Mr. Stain on Junk Alley
The homeless Mr. Stain inhabits a colorful and cluttered backstreet appropriately known as "Junk Alley", where inanimate objects come to life, anthropomorphic cats and lizards fight for food scraps, and there will always be some unusual and fascinating piece of "junk" to find and with which to occupy one's time.
Mr. Stain on Junk Alley is, simply, a novelty: a computer-animated piece of pantomime comedy whose flippancy, frequent morbidity, and occasional moments of surprising sweetness make for an interesting if uneven watch. Its breed of black comedy largely eschews continuity, with the show instead opting for a series of shorts that are largely self-contained and simultaneously devoid of dialogue. To be frank, I've seen the sort of slapstick that Mr. Stain attempts done better in American Saturday Morning Cartoons, and its style of computer animation, while distinct, is also vastly outdone by the recent repertoire of giants such as Pixar Animation Studios. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it without feeling especially attached to it, and I would certainly recommend it to those who have an easier time with comedy than I do. To its credit, there is little else like it in the anime repertoire, meaning that it will be worth a watch for those interested in the far reaches of anime "diversity" that works such as this, Winter Days, and The Book of the Dead span.
Mr. Stain on Junk Alley is, by-and-large, dependent on a formula in which the titular character discovers some unusual object or animal while rooting through piles of garbage and subsequently has whacky adventures, misadventures, and escapades relating to it, usually with the oversized feline Palvan in tow. The episodes range from the darkest of gallows humor to the lightest of slapstick to some surprisingly touching scenes: in one episode, Stain repeatedly protects a fish baby from a ravenous Palvan only to find that said fish is in fact homocidal and be forced to beg Palvan to save him from it, while in another the two of them come upon a moribund tropic bird and build a terrarium to remind it of its homeland before it succumbs to the alley's unfriendly climate. Some episodes were pleasant and others were a bit dull, but on the whole, nothing managed to bring me to fits of laughter, which overall dampened my enjoyment of the series somewhat. Simply put, Mr. Stain's humor is entirely derivative of classic pantomime, with little of it being clever, and the characters, meanwhile, are neither developed to a point where we can laugh alongside them nor made charismatic enough for us to latch onto instantly. Stain himself is, by and large, a caricature, a hapless and incompetent bum who mostly provides a vehicle through which this show can launch its nonsense at us, while Palvan, meanwhile, fills the role of the amoral and ill-tempered sidekick. I did come to have a certain degree of affection for them by the end, but I wasn't drawn in as much as I would have liked, and when the show attempted to cash in on said affection by introducing a relatively serious love story at the end, the plan backfired. Mr. Stain on Junk Alley is amusing but not uproarious, capable of stretching its limits as a comedy but not entirely comfortable in its occasional genre crossing, and, overall, a piece of good fun whose constant morbidity occasionally makes watching more than one episode at a time a difficult experience.
With the exception of the peppy ending theme and the Japanese characters visible on Palvan's sweater, one would hardly know that this series was Japanese, as its style of animation is entirely incongruous with the vast majority of the industry's output. Animator Ryuji Masada's repertoire includes this as well as a few other short series, and his style fits the tone and content but never dazzles the eye. As the show passes, Junk Alley does begin to feel like some sort of magical and otherworldy place when seen in its colorful tones and with its hidden alleys filled with mystical objects and mysterious creatures, but the stiff character movement begins to grate quickly, and while the animation looks decent when used to depict cartoonish characters such as Palvan and Stain, Masada's skills do not lend themselves to "attractive" characters, with the aforementioned love interest resembling a Barbie doll and a bizarre "handsome alter-ego" of Stain seen in the final episode looking like a scruffy action figure. Meanwhile, the music heard in-series is unspectacular, but the ending theme, which is set to some amusing footage of the main characters dancing, is bouncy and fun; I always got a small kick out of this show's closing sequence. I'd never say that Mr. Stain on Junk Alley looks great, but it's decent CGI that befits what is, by and large, an enjoyably light series.
Mr. Stain On Junk Alley, anomaly of anomalies, doesn't make for either great animation or great comedy but makes a decent watch nonetheless. Its quirkiness makes it worth a viewing but its choice of subject matter occasionally makes it either too morbid or too melodramatic, and I found that these occasional moments broke the series up enough to jar my experience. I'd urge against having high expectations, as it really is a novelty item more than anything else, but it makes for a pleasant novelty, one that anime viewers with an eye towards slapstick Western Animation may find to their liking.
It's hardly the funniest thing I've ever seen, but I don't regret watching it. Add a star if you are more receptive to comedy as a rule than I am. — Nick Browne
Recommended Audience: This probably would not be great for children under 13 or so. There's a lot of slapstick violence, and while there's nothing graphic, a few characters physically abuse each other in unsettling ways. In addition, characters do die occasionally (though they usually manage to return alive with no explanation in subsequent episodes).
Version(s) Viewed: Stream courtesy of Hulu
Review Status: Full (14/14)
Mr. Stain on Junk Alley © 2003 FUNimation Entertainment Ltd/Masuda Ryuji
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