From the creator of Popee the Performer was all I needed to know about Mr. Stain on Junk Alley to give it a shot. The more time passes, the more I realise how truly original, inspired and deeply traumatising Popee was. Mr. Stain has a lot of the same stylistic choices. It’s entirely CG animated with rather creepy shiny faced character models. There’s no spoken dialogue, with only the odd musical cue and recycled sound bites used. Each episode is only 5 minutes long and features some truly bizarre imagery. The big difference between the two is while Popee is about the darker side of humanity with jealousy, sadism and hatred, Mr. Stain is about compassion and love, albeit sometimes a rather creepy desperate form of love involving paintings and flowers.
The story is about Stain, a homeless dude living in an alleyway full of rubbish and follows his escapades as he rifles through the seemingly endless piles of junk to find strange artefacts. As a general rule, the weirder the item Stain finds, the better the episode will turn out, which isn’t as often as I would like it. A big part of this comes from the animation not really working if you’re not going to go properly surreal. The characters look vaguely nightmarish with their bug-eyes and unreal movements, which is used intentionally in Popee to make you feel uneasy while Stain tries to tug on your heartstrings. While Stain’s grasp on reality is loose at best, unless it goes truly bizarre the episode rarely leaves much of an impact.
When it does go truly strange though, it works magnificently. I prefer the idea that Stain doesn’t actually have any of the adventures the episodes show him having. He’ll find a dead bird and them in his hunger-driven state will concoct a story involving him tending to this bird’s ailments and building it a shelter. When taking this in mind, the formula works better when some of the darker desires of Stain comes through in the stories. My personal favourite was the one where he grew his own plant lady and spent their nights dancing on the rooftop as aliens flew in overhead and blew up the city. Or where sentient clay takes over the body of his cat and now Stain has a friend in the same shape as himself. These reflect his desires for romance but seen through his equally strong desire for some form of life and green in his dingy alley, or alternatively his desire for friendship but with someone much like himself instead of with his cat.
As I said before though, Stain is not nearly weird enough. Apart from one truly strange scene involving a black hole forming in the centre of a cat’s face, the show never made me truly pull a 0_0 face while Popee managed this reaction at least once per episode, usually more. They’re obviously different types of shows. Popee uses the weirdness for dark comedy, while Mr. Stain uses it to show the main character’s compassion. But the weirder it got, the more impactful the compassion through this bizarre view of the world became. It could have been even better than Popee because Stain has heart that does manage to get to you. Well OK, Popee has heart too, but it’s a blackened dead heart while Stain gives you feels.
That said, this director still has a great grasp of storytelling, and there’s a huge amount of imagination on show. The voiceless characters means they over-exagurate everything, but what’s great is how it shows emotion in the non-human characters. The glove that’s trying to rescue the lost little girl, or the robot who just wants people to dance with him. It’s that same Pixar style of emotion through non-human characters that makes it work, even when the character is a flower with very long attractive legs that is merely the concoction of a homeless man’s longing sex-drive mixed deliriously with his gardening hobby. I did enjoy the show quite a bit, and it’s certainly an easier starting point to this man’s style than Popee is, which is like introducing you to swimming by throwing you into the mouth of a basking shark. It’s very short and I would recommend you give it a shot, especially as preparation for the true masterpiece that is Popee.