Sunday, September 9, 2012

Movie Review: Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror

I don't pay as much attention to films, animated or live-action, that come out in Japan as anime (just because there's such a large gap between when they come out and when anyone not in Japan can see them, legally or otherwise) but the trailers Funimation put out for this one caught my eye since it's an almost all CGI film that didn't look, well, terrible. Quite frankly while I think that some animation studios in Japan have become very good at blending 2D and 3D art together I rarely see any all 3D projects that don't look terrible (and they're certainly not the worst productions I've ever seen, but that's because when I was a kid my brother and I watched a number of VHS tapes with incredibly early CGI shorts which I've never been able to find anywhere since*). And this film looked not terrible at all so when Funimation put up the entire moved subbed on their youtube channel (I believe it's still there) that's all the incentive I needed to go check it out.

Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror

Summary: In the town where Haruka and her oft-absent father live there is a story that little foxes go around and collect everything people have forgotten and take them to a far off place. When Haruka tries to find a keepsake of her mother's, an old hand mirror, she gets to see first hand how true this story is and how hard it can be to get back something that was lost.

The Good: Despite the fact that Haruka is 16 (and you generally age the protagonist to either be the same age or a little older than the intended audience) I feel like this is more of a kid's film than a family film (it's missing all the winks and nods that family-friendly movies/tvs in the US have to entertain it's older viewers) and it works quite fine as one. It's quick paced, doesn't drag, Haruka and Teo both grow, and the simple plot  works fine. It's cute, fluffy fare which I think could easily be shown to kids who've grown up watching Pixar (although they'll probably pick up that it's not American quickly which should be fine, I figured out pretty quick that Pokemon was Japanese and that didn't make me enjoy it anymore or less) and it doesn't have any content that would warrant above a PG rating. 

The Bad: It's not a very ambitious movie due to it's rather simple plot and, while I can easily recommend this to kids who like animated movies, I feel like it might bore a lot of teens/adults who want something more than a simple, cute flick. The villain was also more than a bit cheesy, another reason why I feel like this film is more a kid's movie than a family/all ages film, and after seeing the movie once I feel satisfied and don't think I'll re-watch it. If not for the visuals I doubt I'd remember it in a few years, it's a solid piece of work but not a stand-out one. 

The Audio: Funimation only had the Japanese dub posted so I have no idea how the English dub fares but the Japanese dub was fine, honestly I can't remember the last time I saw a Japanese dub that wasn't fine. Quite honestly I don't remember much else about the audio in the movie but Haruka and Teo's voice both fit well (Miyuki Sawashiro continues to amaze me due to just what a wide range she has) and I often have trouble talking about the audio in movies anyway, there's just so much less time to show off what the composer can do.

The Visuals: There are a few shots early on where it's obvious that it's a 2D background with 3D characters/objects but the movie is 95% CGI and it looks great. The backgrounds are colorful and really feel 3D (the best comparison I can make is that they look like background in an area in a video game, they have depth), the animation seemed smooth and while the character's faces looked a little too plastic it's nothing that an animation fan hasn't seen before (just think of some of Pixar/Dreamwork's films from a few years ago), especially since the film is from 2009. It's not perfect (by which I mean "Pixar level quality" since they are the best out there) but it's more than passable and, while I think the movie could have also worked as a 2D movie it, it works.

So, worth watching if you want to see an almost all CGI anime done right or if you have kids, otherwise there's not much of note here and you can pass on it. As I mentioned earlier Funimation was streaming this movie on youtube when I saw it (which was about three or four weeks ago) and it's probably still up there although I'm betting that it's region locked as well. 

*to emphasize how early these were, a lot of people have seen one of Pixar's early shorts involving a snowman in a snowglobe right? A masterpiece compared to what we were watching and a heck of a lot more coherent.

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