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DVD Review

DVD cover

TO - 2001 Nights


Starring (voice): Akio Ohtsuka, Romi Park, Jun Fukuyama and Aya Hirano
Manga Entertainment
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: 12
Available 26 September 2011

From Fumihiko Sori (Ichi; Ping Pong), director of the groundbreaking CG animated feature Vexille, comes another breathtaking sci-fi spectacle, this time in the form of a two-episode OVA. Adapted from two unrelated stories from the 19 stories that make up the 2001 Nights manga written and illustrated by Yukinobu Hoshino, TO - 2001 Nights is a beautifully envisioned homage to the golden age of literary and cinematic science fiction...

Japanese animation is a field so bound by the studio system and the collaborative process that 'name' directors are few in number when compared with film or TV, yet Fumihiko Sori has made a name for himself in the last decade with both animated and live-action features in a manner similar to Mamoru Oshii. His most enjoyable venture to date, the joyous manga adaptation Ping Pong was a live feature, and so quirky and full of character was it that his other features tend to pale in comparison. TO, regrettably, isn't an exception.

The two-part feature, set notionally in a unified future of humanity's expansion into space, consists of two stories dealing with concepts and ideas that are so commonplace in science fiction - different rates of ageing among people separated by interstellar travel, conflicts over fuel and territory during space colonization, physical transformations caused by contact with alien environments - that it takes a great deal of originality to make them feel fresh. Sori's source material in the stories by Yukinobu Hoshino is unfortunately short in this area: Elliptical Orbit, the first feature, covers material that has been treated before with far more intelligence and verve by the likes of Gunbuster and Planetes, two very different peaks of sci-fi anime. Only a well-executed twist that retrospectively changes the relationship of the two main characters gives the story any memorability.

Symbiotic Planet similarly fails to excite much interest with its story of star-crossed lovers divided by a nationalistic conflict over colonization of a new world, and both stories suffer from shallow characterisation that Sori's trademark CG animation, with its strictly realist approach that runs counter to the strengths of most Japanese animation, does nothing to remedy. This isn't meant to say that every director has to replicate the simplistic style of TV anime, yet TO is neither innovative enough to be genuinely exciting nor particularly well written or directed. The CG may be pretty, but the ponderous, stately feeling of space-opera sci-fi - too many lovingly held shots of spaceships manoeuvring - quickly takes hold and drains away any life the story and characters might have had.

While Sori's drive to take anime in a direction away from the formulaic action, comedy and romance of contemporary shows is admirable, this kind of science fiction is all but played out. The dazzle and extravagance of the upcoming Redline, and the downbeat cyberpunk saga Mardock Scramble probably represent the future of Japanese animation on the big screen better than the lacklustre TO. Worth a look for the occasional hint of interest and spectacle, but not much more.


Richard Hunt

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