"Mr. Stain On Junk Alley" - Quirky Shorts Break the Mold
In a world gone mad, one man stands alone. In this shattered world, a hero’s destiny… has nothing to do with Mr. Stain on Junk Alley. This collection of quirky shorts from director Ryuji Masuda breaks the mold for usual CGI fare. Even after repeated viewings, remains completely unclassifiable as stories are told through a complete lack of dialogue. The 14 shorts chronicle the adventures of Stain, a hapless yet goodhearted denizen of Junk Alley, a place that homeless creatures of all shapes and sizes call their home. The colorful (and thats not a pun about the brilliant visuals) cast of characters includes Palvan, a giant cat who befriends Stain while also looking out for his own interests; Rings, a type of iguana that is always hungry; Pylon, a hermit crab that makes its home out of whatever it finds: and many more strange, cute, and sometimes frightening transients. While Mr. Stain as a whole is unique and refreshing, the shorts themselves tend to fall into their own formula of “Stain finds item, item comes to life, Stain fights/helps item” more or less. Lets take a look at each one and see how they rate on their own.
A mysterious egg hatches into a fish-like creature and is raised by Stain. Palvan, sensing the creature’s edibility, fights to steal it from Stain. Upon turning his back to the creature, Stain is partially devoured by it until Palvan rescues him, then the two enjoy a nice meal of the dangerous creature. Being the first episode, “Egg” does a great job of summing up what Mr. Stain is: a comedic, yet somewhat disturbing show that touches on the topic of friendship. This episode is more disturbing than comedic and the ravenous look in Palvan’s eyes upon seeing the creature may be frightening to younger viewers.
On the verge of starvation, Stain, Palvan and a Rings attempt to force open a refrigerator and get to the food stored within. Only after the Rings’ death and an explosion does it open, and Stain and Palvan get some final assitence from their departed friend in enjoying their meal. This was my favorite short. The interaction between Palvan and the Rings had me rolling, and the ending involving Rings’ corpse is innovative and somewhat touching.
A painting of a beautiful girl entrances Stain. Palvan, intending to either flatter Stain or make him jealous (I couldn’t figure it out) draws Stain into the picture, prompting a fight which leads to the picture’s destruction. This is one of the weaker entries, due to its pacing and ambiguity on a number of matters.
v4. Heavenly Bird
Finding a colorful bird in the alley, Stain intends to make dinner out of it until it saves his life. Afterwards it gets sick, and Stain, following instructions in a book found near the bird, recreates its native scenery and the bird dies happily. This is another short that makes little sense. The bird dies for no apparant reason and it is never quite defined what ailed it in the first place. Points for the bird’s colorful design, but thats about it.
v5. Magic Crayon
A magical set of crayons that brings whatever it depicts to life is the center of this scary episode. After a portrait of Palvan has a hole gouged in it, the real Palvan’s head is damaged and a black hole forms, sucking up everything in its path. This was the first episode I was exposed to (on a Fullmetal Alchemist DVD) and it still stands as one of my favorites. The scene of Palvan with his admittedly nonsensical black hole is enough to send chills up anyone’s spine.
v6. Cassette Tape
A tape of catchy music causes the tape player to come to life. Upon building it arms and legs, Stain and Palvan are forced to endlessly dance with it, even against their will. After numerous attempts to escape the “thing,” a plan is devised to create a partner for it, one that will never run out of energy. This episode starts off rather poorly, with the cassette tape creature being annoying and dumb, but once things get rolling, Stain and Palvan agree on the annoying sentiment, and the sense of frustration and exhaustion with the endless dancing scenes is conveyed well.
Spying the goings-on of the alley with a pair of binoculars, Stain spots Palvan escorting a new friend around: a small kitten whom has taken a mutual shine. Despite the $50,000 reward for the kitten’s return, Palvan refuses until a limo pulls up and Palvan is blugeoned and the kitten is taken back to its true owners. Another classic, this episode showcases an as-of-yet unseen facet of Palvan’s personality. One of tenderness. The beating scene, while nothing is shown, is both humorous and shocking, due to how unexpected it is. The ending is touching and both happy and sad at the same time.
v8. Toy Robot
A remote controlled robot becomes Stain’s unwilling servant until it rebels, wanting to fly. After numerous failed attempts at creating a working propulsion system for it, the robot reluctantly returns to its remote controlled lifestyle. The various ideas Stain comes up with for wings are hilarious and the scene when it first rebels is well directed. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the robot at the end though.
v9. Woolen Yarn
A small girl named Stefany wanders into Junk Alley while chasing a kitten and is horrified by all the strange creatures and actions she sees. In her panic, she drops a glove, which, (like everything in Junk Alley) comes to life and tries to help her find her way out of the urban labyrinth. This episode is more of a tour of Junk Alley and features very little of the usual characters. The chase scene involving the kitten showcases some neat visual and directorial tricks. Stefany’s reactions to Junk Alley are completely believable, as it can be a very scary place. This episode ranks among the best.
