August 11, 2011

Mystery Meat -- Oblivion Island, Haruka and the magic mirror

4 minutes into Hottarake no Shima, and I got tears in my eyes. And there were I think three other scenes which did that to me.

This is a really good movie. Visually it is very imaginative. The eponymous "Oblivion Island" is very strange, very complex, very interesting. It's even rather terrifying some of the time.

At the 15-word-to-describe-it level, it's the same overall plotline as Spirited Away, in the sense that Haruka (the protagonist) goes through a life changing experience in a magical place and is a better person afterwards.

But as soon as you use 50 words, the movies bear very little resemblance.

Early on, they used a fair amount of shortcuts, with rendered characters composited into painted scenes in a few places. And I began to wonder about their budget. But as soon as we reached the "other side", it all got much better, and as the movie went on it only improved.

Now nobody would mistake this for a Pixar movie, especially in the character models. If I understood the credits, they used AutoDesk as the modeler and renderer, and that's maybe two generations back from what Pixar uses. So, for instance, Haruka's hair is painted onto a solid shape, with an alpha mask also painted on it. Poser had that 10 years ago.

They did a lot better for the scenery and the residents of the island, and in fact that worked. It made Haruka look a little bit out of place, which was good because she was out of place. Here's a 1080p grab showing her and... well... you'll find out for yourself who the other person is. Here's a scene after she's left the world we know. It's very definitely a "We're not in Kansas anymore" moment.

So, what's it about? Remember the itty bitty shrine that the sisters used for shelter in the rain, in Totoro? There were statues in it. That shrine was to Inari, the goddess of harvest. By tradition, she is served by foxes, and that's what the statues were. According to one legend, the foxes take objects which we have forgotten, take them away to a place where they will never be seen again.

That's the island. Haruka lost something, something she promised she would never forget. And she wants it back. That's what the movie is about, but I don't really want to say any more for fear of spoilers.

It's really good. And it fully justifies being seen in 1080p. Unlike a lot of anime we get, it isn't upscaled from 720p (or even from 480p). It was a theatrical release, and they rendered at full theater resolution. So it's sharp and gorgeous in 1080p.

Definitely recommended.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Mystery Meat at 08:03 PM | Comments (14) | Add Comment
Post contains 461 words, total size 3 kb.

1 Not available domestically, unfortunately.  It's one I'll keep an eye out for.

Posted by: Dave Young at August 12, 2011 08:10 AM (FD6YW)

2 "We're not in Kansas anymore"
Sounds like it could that have been deliberate, the way the Kansas portions of The Wizard of Oz are in black and white.
(I tried to italicize the movie title, but this text box apparently still doesn't work quite right in Chrome--it italicized the whole comment.)

Posted by: RickC at August 12, 2011 08:32 AM (VKVOz)

3 That was just me saying that. The movie makes no reference to Kansas, and there isn't any obvious reference to the Wizard of Oz, either.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at August 12, 2011 08:37 AM (+rSRq)

4 Steven, I was floating the idea that in both movies, filming the real-world portions of the movie in a different style than the magical-place portions as a stylistic differentiator.

Posted by: RickC at August 12, 2011 04:03 PM (VKVOz)

5 I am curious about these anime series that you are watching. Somewhat new to anime. How do you find these? often has no idea what I'm talking about. The major sites I am aware of, Crunchyroll and Funimation, often don't have these either.

Posted by: EccentricOrbit at August 13, 2011 08:12 AM (RSp4m)


These days most of the stuff I watch is pirated, coming off of bit torrents.

The two best trackers I've found are Nyaatorrents and BakaBT. TokyoToshokan isn't a tracker, but it's an aggregator where people announce torrents.

The torrent program I use is uTorrent. I'm currently using version 2.2.1. I have a computer dedicated solely to doing torrents, and it runs 24/7, mostly hosting BakaBT torrents, which is why my exchange ratio there is 10.3:1

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at August 13, 2011 09:49 AM (+rSRq)



I held out and was virtuous for a very long time. Up until about two years ago, I only wrote about legal DVDs I had purchased. But it finally got to be too much for me, especially after the North American market collapsed.

