Otaku USA Magazine
Kick-Heart Tokyo Premiere Review

Fans of director Masaaki Yuasa made their way to Tokyo’s Roppongi district May 26th for a one-of-a-kind event – the premiere of the long-awaited Kickstarter-backed short Kick-Heart.

While backers await their imminent DVDs and download codes, a few lucky folks got a first glimpse at the film, as well as a live painting session by director Yuasa and background illustrator Kevin Aymeric, and to top it off, a live performance by electronic musician Oorutaichi, who created the music for the film. The whole thing was billed as a masked ball, but this being Kick-Heart, the masks in question weren’t fancy dinner party ones, but those of pro wrestlers.

First, to bring up to speed anyone who hasn’t read our extensive coverage on Kick-Heart: it’s an animated short produced by Production I.G. and funded via crowd-based site Kickstarter (which has also been popping up a lot in anime news lately).

Kick-Heart, the story of two souls finding love in the world of pro wrestling, was the brainchild of Yuasa, known for his trippy, experimental and genre-bending works like Mind Game and Tatami Galaxy. (You can read more about it, including our interviews the the staff, here and here!

But to the burning question on the minds of the films’ backers and casual fans alike: how is it?

The short answer: Kick-Heart is great.

Yuasa mentioned in an early promotional video for the film that he’s often criticized for a lack of clear story in his works, and that he wanted to rectify that in Kick-Heart. While While I’m a huge fan of Yuasa and find some of those criticisms unfounded, he definitely achieves his goal here and delivers a relatively straightforward, simple story.

In fact, Kick-Heart really goes back to the basics of visual storytelling and tells its tale with very little dialogue. Most of the story is right up there on the screen. It’s a testament to the excellent direction of Yuasa and all the intensive planning that went into the short that so much of the story is conveyed through motion.

And there’s quite a lot of motion to be seen. Kick-Heart was animated by a small and dedicated team: Yuasa, character designer Michio Mihara, color coordinator Eunyoung Choi and background artist Kevin Aymeric, all known for their unique styles.

As a result, Kick-Heart – and I mean this in the best possible way – looks kind of rough. Like past Yuasa productions, its aesthetic leans more toward showing off the incredible detail and fluidity of motion achieved by his animators rather than a clean, spotless “animation-by-committee” look of more conventional productions. In other words, it looks like it was created by real humans, and it’s wonderful for it. Put simply, Kick-Heart is the punk rock of anime.

About the only bad thing to be said about Kick-Heart is that it all went by way too quickly. Thankfully for backers, they’ll be able to watch the film to their heart’s content.

Not content to just show off their film, Kick-Heart’s creators made the rest of the evening pretty great too. First up was live painting from Yuasa and Aymeric, with Yuasa painting on an couple huge canvases with house painting brushes and Aymeric illustrating in Photoshop, with his work projected onto the walls of the event space. The resulting works were subsequently put up on Yahoo Auctions, so if you’re in Japan and you’ve got the cash…

Finally, Oorutaichi, a solo artist who uses a vast array of computers, keyboards and effect boxes to perform live, took the stage and delivered an energetic set. Oorutaichi was backed up by director Yuasa as VJ, projecting a series of very Yuasa-y animations in time with the music. Stopping only one to explain how he came to work on the project, Oorutaichi asked Yuasa, “Kick-Heart the short is great, but how about a TV series?” to which the crowd responded enthusiastically.

Next up for the film’s creators is a trip to France for the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, where Kick-Heart is in competition for best short. For the film’s backers, the wait for downloads, Blu-rays and DVDs is soon at an end. From Tokyo, we can report once they arrive, backers are definitely not in for disappointment.

This story originally ran in the 5/28/13 issue of the Otaku USA e-News
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Related Stories:

Kick-Heart Staff Interview
Kick-Heart Anime L.A. Interview
Noitamina Interviews Ping Pong Director Masaaki Yuasa
Ping Pong: Nothin’ But Love
Tatami Galaxy Review

Matt Schley

Matt Schley (rhymes with "guy") lives in Tokyo, and has been OUSA's "man in Japan" since 2012. He's also written about anime and Japanese film for the Japan Times, Screen Daily and more.