After planting and tending to a seed he finds, Stain finds himself in love with the feminine creature thst blossoms from it. Seasons come and go as the happy couple dances merrily until Stain becomes injured (from an expolding saucer from an alien invasion) and the plant sacrifices its life to save him. I’m on the fence as to how to rate this one. The idea of an alien invasion that has nothing to do with the plot is ingenious, but the formulaic love angle that will be visited a few more times before the series’ conclusion, plus the fact that the plant seems almost sinister in its seduction of Stain make this episode more or less passable.
Stain makes a clay bust of himself but during the night the bust attacks Palvan and plants itself on his body. After it finds more clay and finishes its’ mimic of Stain, the two bond and become good friends. A rainstorm puts an end to this though, as the clay melts away. Stain says goodbye to one friend while seeing another again as Palvan resumes control of his body. Despite having little reason to empathize with the living clay (as it attacked and essentially tried to kill Palvan) the hopeless attempts that Stain makes to save it during the storm are sad and touching.
v12. Fishing Rod
A fishing trip in the broken down fountain reveals a vast sunken world underneath in which two fish, one big, one little, call home. Stain feels sorry for the larger fish but Palvan, ruled by his stomach as usual, kills it and eats it as the younger fish looks on. Feeling sorry for it, Stain feeds it over the course of time, and it grows into a much larger fish and swallows him and a Rings. The two fight to find a way to escape while not harming the fish but it ends up being killed anyway, leading to a somewhat guilty yet delicious dinner. In a more plot heavy show, the underwater city could have led to some interesting “Big O”-ish questions, but as it stands, its just a tease. This is another great episode and neither Jonah nor Pinnochio ever did the eaten-by-a-giant-fish bit so well.
An abandoned baby causes Stain to adopt some patriarchal feelings and responsibilities. Stealing food to care for the baby, he incurs the wrath of a sinister and cruel police officer. The baby dies for unknown reasons (perhaps because he was left in a dirty alley…) and Stain, after being shot by the policeman, sacrifices his own lifeforce (via a strange glowing butterfly “soul”) and revives it. Falling from the building, he kills the evil cop and Palvan uses the officer’s own lifeforce to revive Stain, resulting in a happy ending. From a directorial standpoint, this serves as a shining example as to why Mr. Stain on Junk Alley is something special. While I wish the episode would have been more comedic, it delves into some interesting philosophies and ideas. I can, under no circumstances, say that this short is kid-friendly though. The police officer is frightening, the scene with Stain being shot is violent and graphic, and the image of the baby dying is enough to make anyone feel uneasy. For mature audiences though, I can’t reccomend this serious episode enough.
The half-hour “epilogue” to the series involves Stain’s musical talents being noticed by a beautiful girl in an apartment overlooking Junk Alley. The two bond through music without ever meeting each other and Stain devises numerous ways to visit her but is repeatedly thwarted. A more attractive, yet mean version of him escapes from the mirror and assumes his identity and the two fight for the woman’s affection. While I wish that this “epilogue” could have been a little better, I can’t complain, because Mr. Stain could never, under any stretch of the imagination, be construed as a plot-driven show. The nice nods to continuity are cool, and many different characters make cameos. The longer length works against it though as it becomes tedious, and the girl across the street seems one-dimensional and largely annoying.
The disc’s whopping 110 minutes of extras must be mentioned. While most of them are throwaway clips of the production studio at work, there is some nice insight into how the simple yet charming visuals came to be. The bonus animation clips almost serve as epilogues to the epilogue. There isn’t much here of real interest, but the fact that they are added to this package, if only for completion’s sake, really make this disc shine. So seldom does a product of Japan come out with any extras at all!
Disney and Pixar aren’t in any real danger, but Mr. Stain on Junk Alley could show them a thing or two about working with limited resources and achieving a quality product packed with originality. The soft CGI visuals are pleasnt and colorful, sound effects are workable, and the theme song is as catchy as they come. For anyone looking for a good laugh, a good time, or even a good scare, I can’t reccomend this complete collection enough!