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DVD Review

DVD cover

Oblivion Island
Haruka and the Magic Mirror


Starring (voice): Haruka Ayase, Miyuki Sawashiro and Iemasa Kayumi
Manga Entertainment
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: PG
Available 01 April 2013

16-year-old Haruka's mother died when she was young, leaving her a hand mirror as a treasured memento. But as the years pass Haruka forgets about the mirror, which is eventually lost when she moves house. One day while visiting a shrine, Haruka spots a fox-like creature collecting odds and ends. Following it, she finds herself magically transported to the mysterious Oblivion Island, a bustling town where everything is built from people's lost and forgotten belongings. Here is a chance for Haruka to recover her mother's mirror - but as humans are strictly forbidden from setting foot on the island both our heroine and Teo, the fox spirit she followed, will have to tread carefully. And when they discover that The Baron, Oblivion Island's flamboyantly villainous ruler, also want to get his clutches on the mirror, the adventure is thrown into top gear...

Animated films from Japan aimed at children are nothing new, but a production like Oblivion Island, made entirely in CGI and seemingly devised with an eye on the international family movie market that Pixar dominate so effectively, is a relative rarity. Directed and co-written by videogame designer Shinsuke Sato, also director of two live-action movies based on horror-action manga Gantz, Oblivion Island is a stand-alone adventure that, while it doesn't do anything radically original, fulfils its goals with charm and invention.

Perhaps aiming to capitalise on the appeal of its Japanese origins to Western anime fans, Oblivion Island takes a folk tale about a fox - always cast as the most notorious trickster in Japan's mythology - as its starting point, with teenaged heroine Haruka's mirror, a treasured keepsake from her late mother, falling into the hands of a thieving fox-spirit. Oddly, this motif soon falls away once Haruka chances upon a representative of the subterranean fox-people, who appear more as catch-all animal-folk with a touch of the Wombles than the dangerous spirits familiar from Japanese folk tales. The story that follows, involving adversity, danger, reconciliation with neglected memories of the past and a emotionally healing resolution, is familiar enough to be predictable, yet still enjoyable.

Production I.G. may have intended Oblivion Island as a showcase for their talents, but the CGI animation seldom rises above the level of serviceable - where the movie really shines is the designs. Oblivion Island itself is a fantastic creation, the panoramic shots of the townscapes and interiors composed of reassembled items and knick-knacks from the everyday well worth lingering over on Blu-ray. Sato has evidently ensured as much of the concept designers' inventiveness as possible makes it onto the screen, with every environment from Teo's humble lodgings to the Baron's vulgar airship superbly realized. Regrettably, the human characters don't share the same level of development, with unrealistic expressions marring some of the emotional moments - tellingly, a plot element requires Haruka to wear a face-obscuring mask for much of the film, perhaps indicating a lack of confidence on the animators' part.

Oblivion Island is an odd mix - neither polished nor vital enough to stand alongside the blockbusting Pixar family movies it's aiming to compete with, its all-CGI content may also turn off fans of traditional anime. It's a shame, as the design work and execution is often excellent and, given a stronger and more original script, could have produced something really special. As it stands, it's an enjoyable affair, but perhaps unlikely to inspire much devotion.


Richard Hunt

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