Beyond the Clouds
I didn't know this title at all, but since I didn't have time to work my way through a series I thought a movie would be an interesting diversion. I didn't quite expect this though, which is a rather fascinating anime.
The setting is a near future version of our own world. People still think the same, and much of the technology is familiar, but there are some substantial differences. Two of these differences setting the stage for the story we will follow. The first element is that Japan was at some point split into two halves, the mainland being strongly connected with America while the northern island of Hokkaido is firmly in the hands of the Union. The second element is that, shortly after the division, the Union built an immense tower that seems to stretch to the heavens and beyond. Is it a weapon, an experiment, a monument or a challenge? No one knows, but it stands tall in the minds of all who see it.
Two young male students decide to do a little more than dream about it. They intend to use technology, and the bravery of youth, to actually travel to the tower. While working on achieving their goal they are joined by a young girl who has her own dreams of the tower. They all believe they will be able to fly directly to their goal, but they are proven to be mistaken. One will walk a path of science and reason, one will become wrapped in dreams, and one will walk the knife edge between the two. Only when they can finally make the promised flight will these separate worlds come together again.
Um... wow. I hope I did a decent job of keeping spoilers out of the synopsis, but in some ways it doesn't actually matter that much. To begin with the production must be mentioned. Normally I cover this at the end of a review because I value story and character so highly. However for this anime it has to be presented out front. The production is absolutely gorgeous in terms of color and detail. It really is spectacular and the screen shot has no chance of doing it justice. It's also surprising how it manages to have so much incidental detail, for example focusing on a lovingly rendered ceiling fan, while still being able to project such a strong sense of mood. It somehow manages, while showing incredibly mundane places, to be rich with a sense of meaning that we can't quite grasp. The core creator of this really, really loves doing skies, playing with light, and celebrating the details of the real world in an almost dreamlike way.
On top of this the creator weaves a story, which is fairly interesting but actually ends up being a very secondary aspect. The story exists primarily to place the characters. It turns out that a new form of science is evolving and the three main characters are deeply involved. It serves primarily to isolate them from both each other and the mundane world. They can no longer live "innocently" and thus each is, in some way, consumed by the tower and the secret it carries. This brings out some powerful character drama and manages to even further accentuate the dream like atmosphere the powerful visuals are developing. Slowly the three paths begin to merge and we come to realize that only when they do, and the youthful promise is made real, will they be able to move on.
However it is also true that you cannot gain this level of strength without paying some cost, and that is definitely true of this production. The incredibly lavish backgrounds overpower the character art somewhat. And likewise the story logic is firmly secondary to the intensity of the scenes. Thus the resolution, and the entire mystery of the tower, is ultimately a little bit unsatisfying. It was really only a prop for the drama, rather than a coherent driving force in its own right. Likewise the drama, and the dreamlike atmosphere, require a very calmly paced and understated delivery. The show gains its gravity from the gentle pace, and being willing to take the time to let a scene flow slowly and naturally while it builds power. This means that a degree of patience is required. And tolerance too as sometimes the script is a little bit poetic (or florid) in order to accentuate the emotions the character is experiencing.
On doing some web searching I was completely unsurprised to find that this is by the same guy who did Voices of a Distant Star (or Hoshi no Koe) although this time it's not a solo production. This doesn't seem to hurt the title as it has all the advantages in production and emotion with far greater depth and consistency. The subject matter is much the same, the pain of distance and separation, and he still plays very lose with story logic in order to emphasise the dramatic content. However it is a triumph to have retained his style and vision in this much larger, and more varied, creation. I'll be very interested to see what comes next.
Well, I've already covered this topic somewhat. This title is strikingly produced, wonderful skyscapes bleed color into atmospheric depictions of a reality that seems richer and more meaningful than the real one. The characters aren't quite that good, not all that attractive in comparison the their surroundings and they don't move that well within the environment. The depiction of technology, and even a small amount of action, also gains from the excessive attention to detail and the care in the production. The voices are good and ambient sound and music very fitting to the production and of a high quality. In short it's a great production that should not disappoint and carries the drama well.
A near-future Japan has been split into two, and from the Union dominated north a massive tower stretches skyward. It intrudes into the minds of many, but few are so directly affected as the three youths we follow. They dream of vising the tower, and divining its secrets, but are not prepared for way in which the tower changes their lives. This luscious production sets a stage on which potent themes of loss and separation can be explored, although the way in which the story is a servant of mood requires a certain patience from the viewer.
There don't seem to be any reviews from my regular sources.