Ten years ago, Cencoroll Connect was a 30-minute animated film that came out with multiple commercials in Japan and only a few international screenings. The film was an original work by one-man-team Uki Atsuya who single-handedly came up with the concept, designed the series, and directed it all from start to finish — a feat worth noting in today’s world of massive animation studios with hundreds of staffers. Despite Uki’s efforts though, reviews were less than stellar. Cencoroll Connect apparently lacked a plot and substantial characters, thus remained under the radar until 2019 when its sequel was announced to premiere at Anime Expo 2019. With such a large time gap between movie sequels and its diminishing audience, how did Cencoroll as a whole maintain its foothold overseas and be further supported at Anime Expo? That question continued to burn at the back of my mind as I leaned back to enjoy the premiering panel. As a disclaimer: the Cencoroll Connect panel held at Anime Expo 2019 featured both the first movie Cencoroll Connect, and its sequel Cencoroll 2.
The first movie opens up with a simple plot. Yuki, a normal high school student in Sapporo, Hokkaido, happens to encounter the brooding Tetsu and his weird alien friend “Cenco”. In a massive whirlwind of confusion, Yuki is suddenly thrust into this conflict of humans using aliens to fight each other for dominance. There’s nothing mind-blowing about this concept, let alone a “boy-meets-girl” scenario that most likely implies a close relationship or romantic development between characters. But Uki-san uses a surprising amount of his own twists and subtle details that leaves the audience hanging by the first movie. Then Cencoroll 2 begins to roll and everything starts to make sense: from the way characters act to the progression of the plot. All your questions are answered one by one, and before you know it, you start focusing less on the plot holes and more on Uki’s vision for Cencoroll. Admittedly, it’s better to watch both Cencoroll Connect and Cencoroll 2 in one sitting to get the full scope of the plot. Just watching either of the two movies will get you nowhere and I could see why viewers back in 2009 were not too impressed with Cencoroll Connect as a standalone film.
Going forward with a well-executed plot in two movies, the characters in Cencoroll Connect are surprisingly very charming. Tetsu is an absurdly broody protagonist that I couldn’t seem to hate, no matter how many edgelords exist in anime. While he often berates Cenco for being “lazy” or remarks how dumb Yuki can be, Tetsu carries a softer side whenever Cenco is damaged during the fights or when Yuki is in clear danger. Then you have Yuki, the inquisitive airhead who serves as the audience’s self-insert into the world of Cencoroll, but she’s eccentric in her own way that allows her to form interesting bonds with the other characters. Together, Tetsu and Yuki create an interesting dynamic alongside the ever so scowling yet oddly adorable Cenco who puts up with Yuki’s antics and Tetsu’s demands. You end up laughing more at this oddball trio and how well their chemistry holds up, despite how turbulent things went down in both Cencoroll Connect and Cencoroll 2.
While Yuki, Tetsu, and Cenco are the pivotal characters of Cencoroll, I found myself especially fond of Shu and Kaname as the secondary characters. In a span of two movies, you are given a “show-not-tell” description of their personalities, motives, and personal likes/dislikes as characters, which also explains how each character operates with their aliens. They feel much more threatening to the trio’s dynamics and bring much larger stakes than just being there as typical cardboard cut-outs of “antagonists”. Tetsu may have Cenco who is a versatile fighter, but both Shu and Kaname have tricks up their sleeves that make them far more dangerous than anything we’ve seen so far in Cencoroll.
As much as I’d like to harp about the plot and characterization, the truth behind Cencoroll’s popularity and niche foothold in international audiences is not because of these two factors. The reality is, Uki is an absolute genius when it comes to pairing his visuals with the appropriate soundtrack or sound effect. I will never forget the scene that truly wowed me: the moment when Tetsu and Cenco first appear on screen to monitor a new alien that rips apart a space dimension and plops on top of a skyscraper, stirring national attention as it happens. We start with the rippling effect of the alien popping out of the sky, which reminded me of how the Arrancar faction in Bleach crossed dimensions. There’s a singular screech of the alien ripping through the dimensional plane before it fully reveals its grotesque appearance, promoting an unworldly and bizarre feeling that’s absolutely fitting for a sci-fi scenario. Following up on the alien’s touchdown, Tetsu immediately communicates with Cenco using a hair strand that acts like an electric antenna. It flicks, unfurls, and ripples to life with a “fwish, fwtiz!” sound effect of a crackling cable wire, all while accompanied by Ryo’s electric and jarring single “Love & Roll” and soundtrack single “Cencoroll”. In those short few minutes, I felt completely impressed and completely invested in how well Uki crafted his world. How could such a man instil so much awe and impact in just a few frames? I felt the need to learn more, to see what else Uki had to offer and witness his passion project come to life.
Time practically flew and before I knew it, the audience was treated with a special Q&A session with producer Hayashi Kenichi and the man himself, Uki Atsuya. Despite being a complete newcomer to the Cencoroll movies, I clapped just as hard as the original fans and cheered just as loud. It was such a joy to hear how much effort both Hayashi and Uki put into Cencoroll as an independent film project, which gave me so much hope for the subsequent Cencoroll movies. I hope that with Anime Expo’s premiere of the second film, it will give Cencoroll the proper reception it deserves. I look forward to its future premieres and anything else Uki has to offer at this point. Be on the lookout for the next Cencoroll 3, whether it comes out soon or ten years from now!
Special thanks to Aniplex for hosting this premiere at Anime Expo 2019 for international audiences!