Monday, 13 May 2013

Review - Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror (2009 - Dir. Shinsuke Sato)

If Insomniac Games (of Ratchet & Clank fame) joined forces with an anime production house and made a film, Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror would be that film.

Haruka is a young girl who loses her mirror at an early age. It turns out that it's been nicked by a fox, one of a group of foxes whose job it is to acquire things that have been neglected by humans. She sets off, amazingly enough, on a wonderful journey to find her mirror and meets an amazing cast of colourful characters along the way. Mmm...

The first thing to comment on is how gorgeous the film is. The initial reveal of Oblivion Island is as beautiful as anything in Final Fantasy VII. And like that game, it's a mix of 2D backgrounds and 3D characters, albeit with a slightly higher polygon count. It occasionally goes into full 3D mode, especially for the obligatory rail/minecart sequences, and it still looks rather dashing. It's all so colourful and full of visual creativity that it takes a couple of watches to take it all in.

There are some minor problems that let down the general gorgeousness of the production. The foxes look a little bland and textureless, almost like the characters in Little Big Adventure. Compared to the luxurious feel of everything else they stand out like a sore thumb. The other sore thumbs are the background characters that wander around like the jarring motion captured mobs in Assassin's Creed (or for a film reference, Titanic.) At one point, when a train departed, I spent about five seconds watching one of these clowns mill about. And five seconds seems like a long time when watching low quality animation.

Back on track with the stunning visuals there is a treat of a boss battle along the lines of Shadow of the Colossus, when Haruka has to clamber around a huge beastie in order to defeat it. But unlike that game, there is no feeling of guilt or sadness when it finally dies. It's still cool though due to the involvement of a small toy sheep.

The Baron is a pretty creepy main villain, coming across as a mixture of The King of All Cosmos (Katamari Damancy) and Bionic Commando. His airship has some very unnerving fingers (?) that move in a very spider like fashion. Not to be outdone in the creepiness stakes are the Petitloss, a group of thieving types that live underground. One scene containing them is enough to send a little shiverette down the spine.

So, I've possibly overstated the fact that Oblivion Island borrows heavily from games, and you would think that this makes it a bit on the rubbish side. But it's great. Things that have become ho-hum in games, such as the minecart sequence, are done brilliantly here, even bordering on exciting and never less than fun. That's the best word for this film: fun. I've recently watched Headhunters and I can't be bothered to review it due to sheer blandness. It's not that it's a bad film, it's just that it's not that entertaining. Not fun. I know which of these two films I'm going to be purchasing on Blu-ray very soon...

But Oblivion Island has got even more than the fun factor going for it. There are many small moments of animation, some of which even border on heart-warming, that lift it above the average. It is a children's film, but it doesn't include cheeky little nods to the adult audience or pop culture references. And it's all the better for it. Embrace your childlike side and give it a whirl.

If you like this you could also try:
Summer Wars, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.

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