Even disregarding the price, the sad fact is that the product delivered by the fansub groups via torrents is better than what we can buy. It's more timely, and the quality is higher, and the resolution is better, and it's more comprehensive.

I wish it weren't so. I would rather buy than steal. But two years ago it reached the point where it didn't feel like virtue to be honest. It felt like being a sucker.

Even as big as the anime market was in North America three years ago before everything fell apart, we were still being treated as second class citizens. Usually there was a delay of between 1 and 3 years before titles got released here, if they were. And what we got was 480p, which these days looks like a postage stamp to me. (Especially on my 1920*1080 computer display.)

Well, it is a tenet of capitalist theory that a market will respond to a vacuum, and this one did. Fansubbing started really small, maybe 20 years ago. But these things build momentum. Users beget fansub circles, and increases in numbers of titles bring in more viewers. It builds. Now it's huge.

There are at least 20 significant fansub groups (and probably more like 50 minor ones), and it's a rare title which doesn't get subbed by at least two groups. They're providing a good quality product, and they aren't charging for it. Against that, companies like Funimation and ADV were offering a worse product, later, that cost a lot. It's little wonder that ADV died.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at August 13, 2011 10:04 AM (+rSRq)

8 I said many times that the solution was to co-opt, not to punish the fansubbers.  Crunchyroll proved that it can work, but even there, there's issues with quality and timeliness.  And as Avatar will tell you, they pay crap to translators.

Posted by: ubu at August 13, 2011 10:25 AM (GfCSm)


CrunchyRoll is the only company here who are making a serious attempt to compete with fansubs on close to equal terms.

Their problem is that the Japanese production companies are terrified of the possibility that Japanese fans will start coming to North America for product, instead of buying the domestic product. The prices are lower here because American customers won't let themselves be reamed the way Japanese fans have always been.

So CrunchyRoll cannot offer Download-To-Own because then the Japanese would buy from CR instead.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at August 13, 2011 10:37 AM (+rSRq)

10 Thanks for mentioning this movie; I was curious about it back when it was announced and it sounds like the type of story that would be right up my alley. I'm admittedly not as interested in full CG animated productions - I always feel like something is missing, that special human touch that makes hand-drawn (or I suppose now it's digitally-drawn-but-still-2D) animation enjoyable to watch. You can't really point out who animated individual scenes when it's all modeled and animated within the standardized CG environment of the production, obviously. Sometimes, though, the "human touch" comes more from the expression of the story than the graphics, and it sounds like that's the case here.
Thanks for reminding me to go check it out!

Posted by: Jessi at August 13, 2011 02:07 PM (Xt7yj)

11 Me too, thanks for the recommendation.  I was a little concerned because the human characters looked a little plastic-y, but the expressions on all the characters were done very well and the actors were excellent.  The island was wonderfully imaginative, colorful, and the action scenes were well planned and engaging.
I'm putting this in my folder for my nieces and nephews to watch when they can read subtitles quickly enough.

Posted by: wahsatchmo at August 14, 2011 06:31 PM (NwP5r)


I think it might be a little bit too intense for pre-readers, even disregarding the problem of reading subtitles. For a 9 year old, it should be fine, though.

It's a kid's movie, but not little kids.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at August 14, 2011 07:02 PM (+rSRq)

13 I think that's perfect.  My nieces are 6 and my nephews are 4.  And their parents are twins.   Symmetry can be stupid.  But one of the sets of nieces and nephews can probably handle this earlier than the other, by at least two years.  I'm thinking my sister's set can handle this by the time that my niece is seven or eight, and my brother's set, well, I have no idea.  My brother's kids are scared of Pixar stuff, so I think it'll be a while.  My sister's kids may be able to handle it, but I always run it through the parents first.

Posted by: wahsatchmo at August 14, 2011 10:53 PM (NwP5r)

14 This is a bit of a necro-post, but Funi just announced they have the license for Oblivion Island.  No word on a release date.

Posted by: ubu at October 14, 2011 11:34 AM (GfCSm)

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