Wow. Could a movie try any harder to be Princess Mononoke? I don't know, but Origin: Spirits of the Past is up there with the most desperate of them. The story is strictly speaking no less sophisticated than a Miyazaki feature (in my opinion, his core ideas are simple enough) and the themes, details of the world, and overall feel of Origin are similar to Mononoke. However, the delivery is half-hearted at best, with mediocre plotting marring the entire process. Moreover, the actual writing suffers from lack of any real tension and the characters are as flat as a wall (and roughly as interesting too).
I found a scene often began with great promise, but then reigned in the tension just before it could build to an engaging level. Every time a problem arose, it would be dealt with in an efficient manner, as if the film was more concerned about reaching the end than taking the journey. For example, Agito eventually develops in an interesting way, but what should have been a cool idea comes off rather poorly simply because he never earned that development. Most heroes go through some trial or other, something to mark their passage from green youth to determined adult, yet Agito has his ‘maturity' handed to him. Even worse, the end battle is not exempt from this affliction - it is so easily resolved, with such lacklustre build-up, that it made me question whether the story was worth telling in the first place. For all the sincere promises Origin makes, for all the greatness it tries to reach, it really doesn't deliver. Let's just say that by the end, I really wasn't that bothered.
The production values are of the highest quality, which is to be expected of a 2006 feature. Origin presents the kind of world where the backgrounds are everything; I was wholly impressed by the intricate shadings, the crisp textures of the moss and rocks, and the CG water effects. In fact, the opening sequence of tree-dragons rushing towards a planet is a good example of the kind of graphics you can expect. Unfortunately, the humans are treated with less affection, even to the point where they are rendered less sharply than their backgrounds. When Agito stands still in front of a mossy wall in broad daylight, the difference becomes stark. Also, for some reason, Shunack has awfully drawn hair compared to the rest of the movie; it looks like someone dropped a bucket of white paint on his head.
The concept of extraordinary plant life existing alongside humans is done quite well, although not as inventively as in series like Jyu Oh Sei. You'll find a lot of lush greenery, but most of it doesn't look that different compared to the ordinary stuff we find in real life. Also, the idea of Toriyasdy, Shunack's usual haunt, being juxtaposed to Neutral City in the sense that it's packed with fumes, bland, cold, and industrial (a bit like Iron Town was to the forest in Mononoke) wasn't explored in enough depth to make an impact.
As far as the soundtrack is concerned, Origin has two good moments; the first is the haunting opening theme, and the second is the melodic ending theme. They aren't fantastic compared to other singles on the market, don't get me wrong, but they do stand out more than the other Origin tracks, which are suitable but not noteworthy. Shunack's gravelly voice was the most unexpected in a positive way while the rest were neither awful nor brilliant, just average. I can't say much else, really; they all had that soft spoken tone that you find a lot in Ghibli films.
Agito is your very typical adventurous boy hero with simple prospects and simple concerns. Of course, by the end, all that youthful exuberance has matured into genuine strength, so he speaks with more assurance, wears the determined frown more often than the wide-eyed gaze etcetera, etcetera. He's not memorable in the least, not in looks, not in temperament, not in terms of voice, not in actions. The only thing I could say intrigued me about him was the problem he had with his father, which was truly a unique situation, but one which was not expanded on because the story had no ambition. At one point, Agito actually started to get irritating - when he runs around in search of Tula shouting her name over and over again - because his intense concern for her comes pretty much out of nowhere. The movie doesn't give the two enough chance to build a particularly deep friendship, never mind a romantic bond, so his life-risking behaviour comes across as rather illogical.
Tula is kind and quiet and passive, and just everything you'd expect from a mysterious girl woken up by an urchin boy. I have seen characters like her so often that I now foster outright distaste for them. Usually they have blue hair, are non-human in some way, and need to be taught like babies how to live in ordinary society. They're often cute with massive eyes, linked directly to the central mystery, and speak in insipid voices that are like rasps to my ear drums. Well, leave out the blue hair, and you have Tula in a nutshell. Bland and predictable, there was nothing worth learning from her. The most she contributed to the story was to be the daughter of someone important.
Even less can be said about Shunack, Yolda the Neutral City leader, and the rest of the minor cast. They all fulfil their role dutifully, with no real enthusiasm, no ingenuity, and certainly no originality. Shunack does get a twist to his past (of course) but it adds nothing to his (lack of) personality. Lastly, the biggest disappointment of the movie is the way it skims over the forest people who appear to dominate the lives of the humans in the beginning. We learn that they don't like humans taking their water and that they have great powers, but what about their culture and how it fits with that of the humans? What about their beliefs about the world? Where do they get these magical powers from when they're supposedly, well, plants? Here we have a rich source of ideas which was left frustratingly untapped.
In the end, Origin: Spirits of the Past is just a deflated idea wrapped up in glossy presentation. It isn't the worst film in the world - it certainly wasn't the worst looking in the world - but neither did it ever range beyond the average to keep my attention. Were I new to anime and had I not watched Princess Mononoke beforehand, I might have enjoyed it on a basic level, but in light of me being a Mononoke fan, this film came across like a cheap rip-off.
I like the post-apocalyptic genre and thats why the story got a 6. I really disliked the story-line. I wanted the world to return to it's former self the whole movie. I mean seriously, who wants a world where humans are ruled by trees... I know I sure don't.
On another note, I felt that half of Agito's lines were, "TOOLAAA!!!!!!" As well, I felt that Agito was a Poser who couldn't do anything even with superpowers. And Toola was a super fickle character (or "dynamic" as some of you critics will say), I mean, 90% of the movie she was dead-set on restoring the past world and sharing it with everyone, but the last 10 minutes of the movie, she suddenly realizes it's bad when Agito turns into a tree.
