The Diary of Tortov Roddle
Two travellers, the stovepipe-hat-clad Tortov Roddle and his unusually long-legged porcine steed, journey through various picturesque but mysterious landscapes on a quiet adventure.
"My name is Tortov Roddle. A mere traveller in Tortovia."
While I may sometimes throw the criticism "it leaves no impression" at certain aspects of a movie, it's very rare when an entire work can pass through me with neither a positive nor a negative effect. In that rare instance, it's often because I discover that it truly is not meant for the kind of person I am, and such is the case with Kunio Kato's short, surrealist web series The Diary of Tortov Roddle. A strange piece that plays out exactly like a quiet picture book, complete with dialogue delivered on subtitled cards, it neither says quite enough, shows me quite enough, nor maintains enough of a story to keep me deeply interested, but it may just be perfect for young children and those who find that the act of meandering is entertainment enough in itself.
The Diary of Tortov Roddle consists of seven short films drawn in the grainy and expressive water-colour style that Kato also used in his later La Maison en Petits Cubes, with the shortest being about two minutes and the longest approaching the six minute mark. The shorts introduce our protagonist as a traveller, but they don't really have much of a plot, and I think that this, in fact, is the point. It's neither meant to be heavy-handed nor philosophically contemplative, but rather a short, breezy drift through a world of beautiful art and strange creatures. For some people, this might just be enough. Kato's visuals, which are distinctively unlike those usually found in anime, are gorgeously detailed and evocative of calm days spent in unspoiled wilderness, and every once in a while there's a nifty scene, such as a shot of Tortov moving towards city lights only to find that they recede at approach and then discovering that said cities are nestled on the backs of lizard-like creatures, that managed to bring a smile. The music, meanwhile, is a variety of chamber combinations of idiophones, cellos, and accordions, and it's rather nice, if a little too heavy on ostinatos.
But while the piece is pretty to look at, not really much happens at all in terms of story, emotional affect, or imagery, and this, unfortunately, kept me from ever becoming very interested in it. I've seen some other short films, such as Glassy Ocean and the exemplary (if disturbing) Cat Soup, that don't maintain much of a plot but make up for that with surrealist exaggeration, a stream of strange images, and a solid (if sometimes subtle) emotional backdrop, and I was, conversely, surprised at how little I had to say about The Diary of Tortov Roddle at the end. Slow and aimless is, if anything, an understatement when applied to this series, and the spectacles, which range from being fascinating to a bit too simplistic for my tastes, come only about as often as the second hand on a clock reaches its starting position. Kato's other work, such as the aforementioned La Maison, maintains this same slow feeling but ties the atmosphere together with an emotional thread, such as the nostalgia brought out so vividly there, as well as a deeper exploration of setting. This piece just didn't trigger any emotional response, and I also, unfortunately, never felt very clear on where it was even meant to be set or what set that place apart. A piece that I call "pointless" may be what someone else calls refreshingly unpretentious, but the detachment I felt after watching this just isn't what I like, and I also found that the use of cutaway dialogue (which, at some translator's fault, is written out rather clumsily in English) only managed to make certain parts too wordy while telling the viewer very little that made the setting more distinct. Finally, Roddle's design, which struck me as a gaunter and paler version of The New Yorker's Eustace Tilley, was not quite to my taste, either, and while I admit this is a highly subjective criticism, the fact that the series contains no spoken dialogue and uses none of its time for backstory meant that his appearance was the only measure by which I could assess his personality.
As said, I do think that I'm not the person that The Diary of Tortov Roddle was meant for, and it may be unfair to it to expect a point when none was promised. I do, however, wish that I'd found it a little more interesting. The Diary of Tortov Roddle is beautifully drawn and yet feels strangely empty, and while this may, in fact, be what was intended, there are other featurettes that will deliver a better-detailed setting and a bit more of an impact should one desire that.
It looks and sounds pretty, and yet it neither dazzles, says, or accomplishes enough to be anything more than average for me. Children not entirely lost to Nintendo and Yu-Gi-Oh! may add a star, as may those who don't feel a strong desire for the things I just mentioned. — Nick Browne
Recommended Audience: In one episode, Tortov eats a strange fruit that causes him to have some hallucinations and, later, something resembling a hangover, but there's really nothing here that children shouldn't see. In fact, this is a rare case in which younger viewers may enjoy this much, much, more than I did, for while it isn't "childish" in the sense of having toilet humor or a stupid plot, the lack of a connecting thread will likely bother them less.
Version(s) Viewed: Stream courtesy of crunchyroll.com
Review Status: Full (7/7)
The Diary of Tortov Roddle © 2003 Robot
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