AKA: Aru Tabibito no Nikki, The Diary of a Certain Traveler
Year Released: 2003
Running Time: ONA, 6 Episodes, 2-4 minutes each
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: The Diary of Tortov Roddle: The Red Berry
For Fans Of: The House of Small Cubes, Golden Time [Takuya Inaba short film], Kino’s Journey, Fantastic Planet, Rain Town, Song of the Sea, Haibane Renmei, Cat Soup
-The Diary of Tortov Roddle is one of the first animation projects from Robot Communications that wasn’t a co-production between other studios. In addition to their other works such as Golden Time or The House of Small Cubes, they’ve done some animation commissions for video games such as the Onimusha series, Xenosaga Episode II, and Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
-This is Kunio Kato’s first directorial work with Robot Communications and he would eventually direct The House of Small Cubes which I also reviewed on Iridium Eye.
-Composer Kenji Kondo has contributed songs and arrangements for other anime such as Penguindrum, Arakawa Under the Bridge, and Polar Bear’s Cafe.
-Hilarious in Hindsight: Episode 4 has some strange super-svelte rabbit people walking around. With how they look, I want to call them Slenderbunnies. Trust me, you’ll know when you see them. At least they aren’t as creepy as Slenderman.
Robot Communications, we meet again. I’ve certainly lauded two of your works before with The House of Small Cubes and Golden Time. Despite being a Japanese company, your works have been some of the most un-anime-like things I’ve ever seen, and that’s not a knock on your works. If anything, it can be a compliment for anyone who’s into artsy animation and/or those that need a rude awakening for what Japanese animation can do outside of whatever gets adapted from Shonen Jump, whatever Isekai series is there this season or some god-awful fanservice show. Despite my severe issues with the Oscars and other big award shows, even I had to admit that if anyone deserved an Academy Award it was you when you animated The House of Small Cubes and beat out whatever short film Pixar made that year. A victory for the little guy against the heartless giant is always a good thing in my book. While I’ve covered some of their later works, I thought I would take it back to check out one of their earlier animations when they were branching out as the little studio that could.
The Diary of Tortov Roddle is an animated travelogue of sorts with the stove-pipe hat-wearing title character and his giant swine steed going from town to town. Tortov Roddle examines the cultures of those he meets all over the place while also seeing the surreal landscapes of wherever he is.
Let me make one thing clear about this anime series. This is NOT a rip-off of Kino’s Journey! Yes, Kino came first from an intellectual property standpoint with the light novels, but I can assure you some of the similarities are only skin deep. Besides that, the animation is great as to be expected from Robot Communications. That un-anime aesthetic had to have started with this one as the style and artistry are more reminiscent of experimental European animation than whatever came out in Japan. The scenery and some of the characters look more influenced by something like Fantastic Planet if it went more steampunk or old-world kind of look to it, and even that’s just scratching the surface. The world certainly looks strange, but also appealing and even familiar at times which is a tough thing to balance, yet they did it just right with most of these episodes. The scenery is gorgeous with its impressionistic art vibe with tasteful minimalism and cooler colors making this a treat for the eyes. The silent film aspect was a nice touch with the different title cards as dialogue which really makes it separate from several anime series including ones I’d consider to be on the artistic side. The music was great with its old-world sounds and some gentle folk music that’s interspersed in-between. It’s not bombastic or overdramatic, but it really fits the animation very well.
The Diary of Tortov Roddle does have some missing entries to prevent me from giving it a full 10/10. Straight out the gate, this is a bizarre series. I know it’s not for everyone and can weird people out. The main character didn’t have as much of a personality until about the last episode when he meets that mysterious woman. Besides him traveling around or having a hat that can put Abraham Lincoln to shame, I couldn’t tell you most things about him except he observes the people around him. Also, what is Tortalia? I couldn’t tell you anything and I’m not sure this is mentioned what Tortov’s home country is like. I know there were some philosophical elements in Tortov Roddle, but some of the philosophy is quite shallow and the animation can distract from that in some episodes. It’s not a preachy or didactic series which is totally fine with me, but it is the total opposite where it becomes too obtuse and cryptic for most viewers.
Tortov Roddle was still a great entry into Robot Communications’ filmography. This short film series just oozes with creativity like their later works and the animation quality is wonderful in its strangeness. The stories are short and will grab people’s attention. You can binge-watch the entirety of Tortov Roddle at the same time as watching half an anime TV episode. However, Tortov is a blank slate character and things can be too obscure for many viewers out there. The Diary of Tortov Roddle isn’t the best thing from Kunio Kato or Robot Communications, but it’s still better than a ton of animated works out there. Recommended.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1-2 points if you like Robot Communications’ works.
Subtract 1-3 points if you want your animation to be straightforward.
-Innovative and creative animation and visuals
-Great soundtrack and score
-Destroys anime stereotypes and expectations
-Gets too bizarre and cryptic
-Tortov Roddle could use a stronger personality
-Gets too short to watch
Final Score: 8/10 points
Content Warning: The Diary of Tortov Roddle doesn’t have many objectionable things in it. The worst things I can think of are the projection bear getting whacked a bit by a stick and a fish swallowing a butterfly while jumping out of a coffee cup. Those scenes make sense in context given how weird this anime can be.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. The Diary of Tortov Roddle is property of Kunio Kato and Robot Communications. The poster is from IMDb and is property of Robot Communications.