Cartoons with Kick

For quite some time there has been a growing cult of folks thirsting for a breakout film that would do for animation what the Dark Knight series did for comic books. For a brief glimmering moment, they put their hopes in the hands of Don Bluth, who, with The Secret of NIMH, showed he might take animation in a new direction. But he ultimately lapsed back into the cutesy Disney sensibilities from which he arose. Even the characters in Bluth's Titan A.E., despite its more serious story line, felt like they were lifted from Uncle Walt's studios.

Let's face it: If you want adult animation, you have to look to the East. In Japan, people watch anime the way we watch TV sitcoms. The stories can be dark, violent, scary -- the sort of movies people in Washington hold hearings about. And die-hard fans will travel across the country just to attend a convention.

Fortunately Absolute Anime is local, on the big screen at the MFA's Glassell School. The titles here have been compiled by ADV Films, the Houston company responsible for dubbing many Japanese cartoons, as well as importing that giant fire-breathing turtle Gamera for American audiences. The voices you'll hear will be those of Houston actors, including regulars at the Alley and Stages, and some will be in attendance throughout the festival. "It's a chance for [fans] to see it big, and maybe broaden our market," says Steven Foster, who writes, directs and produces ADV films, which typically go straight to video.

Yankee fans, take heart. The yet-to-be-released Sin: The Movie, based on the PC game, marks the first ADV production written in-house. Rumor has it others are in the pipeline, shooting for a theatrical release. Bluth ought to think about dusting off that résumé.