Oh noes, Todd Ingram finally broke the Moon!

So this week we’re going to talk about an anime movie. I was sick the other day so I have enough recent Netflix discoveries to last the rest of summer, but this time I thought I’d do something a little different. I’m super picky about anime and Netflix has allowed me the opportunity to test out some stuff I wouldn’t have bothered with otherwise. So far, this is the only full-length movie I’ve been able to bring myself to watch and it was definitely worthwhile.

Origin: Spirits of the Past may be a boring and generic title (the actual Japanese title translates to Agito the Silver-haired which isn’t much better), but the movie is a heartfelt post-apocalyptic story with strong environmentalist themes and an overall texture that would not feel out of place in one of Studio Ghibli’s similar fantasy films. Some people probably feel like Origin is really derivative and would count it against the movie. I feel like I’ve seen the anime (Trigun) and feature fims (Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind, Castle in the Sky, and Princess Mononoke in particular) that it most heavily draws from and I don’t really have a problem with it. I mean, Japanese entertainment culture is a lot more (from what I understand) easygoing about “artistic theft” than we are in North America. Ultimately, even if it feels derivative it is still borrowing from the best and that has to count for something otherwise Tarantino is fucked too. Heh.

The art is reminiscent of Studio Ghibli. The dynamic shot is an example of how this movie goes for the cinematic rather than being just an overlong anime episode.

300 years after we fucked the planet up creating super-plants, the Earth is more or less ruled by sentient forests (and the human-like Zruids) with humans barely hanging on due to the fact that the trees control all the water. In Neutral City, where most of the movie happens, the people survive more or less in cooperation and mutual respect with the Forest. Outside, there are other factions like the warmongering country Ragna.

The humans of Neutral City survive by scavenging non-harmful technologies and through the  occasional enhancements offered to individual humans by the forest. In ridiculous anime fashion, the process grants superhuman powers and hair recoloring. In this case, the enhanced people have silvery hair and age far more slowly than others but they will eventually become trees themselves and are more plant than human, especially when they overuse their powers. People who have seen Trigun and Princess Mononoke will find the effects and overall visual design of this stuff fairly familiar.

“Don’t worry, Tula. Touching me will not give you a rash.”

Agito, our plucky young hero, discovers a cryogenic tube deep in the ruins. Inside is Tula, a young girl and one of the handful of people who were frozen in stasis before the world fully collapsed. Tula is carrying technology forbidden by the Forest which causes some drama for the people of Neutral City and especially Agito, who protects her. The tech is in a necklace, which basically makes these two very similar to Pazu and Sheeta from Castle in the Sky). Also in the mix is Shunack, who is a leading soldier of Ragna and has something in common with both Agito and Tula. Shunack is basically the same character as Muska from Castle in the Sky though the added connection to Agito is a nice touch.

Anyway, Shunack has big sinister plans that involve apocalyptic destruction and walking tanks. It’s pretty awesome by the time this comes to ahead since Agito is a full-on mutant badass by this point with the added freakiness of sprouting roots and leaves whenever he overextends himself.

Shunack is a solid villain. He thinks he’s doing good and he is also a twisted mirror of both Tula and Agito.

By the end of the movie, the themes land on the side of harmony between humans and nature. Finding out more about the relationship between them, and the truth about the enhanced humans, gives the film an added weight and justifies a fairly hopeful ending about coexistence that offers enough heart and poetic flair to becalm my cynical soul. I personally don’t buy into the primitivist ideal, though I do have some sympathy for it. Origin is very much about metaphors for our conflict with the natural world, especially the forests we have used and abused all over the world. The metaphor is well handled, much like the overarching conflict between man and machine in The Matrix trilogy (whatever you thought of the movies themselves). And anyway, it’s a noble ideal: to reconcile enemies, even after so much destruction and misunderstanding.

So while Origin: Spirits of the Past doesn’t light the world on fire, it uses its influences well. The design, direction, and production are all top-knotch. The English voice acting (on Netflix) is solid, and there is a deeper philosophical core (if characteristically simplistic) beneath the world building, mytseries, and action sequences.