Golden Laws, The
Well, at least I had fore-warning on this one. I've no idea what the rest of the audience thought as they were taken on one wierd (and suspiciously direct) trip through time, space and spirituality.
The story starts with the clean-cut 15 year old Satoru descending the steps of his presitigous school UHS. A normal high school drama? I think not. For it is the year 2403 and the place is the mythical land of Atlantis which had apparently spent a couple of thousand years sulking at the bottom of the bermuda triangle. But that's not what is really weird, the strange thing is that the dream of all 15 year old boys at this school is to become a priest in their church. Satoru, as the top student would seem to be a front runner but he worries about his spiritual depth, thus he's doing a bit of reading from a book he found in the library called the "Golden Laws".
At home he's up for a good evening of religious reading when a time machine piloted by the cute 15 year old Alisa (She having borrowed it from her genius father and taken it for a joyride) crashes in the garden. Before you can say "time paradox" they zoom off on a venture through time (home of spirit and bad 70's music as well apparently) and have a series of thrilling adventures which gives them a new awareness of the spiritual truths that underlies reality. Naturally enough they are lifted to new levels of spiritual awareness and understanding that profoundly influences them both.
Needless to say this plot is not accidental at all. The movie is funded by the "Institute for Research in Human Happiness" and written by a certain Ryuho Okawa who just happens to be the founder of the sect. He also happens to be the author of three books one of which is called "The Golden Laws" which features prominently in the movie. I think it is a relatively safe bet that this book is not light reading but in fact one of the core texts for this bunch.
The best thing about the experience was discovering that the Japanese have their own problems with dodgy new-age re-interpretations of the worlds great religions. English speaking countries have to deal with crystal healing, the channeling of spirits and the re-furbishing of old mythology. Generally carried out by people with a short in their "logic" circuits and an excess of need to believe in a spiritual world. This looks like the Japanese equivalent, but at least they seem to have escaped the crystals. Although given the context of re-incarnation they're even more directly troubled with recurring spirits.
I'm not going to criticise the religion presented here other than to say I'm not currently in the market for one. And if I did it would be something that didn't trigger the "weirdo" circuits like this one. While the essence seems to be pure land buddhism (think good thoughts and everything else will fall into place) there's a lot of weird stuff around the edges, like their elevation of the ancient greek god Hermes, the new-age neo-atlantis stuff and their certainty that the immortal soul of the buddha will be reborn (why? wasn't the whole point that he's over that sort of thing?).
More importantly, from an anime point of view, faith is a really bad thing. The core problem is that they believe so strongly in the message that they are desperate to share it with you. They honestly believe that these truths will cause you to have a micro revalation right there in the cinema. The end result being that any entertainment value is accidental while they try to clue you in on their beliefs. Meanwhile the volume of the ideas they want to push on you, with limited support in the film, will trigger off most peoples suspicion, cynicism and belief that the film is little more than a long propaganda piece.
The end result being that I, cynical bugger that I am, found it exquisitely painful. And I think most people will have a similar reaction. You can't avoid the message they are trying to push even if the anime was entertaining (which it largely isn't) or the special effects were spectacular (which they aren't). Of course if you like exploring new religions, want to know more about these guys, or just like to celebrate weirdness in general (like my brother) then you might well get something out of it.
Thank heavens I have a weird category for stuff like this. Because at the end of the day this isn't really an anime at all. It is a vehicle in which a (to me suspiciously odd) Japanese sect (cult, whatever) wants to push its version of the spiritual history of the world onto you. And it isn't being introduced as an interesting point of discussion, this is the way things *really* are from their point of view. Want to know more about them? Off to www.google.com you go. They've got a nice website and some other people who don't like them have other web-sites. Which is the truth? not my department, I just review anime.
From a technical point of view the animation itself isn't too bad. There's not a huge budget or massive imagination but it's quite workable. They had fun designing some technical gadgets but then let it down with some bad animation. For example the time machine is quite detailed, but the 3d model and animation is awful. Similarly their representation of greek ancient history is good, but the animation of the dragon attack lacks much energy or excitement. The characters are solid, but endless spiritual depth always comes off as looking a bit stoned and the depiction of spiritual light always comes off a little kitschy. The characters are well rendered but with all the concentration on spiritual matters there's not that much chance for character development, although they do try. I was expecting the movie to be sub-titled, but it's actually dubbed and done quite acceptably, the breathy little "emotion" sounds don't work so well but that's fairly minor.
I remember doing a quick search before I went to see this title and didn't find a lot of reviews. I'll do a more detailed search at some point in the future.