23 April 2020 | Shostakovich343
'Kick-Heart' is Masaaki Yuasa doing whatever he likes. It is strange and superficial, especially compared to the director's masterful "Tatami Galaxy". But it is also spectacular, and that may be enough for a short running twelve minutes, including credits.
Moving in a Yuasa tempo, the story is quite crammed all the same. It comes down to a part-time wrestler, Maskman, having to fight the woman of his dreams to earn money for his orphanage's restoration. Although unable to see beyond her mask, he is infatuated with his adversary, and crippled by his desire to receive a stout pounding from her. Incidentally, the orphanage has just hired a young nun ('majored in psychology with a minor in mind-control') who may also take an interest in wrestling.
Of course, the story isn't the point here. This is Yuasa showcasing how he can stretch the limits of animation. You can discuss all you like whether such a thing is 'style over substance' or 'style as substance', but there is no denying "Kick-Heart" is eye-popping. The animators go wild here, and it is hard not to be caught up in the fun they are clearly having.
There is a gag every fifteen to thirty seconds, and a surprising number of them land. When Maskman, shrouded by the anonymity of night, stops to buy erotica at a vending machine, it shouts 'Thank you for your purchase!' so loudly the entire neighbourhood turns its lights on. But culprit has raced away before anyone can see. Yuasa knows exactly how to pace these moments, leaving no room for awkward pauses, while waiting with his next joke just long enough to give us time to breathe.
The few hints at depth fall flat, though. It would have been better if they hadn't been included at all. There is one twenty-second flashback of Maskman's lost mother that is so half-hearted I cannot say whether it was misguided or cynical.
But such quibbles are negated by the fact that this is only a twelve-minute short. And every of its twelve minutes is stimulating. If "Kick-Heart" hardly compares to Yuasa's major works, well, it isn't one of them. Just savour the craftsmanship on offer. It remains more rewarding than some 500-episode shônen.