Most people will find it hard not to compare this 20 minute OVA to Voices of a Distant Star; indeed, in many ways Pale Cocoon is the spiritual successor to the landmark 2002 anime. Each of them has absolutely stunning CGI and an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. Even more significantly, both use science fiction motifs to tell extremely melancholic tales that leave me dazed and breathless every time I watch them.
Up to now, I had always believed that Voices was a one time good deal – a unique and beautiful miracle that could never be replicated. No other anime could fit such a touching story into such a short running time; no other anime could break hearts with characters it had only just introduced. After seeing Pale Cocoon, however, I’m not so sure. While the OVA lacks Hoshi no Koe’s sheer unbridled emotional impact, Pale Cocoon is a much more complex and thought-provoking work.
Many will take in the post apocalyptic world, the futuristic setting and the old newspaper clippings of human folly and assume that the OVA is another entry in a long line of cautionary environmentalist tales. This is not the case; rather, the movie presents us with a fascinating question practically untouched by any anime that I have seen.
Unfortunately, succinctly stating this question is difficult to do, as the very uniqueness of the OVA’s message eludes simple generalization. Allow me to say, however, that the OVA looks with a sad eye on humanity’s imperfection. It considers the shortsightedness and greed that so very often override our rationality, and then reflects upon our unwillingness to examine and understand our own ugliest mistakes. Then, at the end, the anime suggests that this depressing and “useless” knowledge of our own flawed heritage may be the most important knowledge of all. What’s most impressive is that the anime is able to do all of this and more in the time that most anime would take to come up with one coherent thought (i.e friends are precious, durr).
Because of the show’s brevity, it doesnt have the time to actually tell us how awful the world has become. This is where the animation comes in. From the understated character designs to their dismal metallic surroundings, the visuals work brilliantly at conveying just how far humanity has fallen into their “pale cocoon.” A fair bit of CGI is employed to help reinforce the artificial setting, but it never gets in the way and is unquestionably excellent whenever it is used.
The visuals are in turn complemented by the sound, which is used well in its own minimalist way. For the most part, the sound is dominated by computer noise intermixed with quiet, introspective dialogue. This doesn’t make for a particularly flashy OST, but it further reinforces the lonely mood that the director is going for. The generally quiet OST also leads well into the show’s climax, when a top-notch J-pop song blindsides you out of nowhere.
…but what about the characters, you ask? Well, what about them? If you ask various people what they thought of the characters in Hoshi no Koe, you’re bound to get a myriad of different answers. Surely, there’s none of the traditional development that you’ll find in lengthier titles, but a surprisingly large portion identify with Voices’s two characters anyway. The same will probably hold true for Pale Cocoon; the characters are effective not for what you know about them, but for the very ideas they represent. When the protagonist of Pale Cocoon secretly copies an old picture of Earth into a special folder on his personal computer, we all copy it with him.
I gave Pale Cocoon a try because it was recommended to me and it was short enough where it would be no big loss if it wasn't great. Oh how wrong I was, Between the animation, story, and subtle sounds it was a great way to pass the time. The animation drew me in and the story made me stay. A complex story that trys to convey so much in the short time that it has, And much of what it tries to accomplish it does splendidly. Only on minor parts did it seem to fall short for me. The ending while intriguing and illuminating seemed to be a bit lacking. Without going into detail It seemed like they could have spent a few more minutes wrapping things up that could have improved the ending and made the overall anime just a bit better.
The main story seems to be a classic; humanity's irresponsible actions (enviromentally-wise in this case) bring an end to the world as we know it. In the future, people are trying to recover archives of the past world, although this way they are forced to come face to face with humanity's mistakes and fate. An attempt to be atmospheric almost succeeds, yet there is too little information given and at times it seems that the artists didn't even look at what they were drawing. It is dissapointing that even though the idea is great, the anime itself is a waste of time.
Stunning animation, beautiful artwork, good character designs and a perfect atmosphere can only do so much to cover the fact that there is no plot, no plot at all. The current trend in our modern media today is to try to say as much as possible with as little as possible, and this a perfect example of where this crosses the line. People can try to make up their own observations of what this anime is truly attempting to convey but in the end, the author really exerted no effort relaying very much at all. That being said, this really is a remarkable feat in animation and design but when compared to works like Eve no Jikan with both stunning animation and profound episodes, I can't help but feel Pale Cacoon is merely eye candy.
Sparsely plotted and atmospheric, Pale Cocoon tries to make the most of its short running time by avoiding the pitfall of a drawn out character history. Instead, it focuses on provide its audience with lush - if at times monochrome - visuals, and an engaging, if trivial, mystery. Refreshingly, although the world is described as a 'dystopia,' there are no cruel government agencies or propaganda, which makes the world of Pale Cocoon a little different, and all the better for it, as those tropes can often feel a little played out.
My main complaint with Pale Cocoon lies in its short running time. While the atmosphere it creates is engaging, and the characters possibly interesting, there is not enough time to explore them fully, and an oddly placed pop song really saps time that could have been better spent. If it was expanded even to three episodes to allow the viewer to really engage with the protagonist, and explore his relationship to other characters more fully, the show would score a lot higher for me. Instead, it comes off feeling like one of those OVAs that some first-time writer produces after getting their first break, only to find they're obliged to shoehorn in some Idol's song and chop up their story to suit the studio. Potential wasted, but still worth the short time it will take you to watch it.