Uchuu Show e Youkoso
Leave any child unattended for a length of time and they will undoubtedly find themselves in some sort of mischief, even if they weren’t looking to get into trouble, and all world weary parents, teachers and carers will attest to this as truth. The main reason for it is because kids are naturally curious individuals (when you’re young the universe tends to be a fascinating place), and are more willing to accept as fact things that many adults would find preposterous, ridiculous, or just plain crazy.
The irony is that while the “mature” population of the world will often scoff or smile condescendingly at children’s tales of visits to strange worlds, encounters with weird creatures, travels on spaceships, fights with monsters, and other such flights of fancy, that doesn’t stop adults from creating stories about children in exactly those situations.
Uchuu Show e Youkoso (Welcome To The Space Show), is simply the latest in the long tradition of adults stealing ideas off kids.
The movie follows the adventures of a group of children from a rural Japanese village who are attending an unsupervised week long summer camp in the local school building. During the first day they decide to search for a missing pet rabbit, but what they find are crop circles and an injured dog …
Cue the madness.
The storyline is a rather interesting take on the whole idea of alien encounters, but there is a degree of predictability to proceedings due to the rather simplistic nature of the plot. That said, given that the movie is billed as family entertainment, it’s nice to see that efforts have been made to make the whole thing more appealing to adults and children alike. Part of this is reflected in the visuals and audio, but the lion’s share of focus undoubtedly falls on the story itself, so it’s unfortunate that this is also the area where matters become somewhat … confusing.
Too much effort can sometimes be a bad thing, and that seems to be the main problem with Welcome To The Space Show as it simply tries too hard to be everything to everyone. Unfortunately this is very much at odds with the simplicity of the plot, and the result is a tale that lacks the finesse of rival features. In addition to this there are a number of themes “borrowed” from other stories, and while plagiarism may be the first form of flattery, moderation is the word that director Masunari Koji and screenplay writer Kurata Hideyuki seem to have forgotten.
Now many people will automatically draw comparisons between Welcome To The Space Show and certain other anime movies, in particular Spirited Away, Galaxy Express 999 , My Neighbour Totoro (they find a strange friendly creature in the forest), and Oblivion Island, Production I.G.s 3D feature from 2009, and that’s just from the East. There are also themes taken from the novel Five Children & It by Edith Nesbit (which was adapted into a live action movie in 2004), The Chronicles of Narnia, and the 1985 movie The Explorers. This rather dizzying array of influences initially looks like a disaster waiting to happen, so it’s surprising that this narrative cacophony is not only understandable, but also entertaining.
When it comes to the looks though, this movie seems to shift into a higher gear.
Welcome To The Space Show is a creatively visual feast that, like Oblivion Island, easily surpasses Spirited Away when it comes to imaginative design. The opening sequence is simply a taste of things to come, and A-1 Pictures have put a great deal of thought into bringing home the idea that the children really have gone to another world. This is partly achieved through the use of bright, vivid, and sometimes clashing colour schemes that impart a slightly unearthly quality to a good portion of the movie. When this is coupled with some very creative character and feature designs the sense of not being in Kansas anymore really does come to the fore. The scenery is especially noteworthy for its detail and quality, and viewers may find themselves simply admiring the picturesque vistas from time to time. There’s also a nice combination of static and layered backgrounds that add a degree of depth and character to certain scenes.
Unfortunately it’s not all sweetness and light. Although Ishihama Masashi’s designs are highly imaginative, consistency seems to be the problem as the quality of the visuals tends to drop from time to time, and there are occasions where the characters look more like animated cave paintings rather than defined figures. There are also a few scenes that the film could have done without as they serve no real purpose, as well as a few issues with the animation itself. While the majority of the movie features crisp, fluid movements and sequences, the drops in the quality of the visuals tend to be accompanied by actions that are almost stop motion.
Which, strangely enough, leads me on to Susan Boyle.
It’s a very strange world that we live in, and one of the things that many people would probably rank as highly unlikely (if not nigh on impossible), is for a song by the “star” of Britain’s Got Talent to be used as a theme tune to an anime. Truth is always stranger than fiction though, and thus her song Who I Was Born To Be is the featured track for Welcome To The Space Show. That said, she’s actually no stranger to Japanese movies as the song that shot her to fame, I Dreamed A Dream from the hit musical Les Miserables, has also been used as the theme tune for the third Eagle Talon film (an animated flash movie that’s the brainchild of Asahi TV’s late night host, Frogman).
As for the rest of the noise, there are a variety of tracks on offer that range from dramatic classical pieces to ditties played on a banjo, as well as some very good audio effects that are often very crisp and clean. Unfortunately, Welcome To The Space Show suffers from a problem that plagues many other anime out there, and that is its choreography, or more specifically, its timing. The majority of the movie is actually very good in this department, but there are several occasions where something happens on screen a split second before the viewer hears it.
The most surprising thing about this film is Aniplex’s decision to cast a group of relatively unknown 11 to 14 year olds in each of the child roles, and while the idea isn’t new in anime (Ghibli have done it before), it’s a gamble that pays off as only children can really act like children. The rest of the cast is made up of experienced seiyuu who play their parts quite well, but this movie is about kids having an adventure, and they really do steal the show thanks to some clever scripting and a sense that their characters really are inquisitive, curious, and pretty much everything one would expect a child to be.
Now given that this is a family movie there is bound to be some drama that forces the characters to learn and grow. The only problem is that rather than having one or two occurrences of these events, Welcome To The Space Show tries to throw too much into the mix. The movie can basically be broken up into four parts, and in each section the children are put in situations where they must learn certain lessons in order to carry on (the importance of work, looking out for one another, etc). The development verges on the formulaic for the most part, and any possible natural progression is hampered by the fact that the main theme for that section of the story never really reaches a conclusion. Instead it simply gets smothered by the next plot thread, or simply peters out, and this can leave the viewer trying to work out how the children got from A to B.
That said, the visuals do detract from the stolid, check box approach to character development, and while the storyline may contain far too many different influences and events, the obvious enthusiasm with which the child seiyuu approach the script offers some genuinely fun moments.
Welcome To The Space Show is a flawed creation that attempts to take on the might of Ghibli, and while there are areas where it clearly falls flat on its face, there are also parts that really are brilliant. The movie is slightly more tongue in cheek than one might expect, but at the same time possesses an edge to it that sets it apart from the somewhat saccharine nature of family entertainment. All of the flaws in the film can be forgiven on the basis of one fact – it’s one of the more imaginative and creative anime movies to appear in the last few years. Yes, it “borrows” heavily from numerous influences, and yes, there are issues in almost every department, but it also takes the viewer on an adventure to strange and fascinating new worlds, and this aspect is probably the most understated thing in the movie.
After all, one should never underestimate the power of a good adventure story, and it’s actually pretty easy to disregard the problems with Welcome To The Space Show. While an examination of the individual characteristics will highlight quite a few issues, this is one of those rare occasions where the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. The movie may not be as slick a production as Summer Wars, Oblivion Island, or any of the Ghibli affairs, but even with that handicap it manages to convey a sense of discovery and wonderment, and when all the plusses are added together it’s pretty easy to see why I enjoyed this film.
And before you ask, no, the movie isn’t a glorified advert for wasabi.