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.
Overall, this is a class act in every respect, and I’d recommend it to just about every fan of science fiction. The amazing power of Hoshi no Koe and now this proves, I suppose, the validity of isolated anime short films. Consider the turbulent, roiling waves of the ocean to a single, isolated tear drop; in many cases, perfection is only found in the small things.
In a dark and dystopic future, the environment of Earth has been destroyed by its human inhabitants. The remainder of mankind live in a physical “gap” between what is known as the lower level, and the unknown sky above. In this dreary and mechanical existence, the melancholy Ura works to restore the memories of the past, as part of the Archive Excavation Department. Along with Riko, his sole companion, Ura will soon discover a mysterious remnant of the past which may prove that there is more to their existence than meets the eye...