While adult themed Japanese anime have always been my preference because of their ability to bring out compelling stories, we all know that anime isn’t all about such things. There are several anime titles that come as something as we’ve gotten to call ‘family themes’ and director Shinsuke Sato’s (Tokyo Lullaby and The Princess Blade) “Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror” (Hottarake no shima - Haruka to maho no kagami) is one such anime presentation. This internationally acclaimed CGI-anime film combines Japanese folklore, traditions and storybook sensibilities that is sure to charm the young and adults alike with its “Alice in Wonderland”-like tale of magic, forgotten memories and wonderment.
16-year old Haruka (Haruka Ayase) lost her mother (Naho Toda) at a very young age. While she was still alive, Haruka received a mirror from her a keepsake. But things become forgotten when Haruka grew older, living a life alone with her father (Nao Omori) and she eventually forgets about her prized keepsake. One day she realizes that she had lost this mirror and wonders where it was. As a way to follow a folk legend, Haruka went to a shrine to pray for the return of that mirror. There is accidentally encounters a strange creature collecting ‘neglected things’ with the name of Teo (Miyuki Sawashiro) and Haruka is whisked away to the magical world called Oblivion island where a Baron (Iemasa Kayumi) is planning an attack on the human world to create a new one that fits his needs. Haruka must recover her mirror with the aid of Teo and her forgotten toy, Cotton (Tamaki Matsumoto) and maybe try to save Oblivion Island itself…
Japanese culture has a practice where they have little shrines where they can leave food and other things for their departed loved ones. It is a way for them to communicate with the spirit of the deceased and these shrines are often part of their family routine. In this anime film, while Haruka may not have a shrine for her dead mother, but the shrine in this film becomes a gateway of sorts to another alternate world. The screenplay pitches themes of forgotten memories and how we because of our busy days, find it easy to forget about the little things that used to matter. It succeeds in the delivery of its dramatic elements, and while the film maintained an energetic and upbeat tempo throughout, when it came to getting serious, the film was able to balance its devices and themes to hit a homerun with its viewer.
I suppose what really made the film work is the way it developed the friendship between Haruka and Teo. Sure, some may say that it captures the formula for familiar “Pixar” animated features (befriend and then get estranged and then have the friendship become stronger) and while I agree, there was a certain anime signature that made the execution different from American animation. It wasn’t so much as they had mature developments, but the direction was able to connect the situation with the characters and then the characters to its story. Haruka was well developed in the script; she was the perfect heroine in this kind of film. The characters felt that they sincerely felt a bond, they felt very real thanks mostly in part to the excellent Japanese voice cast. I had no issues rooting for the friendship between Teo and Haruka, the way their friendship was formed had that certain “thing” necessary that we can easily relate with.
The world of Oblivion Island is indeed something quite fantastic. Shinsuke Sato was a video game designer-director and this serves him well in his film. From the opening sequence that came from a storybook to the set pieces that drove its animation, the film is impressive. The set designs sometimes consists of paintings and 2D backgrounds built around a 3D CGI world. The animation and the designs were excellently blended together to create this enchanting world. The designs also have that clever touches as it is a world built from “forgotten objects” taken from the human world (check out the hill made from skateboards and snow boards). The creature designs had been inspired by the same touches, put together by magic and junk, powered by mirrors’ magical properties. There is something to said with the designs (most notably the Petitloss and the Baron), as they seemed to have been inspired by Tim Burton or something from Neil Gaiman‘s fantasy creations. Take notice of the Island’s realms, there is both something dark and bright about the designs that gives them a lot of personality and character. They were fantastic and clever, with the CGI animation as good as anything Pixar could probably come up with.
“Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror” is one impressive family-friendly anime feature. I was also glad to see that the film had a great message for the young and old alike as well as leaving some details that can be read into. As with most anime films, it asks the motivations and the how is left to be read into, rather than being spoon-fed the details, the viewer is left room to feel. The last act of the film was filled with emotions that every parent should have a chance to see this with their child. This is all about your prized memories and things that sparked those memories. This is what Japanese anime is all about. “Oblivion Island” dazzled me with its creative designs and wowed me with the way it used theatrical touches that the emotions came alive. It is no wonder that this CGI-anime feature had been critically acclaimed and won numerous animation awards.
Highly Recommended! [4 Out of 5 Stars]
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