Five Numbers

I love one-shot OVAs. I miss them. Getting a complete story in 30 minutes is a little bit of heaven to me. Some of the earliest shows I ever watched were Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone. I thoroughly enjoy serialized anime a whole lot, and movies are fantastic, but it takes a brilliant mind to create a short film that truly grips you in the space of a half an hour with characters we're just met. In retrospect, it's not at all surprising that while I was drawn to anime by Robotech, it was the gorgeous anthology of short films called Robot Carnival that launched me into a lifetime of anime viewing.

Recently, Sentai Filmworks packaged together two anime shorts by the production house Sunrise -- Five Numbers and Coicent. One of them continues the tradition of the one-shot well; one doesn't. Unfortunately, Five Numbers is the one that misses the mark...though there's plenty here to appreciate. Your take may depend on whether unique art styles interest you...and whether or not you pay to see it.

As locked doors suddenly open, five prisoners find themselves wandering the halls of their prison. Where are they? Where is everybody? And what did they do to get into this mess? These folks are definitely guilty of one crime or another...but if they are so dangerous, why are there no guards? As they unravel the mystery, they realize that their fates might depend on figuring out where they are and how they might escape. But if only one can get out...who should it be?

In imprisoning its players in a mysterious location, Five Numbers follows a well-known plot device. The surprise no-budget sleeper Cube did it better about 15 years ago...and it was by no means the first. The characters are stock stereotypes -- the bespectacled hacker chick, the gambling sexpot, and so forth. These weren't really a letdown in themselves, though. Mystery stories often use predictable tropes so that the surprises to come are all the more shocking, so I can forgive Five Numbers for not being terribly original.

I can't forgive it for totally blowing the landing, however. While the conclusion makes logical sense -- it doesn't break apart anything we've seen before -- it's hollow for the kind of story this is. There is no possible way to predict that the outcome would be what it is, no "aha!" moment where puzzle pieces fit together. There's irony in it, yes, but it left me shrugging. Even a finale that made me angry would have been better than the denouement they came up with.

So why might it be worth your time? For no other reason than that the artistic style is intriguing. The characters don't look that different from any other anime you've seen, but the way they are animated is striking. The sketchy format not only makes it feel like manga, it affects how each character moves across the screen. It reminded me a bit of Redline, in fact. They may have found the plot in a box of stale Crackerjacks, but there's talent at work in what we see on screen.

Five Numbers won't offend you, insult your intelligence, or put you to sleep, but that's not much to go on, either. It wasn't great, but it wasn't a half-hour I wanted back, and I didn't pay for it via Hulu, so I was OK with it. If I had purchased it, even as a double-feature with the far, far better Coicent? Not so much. It's just not striking enough to seek out. As a time-waster waiting for something better to do? Sure. But I was hoping for more.

Five Numbers -- mild violence and innuendo -- C+