A silent anime short from a Japanese stand-up comedian might be the sweetest, most emotional piece of animation you'll see this year. "Promise" by Tekken is the story of a family torn apart by a promise and an accident that leaves the survivors struggling to stay afloat. The style is strong, making the most of the limitations of grayscale marker animation with repeated motifs and beautiful animation cycles. This is all enhanced by a lovely piano score and no spoken dialogue. Anyone can watch the short and interpret it how they choose.
"Promise" almost reads like a classic manga brought to life. The only difference is the lack of tones. It would have been nearly impossible to use traditional tones and line-up the animation in this style, so the backgrounds are more sparse than usual. The waves and weather are suggested with simple strokes rather than fabricated patterns used by thousands before.
For me, Tekken's "Promise" is a Modernist drama about loss and sacrifice. A young boy loses his father and grows to hate him for breaking a childhood promise to come back home. His mother does what she can by putting on a brave face and forcing a routine on the surviving family. No one is happy, but no one is willing to make waves and change the repetition to fix their lives.
The nautical imagery is literal and beautiful in equal measure. Waves are a regular Modernist motif, most notably used in similar literal fashion in Virginia Woolf's The Waves. It's a smart choice with a lot of existing literary associations that hold pretty consistent around the world. Waves are a natural clock that come in a predictable rhythm, creating distance and stability even in their unpredictable strength and frequency. It's an inexact science that can easily be related to the human experience.
You can watch Tekken's "Promise" below.
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