Project Dreams – How to Build Mazinger Z’s Hangar (2020) review [Fantasia 2020]

Introduction

That Mazinger Z, the classic hit mecha manga/anime of the seventies, played a tremendous role in creating the 1970s boom of mecha anime and introduced many tropes that are, up until this day, part and parcel in the robot anime genre cannot be disputed. And that such series after all these years still has many fans all over the world should not surprise anyone.

But what should surprise everyone is that a few years ago an attempt was made to design and create a detailed plan for the construction of Mazinger Z’s Hangar. And now, Tsutomu Hanabusa brings their story, albeit highly dramatized, to the silver screen.

Fantasia 2020 Official Selection

Review

One day at the Maeda Construction Corporation, Teriyuki Asegawa (Hiroaki Ogi), the PR team manager, approaches one of his juniors, Wataru Doi (Mahiro Takasugi), about Mazinger Z and asks him if it would be possible to recreate Mazinger Z’s underground hangar. While Wataru Doi and Hiroko Chikada (Chikara Honda) have their doubts, Shunta Besso (Yusuke Kamiji), the PR team chief, is convinced they can.

After a heated discussion between Chikada and Besso, Asegawa reveals that he has (already) unofficially established the Fantasy Marketing Department and orders his team to design the hangar and create a detailed plan for its construction. While his team is hesitant about the project at first, Asegawa’s spirited enthusiasm gradually infects his team, including Chisa Emoto (Yukino Kishii). Together – and with the help of other departments, they will achieve the impossible – or not.

Project Dreams – How to Build Mazinger Z’s Hangar (2020)  by Tsutomu Hanabusa

Project Dreams – How to Build Mazinger Z’s Hangar offers a dramatization of – surprising as it may be – of real facts. Not only the file on the Mazinger Z hangar, but also the fantasy marketing department of the engineering firm Maeda Corporation really exist. The dramatization, courtesy of Makoto Ueda, turns round two struggles: the struggle to get accepted within the company and the struggle to realize the project. 

The approved volunteer project does not only become a controversy within the company – people from other departments start shunning the project members – but also leads to a disagreement between Asegawa and various people in the company, including the director of the company. The director, for his part, finds Asegawa’s pet project self-centered and going against company’s interests. Asegawa, on the other hand, sees his project, a project indeed born from his personal passion, as an opportunity to advertise the company and its technologies to the public.

But what truly fuels the opposition against Asegawa’s project is fear, fear that the project will damage the reputation of other departments and, thus, the company as a whole (Narra-note 1). Fear is hereby revealed as the emotional element that structures conservatism and hinders creativity (and evolution). Asegawa, for that matter, finds himself, merely by wanting to realize his passion-project, beyond such corporate fear. Merely by having a passion, he succeeds, despite remaining subjected to the rules and the expectations of the traditional corporate system, in temporally escaping the conservative tendency of the company.

The second problem for the project – a problem far greater than the internal opposition – concerns the many inconsistencies in the anime surrounding the hangar. There are not only inconsistencies about the actual place of the hangar, but also about the very mechanisms of the hangar. These inconsistencies do not only challenge the group’s desire to remain faithful to the anime’s depiction of the hangar but also confronts them with the limits of current technology. The ultimate question that structures the narrative is as follow: Can the hangar, given current technology, be made in such a way that it stays true to the anime and do right by its fans?

The cinematographical composition of Project Dreams – How to Build Mazinger Z’s Hangar stands out due to is dynamism. That Hanabusa relies so heavily on camera movement, composing the narrative with lots of spatial and tracking movement, gives the overall composition a pleasing fluidity.

The lightheartedness of the Project Dreams is mainly function of the musical accompaniment. There are two ways in which the music supports the lightheartedness. Firstly, via its playful character and, secondly, by being playfully used, just like non-diegetic sounds (and, in some cases, exaggerated comical diegetic sounds), to support and strengthen the comical flow.    

Project Dreams – How to Build Mazinger Z’s Hangar (2020)  by Tsutomu Hanabusa

Over-acting can often derail Japanese comical narratives, but when done right it can greatly benefit the lighthearted atmosphere of a narrative. Project Dreams – How to Build Mazinger Z’s Hangar does it, luckily, right. The subtle over-acting strengthens the lighthearted mood of the narrative as well as enhance the relatability and endearing quality of the various main characters.

It is, furthermore, due to the charming performances that the spectator can slowly become supportive of Asegawa’s extra-ordinary project as well. But the possibility of the spectator to become enthused by the project depends on his acceptance of the cinematographically guided identification with Wataru Doi (Cine-note 1). It is, in fact, only by going through the same emotional evolution that Doi’s experiences – an evolution from genuine disbelief to enthusiastically desiring the success of their attempt to do the impossible – that the spectator can truly enjoy the lightheartedness of Project Dreams – How to Build Mazinger Z’s Hangar.

Another element – an element only used in the opening minutes of Project Dreams – that is used to support the lightheartedness of the narrative is the lightning design. Teriyuki Asegawa’s speech about the project only succeeds in attaining a certain silliness and a powerful heroism, a heroism able to inspire (some of) those who doubted his sanity, because of dramatic lightning and fitting musical accompaniment. The dimension of silly heroism is also visualized in the intro-sequence of Project Dreams – How to Build Mazinger Z’s Hangar. What makes this silly heroism in the intro truly sensible is not the representation of each character partaking in the project as a superhero as such, but the way these representation are staged, i.e. by using dramatic lightning, epic music, and more dramatic camera-perspectives.  

Project Dreams – How to Build Mazinger Z’s Hangar is a fun dramatization of a true story but nothing more. Hanabusa’s pleasant and engaging ride offers plenty of lighthearted moments, mixes in some pleasant romance, and even plays, in a fluid and natural way, with the fantastical, but remains, in contrast to its content, a rather ‘conservative’ film. Not that such conservatism is wrong, but a more daring approach could have made Project Dreams into an even more powerful celebration of technology and the inspiring power of anime.

Notes

Narra-note 1: This fear is beautifully expressed by Yuiichiro Irie (-) from the sales and Marketing section, when he confronts his former colleague Bessho in the toilets. 

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