Legendary manga artist and animator Katsuhiro Otomo is familiar to some people as the creator of Akira, but one year prior to the film's theatrical debut in 1988, Otomo contributed to Neo Tokyo, a collection of animated shorts featuring works by some of Japan's most talented and recognized animators. Otomo has since made a habit of organizing or contributing to other collections, including Robot Carnival (1991), Memories (1995), and most recently, Short Peace. What sets Short Peace apart from the rest of the collections is the inclusion of a game, Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day, from Tokyo Jungle studio Crispy's, and Suda 51, the creator of games like No More Heroes and Killer is Dead.
Currently, there's no way to purchase Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day without also acquiring the accompanying animated shorts. When I consider the bundle in its entirety, it's easy to recommend. The four animated shorts tackle a variety of subjects including Japanese mythology, love and desperation, bonds between man and nature, and the trajectory of a society that's wound around weapons technology and armed conflict. They deliver plenty of eye-catching animation, exciting art design, and succinct stories that intelligently get their point across.
The first short, Possessions, tells the story of a run down, waterlogged tailor who stumbles upon a derelict shack in the middle of a forest. Upon entering, he's confronted by an array of haunted objects, including tattered umbrellas and obis--traditional sashes worn by geishas. Rather than balk in fright, the tailor's good nature and positive outlook shine through, ultimately earning the spirits' friendship and allegiance. It's a heartwarming, Disney-esque tale with an invigorating presentation that's packed with movement, intricate details, and an uplifting, brilliant palette.
Possessions is a bright first course, but the tale of lovelorn youths separated by tradition and family values in the next chapter, Combustible, stirs up a different and darker set of emotions. Two sets of hard-nosed parents inadvertently create a divide between two entangled teens, Owaka and Matsukichi, and the events that follow tap into wells of sorrow, futility, and sacrifice. It's an unpleasant conclusion to a story that blossoms from an idyllic prologue, which depicts Owaka and Matsukichi's early years, when their days were defined by play and unadulterated joy. The melancholy ending to their story sets the tone for the third short, Gambo, where a little girl appeals to the sensibilities of a wild bear to come to the aid of her village, which is under attack from a hellish demon. Gambo is rousing in its brutality, and it both extends and builds upon the somber tone set by Combustible.
The fourth short, A Farewell to Weapons, brings the emotional roller coaster back to where it started. In the midst of recovering a warhead, a futuristic salvage crew is attacked by an autonomous, quadrupedal weapon. The combat sequences between man and machine that follow are riveting and filled with inventive displays of sci-fi technology, destruction, and tension. By the end, however, you're brought back to a state of tranquility. The transition is abrupt, but it also works, and it feels like a fitting end to a string of stories that manage to flow together on an emotional level despite being so different.
What remains is Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day, a game filled with an animated story of its own. Ranko, a confident and popular high-school student, has a grudge. No, it's not with a classmate, but with her father. Student by day, assassin by night, Ranko is not to be underestimated. As her story unfolds, you encounter a small yet colorful cast of adversaries, watch Ranko's friends evolve, and ultimately face off against her father. Written by Suda 51, it's a fittingly absurd journey that's confusing at times, with numerous details seemingly left on the cutting room floor. Though it's a forgettable tale, it's presented in some very interesting ways, transitioning from contemporary anime visuals to the grotesque and psychedelic end of the animation spectrum. It's enjoyable from a visual standpoint, with great looking 3D-as-2D animation, but it undermines its value with unnecessary up-skirt and down-shirt shots that feel like ugly blots of ink on the composed, thoughtful works that make up the rest of Short Peace.
Unfortunately, the gameplay in Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day is equally shallow. For the majority of the game's ten brief levels, you sprint through streets and subway stations in an attempt to reach the goal, doing your best to stay free from the grip of the ever-pursuant enemies on your tail. While dashing, jumping, and hovering over obstacles, you need to attack enemies that stand in your way by slicing them with your sword or sliding into them. These encounters pay off in simple yet satisfying explosions of color, which can lead to chain attacks that hit nearby enemies. Every enemy you defeat fills up a small portion of your ammo gauge, which comes in handy. You're meant to constantly move forward, but if your pursuers catch up to you, you need to exhaust some of your ammo to send them packing in order to buy yourself some time. Apart from one level that forces you to use a particular skill to advance without telling you, you can get through most levels easily and quickly. There's a dash of variety in gameplay towards the end, including a shoot-em-up-style level and a pixelated battle that's reminiscent of the original Mario Bros., but neither are interesting enough to positively influence your impression of the game at large.
Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day is never challenging, nor remarkable, and it's premise is both devoid of creativity and lacking in execution. There are no innovative mechanics to explore, nor interesting level designs to overcome. The game can be pretty, but that's about the best you can say about it. There's the suggestion that you're intended to replay levels for the sake of high-scores and quicker completion times, but considering how uninspired the gameplay is, you'd need a really good excuse to venture down that path.
Despite the title's suggestion, Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day is brief, lasting just over an hour. Unfortunately, that hour is underwhelming from both a gameplay and storytelling standpoint, and disappointingly shallow relative to the caliber of the accompanying content. Perhaps it's not meant to be taken too seriously, like many of Suda 51's creations. But, when put next to the rest of the collection, it's hard to excuse the immature nature of Ranko's animated sequences, which aren't bashful about showcasing the "sexiness" of its teenage cast. It's not the primary focus, but among the mishmash of themes and scenarios that arise, it's the one that stands out from the start, and it's unfortunate that the gameplay doesn't find a way to rise above and wash away the flavor of tastelessness.
While Ranko's tale brings very little to the table, it's faults don't detract from the best parts of Short Peace: Possessions, Combustion, Gambo, and Farewell to Weapons. These works are easy to digest, feasts for the eyes, and proof that there's more to Japanese animation than the overdone and immature tropes offered in Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day. Come to Short Peace for the variety of content, stay for the imaginative and masterful animation, but leave Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day at the door unless you're in desperate need of something to pass the time.