The soundtrack wasn't bad, it just doesn't suit my taste.
Overall I give it a 5/10. Maybe because my expectations were high. But maybe because the bad script writing and bad plotline.
P.S. I want those shoes Agito has. Apparently they allow him to run over molten lava. =P
Origin: Spirits of the Past is a 2006 movie by studio Gonzo, and just like most stuff they made it turned out nothing more than another rookie work with tons of wasted potential.
Let's have a look at the premise first:
- a post-apocalyptic world covered with sentient forest that was created during a scientific experiment and later went out of control and spreaded across the Earth, wiping out most of human civilization;
- three factions: the forest and its inhabitants; Neutral City, where people put lots of hard work into building a new society and try to find some compromise with the forest; and Laguna, a militarized group that wants to solve the problem fast by destroying the predatory & dangerous forest (which, however, will turn the Earth into a desolate place with no clean air & water);
- finally, a heroine who awakens from slumber in a cryogenic chamber located in an abandoned facility left by her father, the head of that forest project. She becomes the key to the future of the world as Laguna try to pull her at their side while Agito (the main character) tries to stop them.
Although the premise has some very strong vibes of both Miyazaki's Nausicaa and Princess Mononoke which takes some points off the originality, it still promises an exciting story because the crossover between fantasy and post-apocalyptic setting is interesting by definition and because one may clearly see the potentially impressive action & adventure this movie could offer (not to mention the environmental themes). However, it's studio Gonzo we are talking about, and those guys are experts at trashing up almost everything that comes into their hands:
- first, this show displays some absurdingly silly examples of the so-called "anime science". You see, the aforementioned forest experiment was held on the Moon (!) to produce trees capable of growing in harsh conditions. One day, the forest went out of control, cracked the Moon into pieces (!!), flied across the space to the Earth (!!!) like a bunch of giant lianas and somehow penetrated the atmosphere without getting burned down. No kidding: the movie actually opens with the sequence showing all that, and if it makes no sense to you - congratulations, you aren't a Gonzo scriptwriter! Perhaps, they really think plants can grow on the Moon and fly... IN SPACE; or maybe they just had some grass added into their tobacco. Anyway, it looks unacceptably asinine for a supposedly serious & ambitious work, not to mention even more WTF moments taking place in the latter part of the movie;
- second, the story is very rushed which means you neither have an opportunity to explore the interesting setting nor get any substantial plot complexity as everything happens in the most primitive and superficial manner. This gets especially bad when dealing with the central dilemma of the story (whether to destroy the forest or to live with it): unlike Princess Mononoke where you could observe both sides of the conflict, understand their viewpoints and see the outcome to make your own conclusion, this show provides very little view from Laguna's perspective and portrays them as typical militarists, factually making them wrong from the very beginning;
- third, when Agito unites with the forest to retrieve the girl from Laguna, he becomes insanely overpowered, and you watch him stop bullets and projectiles, crush trains and rip mechas into shreds, take no damage from explosions, walk on volcanic lava, scream the most shounen way possible and meet people appearing out of nowhere right when he needs them. Again, that looks absolutely ridiculous and boring at the same time because the guy can't lose or even get hurt no matter what;
- finally, instead of a tragic ending that would be logical here you get an ultracorny happy ending [SPOILER] with the protagonist getting magically resurrected, which completely depreciates the sacrifice he supposedly made when accepted the forest powers in return for his life. [SPOILER END]
Overall, the only good thing about the story is the premise which is executed in a rushed, unexciting and nonsensical way.
ANIMATION & SOUND
When watching an environmental fantasy, one obviously expects it to look natural & alive. Here, it looks cold & artificial due to Gonzo's traditional heavy reliance on CGI no matter how unnecessary it is. Aside from that, the movie is quite pretty and even impressive at times, so the animation is very good overall.
As for the sound, I liked the ethnic chants at the beginning and the end. The rest of the music & voice acting is decent yet unmemorable.
Since the story is rushed and superficial, the characters also don't get any depth, development or even any memorable traits, remaining bland & soulless puppets that just do whatever the plot commands in the most convenient way. For example, when Agito obtains the forest powers it's not like he goes through a trial and matures into a hero - rather, he simply has god mode handed to him and then crushes everything in the way. Eventually, the cast is impossible to care about, and you'll hardly remember any name except for Agito's only because it's in the title.
The show's value is close to zero as there are other environmental titles that cover the topic infinitely better; and while the movie's setting & themes are interesting indeed, the premise alone can't possibly warrant a watch when the execution is obviously subpar. So, not recommended.
Secret Santa Review!
I didn’t know a thing about this one before setting down and watching; I suddenly had loads of time on my hand after finally having handed in semester project (AWWW YEAH), so I just got to it. I should do that more often – it was a good, relaxing experience.
Origin: Spirits of the Past
Sometimes, you watch a movie and have a certain feeling about it without being able to explain why. This is how I feel with Origin: Spirits of the Past.
It’s a well-known theme, the plot develops without any major surprises and, of course, we’re rooting for the main protagonists throughout the whole movie. So, I’m not really sure if this is especially good compared to other movies or not – all I know is that I simply liked watching it.
There are so few important people to the movie it seems kind of lonely, Toola (female protagonist) seems overly confident in a person she’s just met, and the villain seems to “suddenly understand everything” way too easily :p All these things might be the reason I felt it was such an easy-going movie, but at the same time, when you’re used to watching anime-series, you sort of expect thorough explanations on everything before the plot starts developing.
However liking it the first time, I’m fairly sure I won’t enjoy watching it the second time as much: I might get bored. This mostly says something about the style of the movie, but it shouldn’t scare off anyone.
Give it a try! :)
what a terrible anime, more to be discussed in video review: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-SCNS3lLMM