Hottarake no Shima ~Haruka to Mahou no Kagami~
Anime, like many other media, is a veritable Pandora’s Box when it comes to finding something entertaining. What you think about a given show may range from outright loathing to blissful wonderment – you never know until you start watching.
Every so often though, something will come along that will give you hope for the future of the medium.
For starters, Hottarake no Shima ~Haruka to Mahou no Kagami~ (or, Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror), is possibly the most visually arresting 3D movie I have ever seen (and before you ask, yes, I have seen Avatar, and no, I wasn’t overly impressed by that Dances with Wolves crossed with Battle for Terra rip off). Over the years the 3D genre of anime has been woefully misrepresented, however Oblivion Island looks set to not only change the rules, but the entire game.
The story, in brief, is about a girl called Haruka, her accidental meeting with a young fox spirit called Teo, and her subsequent adventure in a land where forgotten things are taken.
One of the nice things about Oblivion Island is that its based on a concept that is both very simple and very familiar. Everyone has, or knows of, something that may have been treasured during childhood, something that has become lost or forgotten along the way, and everyone who has lost something will wonder where it went. It’s to the credit of writers Adachi Hirotaka and Sato Shinsuke (who also directed the movie), that they were able to use this premise to create a tale that is both charming and wondrous.
Given that this is a movie one would expect there to be a certain “shallowness” to the actual plot, and while this is true to a degree, Oblivion Island posits a fantastic, yet strangely plausible (in terms of stories that is), idea for the viewer to ponder once the film has ended. That said, there is a certain amount of predictability in the story that may not sit well with some people, however I found that when taken alongside the visuals these moments were nothing to be overly concerned about, especially given that the screenplay was designed with the visuals in mind (the scene with the gramophone is one example of this).
The area where this movie really shines though, is its visuals. Oblivion Island is quite simply breathtaking in many respects, and the viewer may be forgiven for thinking that Production I.G. is simply showing off (yes, it is that good). The movie makes extremely clever use of 3D and CG to fool the viewer into thinking that certain scenes were produced by “normal” animation practices. Once the story shifts into Teo’s world though, the whole thing changes from visually clever to drop dead gorgeous. In terms of design, Oblivion Island is right up there with the best in its usage of colours, shapes, textures, objects and characters, and throughout the film it’s apparent that a great deal of thought has gone into its production. The quality is so good in fact, that it easily rivals the other visually sumptuous shows like Iblard Jikan.
Oblivion Island is also no slouch when it comes to animation. The characters move well, and possess some of the most emotive features and faces I have seen in 3D animation – ever. Creatures and vehicles also move in a very fluid manner, and while there are moments when the action is nothing short of dizzying in its complexity, the quality of the visuals is nothing short of superb.
Sound is another area where Oblivion Island really excels. The seiyuu perform extremely well throughout the movie, and bring a degree of individuality to each of the characters. One thing that did surprise me is that the role of Haruka is actually played by Ayase Haruka, who is a fairly success live action actress in her own right. The usage of a screen actress rather than a voice actress works well though, and the Ayase performs the role with aplomb.
The movie also makes very good use of music which varies from playful ditties to dramatic scores. That said, the film is notable for the scenes when there is no music as this not only allows the tracks to have more of an impact, but also creates another difference between Teo’s world and the real one. In terms of effects, Oblivion Island really pushes the boat out. While there are numerous noises and sounds used throughout the movie, each is crystal clear to the ears, and it’s because of this clarity that the sound doesn’t degenerate into a cacophony when voices, effects and music clash.
Now given that this is a movie, it’s fair to expect that there would be little in the way of development where the characters are concerned. Oblivion Island is surprising then, in that both Haruka and Teo receive a fair amount of development over the course of the film. In many respects this is actually a coming of age movie for both Haruka and Teo, and while there’s a certain amount of formula to their growth, it’s nice to see it done well (for a movie that is).
In all honesty I found this a surprising film, in particular because of its visuals. The story is engaging, and the characters have a charm and appeal that is rare in a 3D movie. One thing that I did like was the fact that the film had a certain “dark” quality that, when taken as a whole, reminded me of shows like Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline” and “Mirrormask”, and Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “The Corpse Bride”.
Probably the most surprising thing though, is that while everyone has been raving about Hosoda Mamoru (Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo, Summer Wars), being a contender for Miyazaki’s crown, Sato Shinsuke along with Production I.G. have appeared from left field with a movie that is at least as good as anything made by either Hosoda, Ghibli, or any of the other contenders.
Only time will tell if the game has truly changed, however with Oblivion Island both Sato and Production I.G. have most definitely levelled the playing field.