Some versions of the English-dub of the film released by Streamline Pictures shuffled the order of the segments and modified the "Ending" segment by removing the still images of the "Robot Carnival," placing the two animated segments next to each other, and placing all of the credits at the very end of the film. The still images of the "Robot Carnival" were most likely removed due to Streamline's practice of removing all onscreen kanji from their anime releases in order to "Americanize" them. Streamline's producer Carl Macek states with certainty that the reason for the "shuffling of segments" was due to considerations regarding the theatrical exploitation of the film. The various segments were received separately and then subsequently assembled to fill out 2000ft reels. In order to keep the actual distribution of the film manageable the films were arranged to minimize reel changes - otherwise it would have required additional reels and therefore additional reel changes to keep the product in its original order and would have added to the cost of the distribution. The decision was mutually agreed upon between Streamline and A.P.P.P. Co. Regarding the credit sequence and the use of still images - the original production company did not have the proper neutral closing credits available that are required for international distribution, therefore it was mutually decided to create this new closing. 
- During the early 1990s, the film was shown frequently on The Sci Fi Channel and later, on the Turner Broadcasting Network, frequently paired with Vampire Hunter D or Twilight of the Cockroaches. As a result, Robot Carnival became one of the first exposures to anime for many American anime fans.
- The English-language version of the film received considerable theatrical exposure at art house theaters across the United States.
- This is the last film to have Lisa Michelson voice a character prior to her death in a car accident.
- Images from Robot Carnival were licensed to Cornerstone Communications to create a set of collectible trading cards entitled: Masters of Japanese Animation: Robot Carnival. Streamline Pictures' Modelworks also created a series of resin model kits from the various sequences of Robot Carnival.
- Streamline Pictures and A.P.P.P. Co. produced a sample comic book sequel to Tale of Two Robots for Marvel Comics after their request to Streamline for additional anime-oriented manga to replace their successful release of Otomo's Akira comic book . A.P.P.P.'s sequence director Hiroyuki Kitakubo and Streamline's Carl Macek produced the sample comic - but by the time it was presented to Marvel their interest in additional manga had waned.
- List of animated feature films
- List of package films
- Robot Carnival Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. (CD liner notes). JVC Musical Industries, Inc. 1991.
- "ANNCast - Macek Training".
- Robot Carnival at the Internet Movie Database
- Anime News Network's "Buried Treasure" article on Robot Carnival