Spring and Chaos (イーハトーブ幻想 Kenjiの春 Īhatōbu Gensō Kenji no Haru?, lit, Ihatov Fantasy: Kenji's Spring) is a 1996 Japanese anime television special inspired by the life of poet Kenji Miyazawa, released in Japan to mark the 100th anniversary of Miyazawa's birth. It was directed by Shoji Kawamori. It was released in North America by Tokyopop. Miyazawa and the other characters in the program are depicted as cats, similar to the anime adaptation of Miyazawa's story Night on the Galactic Railroad.

In 1996, poet and writer Kenji Miyazawa would have been 100 years old. To celebrate, Iwate TV commissioned an animated featurette, Ihatôbu gensô, Kenji no haru. Miyazawa is best known for his story, Night On The Galactic Railroad, which became a classic full-length animated movie in 1985.

When Mixx Entertainment, the predecessor to TOKYOPOP, got the rights to put out this remarkable animation, the English title decided on was Spring and Chaos. It’s the title of one of the Miyazawa poems you hear in the featurette, and is also a summation of what it’s about. Some have compared Spring and Chaos to Shakespeare In Love because it’s an attempt to imagine Miyazawa’s internal thought processes as he created his stories and poetry.

In many respects, Spring and Chaos was way ahead of its time. Traditional animation met CGI, and when you consider the period of time and the state of the art, the fusion is surprisingly good. There is a distinct Steampunk flavor to this as well, an aesthetic that was pretty rare in 1996 but is a fan favorite now. Clockwork universes, steam locomotives pulling trains at escape velocity in the Taishou era of Japanese history…a dream of a steam-powered future.

Spring and Chaos was directed and scripted by Shoji Kawamori. If only for his achievement as the creator of the acclaimed and revered animated series Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, Kawamori’s place in anime history would be forever sealed. However, Kawamori is not only the force of nature behind the Macross juggernaut, he created such fan favorite series as The Vision of Escaflowne, Earth Maiden Arjuna, and designed many of the Generation 1 Transformers toys, including the iconic Optimus Prime. He is still considered the premier mecha designer in Japan, and was called on by the creators of series as early as Crusher Joe to as late as Eureka Seven to create mecha character designs. He is now Executive Managing Director at Satelight Animation Studios, Inc., a studio he helped found and at which Spring and Chaos was produced. Kawamori also made a cameo appearance in the rollicking mockumentary Van Von Hunter as himself.

Like Night On The Galactic RailroadSpring and Chaos‘ characters are anthropomorphic animals, mostly cats. The protagonist, Kenji, is a bipedal cat with a non-conformist streak. He teaches school, and his relationship to his students is reminiscent of that in the film The Dead Poets’ Society. There is also a Studio Ghibli feel to the film, especially when you consider the real-life relationship of Miyazawa and his terminally ill little sister, which is very much a part of the story.

Most of all, this is a surreal trip into the inner life of an artist. Strap in and hang on until the ride comes to a complete stop. Keep your arms and legs in the gondola at all times.