On Friday, Feb. 17, 2023, the famed Japanese animation house Studio 4°C (Tekkonkinkreet, Children of the Sea) made the animated short film Noiseman Sound Insect available to stream on the company’s YouTube channel for a limited time. If you’re an anime fan born before the turn of the century, you may know that this short — which features work from some of the most prolific anime creators of our time — has been unavailable to legally watch in the West since it was released over two decades ago. If you’re new to anime, however, here’s the lowdown as to why exactly you should make the time to watch this long-lost 15-minute gem of Japanese animation.
Initially released in Japan back in 1997, the film centers on a group of “biker” kids living in a dilapidated futuristic metropolis who fight to break free from the mind control of “Noiseman’’ — a synthetic life-form created by a disgruntled scientist that can devour sound waves and transform them into crystals. It’s a trippy, ambitious, and unquestionably unique anime short that boasts a hybrid 2D-CGI animation style that truly felt cutting-edge for its time. The short had never been legally available to watch in the United States until Oct. 28, 2022, when 4°C made the short available to watch worldwide (with the exception of Japan) on the company’s YouTube channel in HD for a limited time.
At the time, however, 4°C neglected to include any English subtitles for the film. This meant that even though you could technically watch the film, you couldn’t understand any of the dialogue (and a substantial chunk of the film’s story) if you didn’t understand Japanese — whoops! This time around though, 4°C has graciously added English close-captioned subtitles, which means this is the first time any English-speaking audiences outside of Japan have had the opportunity to fully (and legally) enjoy this rare short film from one of Japan’s most preeminent anime studios without having to shell out exorbitant amounts of cash for used Region 2 DVDs.
If that weren’t enough, the film was made by some of the most iconic creators in modern anime, some of them even before the breakthrough moment in their respective careers. The short features character designs and key animation courtesy of Masaaki Yuasa, who at the time was known primarily for his work on the family comedy anime Crayon Shin-chan and would go on to co-found the anime studio Science Saru and directed such acclaimed anime as Devilman Crybaby, Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken, and Inu-Oh. Yoko Kanno, who would later go on to compose the iconic jazz- and rock-inspired score for 1998’s Cowboy Bebop, wrote the music for the short, creating a surreal electronic breakbeat-inspired score utterly unlike anything she would later be known for.
The short was directed by Studio 4°C co-founder Koji Morimoto, an animation veteran renowned for his work as a key animator on Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 sci-fi epic Akira, his work directing the cult classic sci-fi anime short “Magnetic Rose” for the 1995 anime anthology Memories, and his work on the psychedelic Mike Hinge-esque opening title sequence of 1986’s Dirty Pair: Project Eden. Noiseman Sound Insect as a whole feels representative of Morimoto’s most defining attributes as a creator, with its emphasis on avant-garde hybrid-style animation, dark dystopian settings, and psychedelic cyberpunk visuals.
You can see distinctive parallels between the premise and animation style of Noiseman Sound Insect with Morimoto’s later work on the anime short film “Beyond” for the 2003 anime anthology The Animatrix, which centered on a young woman who discovered a glitched-out “ghost house” occupied by a group of unruly children, or even his music video for Japanese DJ Ken Ishii’s 1996 single “Extra,” which (a) is very cool, (b) has strobing light effects — so please be cautious if you’re susceptible to photosensitive epilepsy — and (c) is absolutely not safe for work. I cannot stress that last point enough — you have been warned!
The combination of Morimoto’s, Yuasa’s, and Kanno’s respective talents on this project amounts to an anime short that feels as bizarre, revelatory, and genuinely revolutionary to watch now in 2023 as it must have felt to see it back in 1997. Noiseman Sound Insect is like the missing link in the evolutionary chain of Studio 4°C’s filmography, a weird one-off short film that otherwise feels like a precursor to the brand of surreal, idiosyncratic, and genre-pushing animation that the studio would later come to be known for through films like Yuasa’s 2004 feature debut Mind Game and Michael Arias’ 2006 film Tekkonkinkreet.
Watching Noiseman Sound Insect is like experiencing a shot of pure, unadulterated creativity injected into one’s optic nerve. It’s the kind of short film whose level of artistic craft and playful sense of experimentation reminds you why you fell in love with anime in the first place.
Noiseman Sound Insect is available to stream from Studio 4°C’s YouTube channel until March 17. If you’ve never seen this short film before — especially if you’re a fan of anime like Tekkonkinkreet and Akira — you won’t regret making the time to watch it.