“In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.”
The audience opens their eyes to a set of wrought iron stairs, coiling about a brilliant pillar of golden light. It illuminates the dreary recesses of this world, the rusting iron, the sluggish gait of the excavators leaving their cubicles. This is the fate of mankind, stuffed into the interiors of the planet because the surface has rotted away from overpopulation. At least it’s not global warming that dooms us, Pale Cacoon predicts it’s a lack of protection.
My fascination was pulled into the dank crypt of Ura and Riko, the two leads, as Pale Cocoon toys with many concepts. Environmentalism and population pollution are obvious themes but only scratch the surface. More interestingly, the narrative asks whether the past is on any use when there is no escape from your present? The theme is expanded as the characters are asked to question their reality and prove to themselves the sky of once-upon-a-time is truly gone. It’s ambitious, aiming for annals of philosophical abstraction even with its twenty-three minute scope. It’s grand but it has a humble foundation; Most of the story is driven by the interaction of Ura and Riko and their diverging opinions on the archaeology of history. Their friendship is both unnatural and snug, a love-hate push and pull that’s intriguing and advances the plot. It’s the small nuances of this relationship that make Pale Cocoon a moving experience, and the revelations of the final minutes that make it phenomenal.
Dilapidated never looked so pretty. Seamlessly integrated CGI and artwork come together to form a visual masterpiece. Lines are clear and crisp, serving as frames for the cell shaded images. These set pieces are filled in with an appropriately post-apocalyptic palette. Soiled browns and sooty grays swathed in the pale light of computer screens. Swashes of neon green burn dimly in the underground bunkers as the workers return with their zombie-like strut. It’s a mechanical world that inspires both sadness from its poor condition and awe from the technical beauty the artist took effort in creating.
Both grand and haunting, the soundtrack for Pale Cocoon is exceptional. It draws from different genres, a classical back bone of pianos and violins, layered by electronic horns. It even delves into Pop, a guest appearance by Little Moa, who solos a powerful ballad. The voice acting is just as impressive; Ura’s delivery devoid of most emotion while Kiko’s inflections delivers insight into her sorrow. Like the rest of the film the sound is handled spectacularly.
From such a short film you can’t expect much development, but the two leads Ura and Kiko have surprising depth. Ura is an excavator, swimming through seas of binary code day by day to figure out the world that was. He’s passionate, teetering on the edge of obsession when it comes to the past, tirelessly trudging through the 0s and 1s, saving what he finds interesting. But he is curiously detached from Riko, the analyzer, a friend of his. Riko has stopped showing up to work favoring the bleak company of emptied stairs. She sprawls herself across the grate looking up into the dark retreat, pondering. The anagnorisis of both characters not only speaks volumes about each of them but the world they are living in. In the brief time we see their conceptions of the world change, Ura finally maturing and Kiko gaining a bit of optimism.
Pale Cocoon brings together excellent storytelling and production to create a miniature gem. Its easy to get lost and not realize that the program is over. It deserves a watch by any fan that believes anime should be more than entertainment but art. Pale Cocoon does what most animation doesn’t: provoke my imagination. Just as Riko gazed up into shadows I was left contemplating my dimmed screen.