Being a small fan of “Vexille” and the recent CGI anime “Appleseed” film franchise, I immediately was drawn to purchase the TO film collection since it had been produced by the makers of those other successful CGI films. This OVA collection is divided into two 44-minute stories that bring this futuristic world to life, and adapts the manga 2001 Nights. This Blu-ray combo package also contains the two films and includes two dvds that separate the two films into one dvd.
Elliptical Orbit takes us to the year 2068 where humankind is on the verge of totally depleting Earth’s resources and has a huge lunar colony. The Alpha Centauri system serves as the base for mining operations. A ship called the Flying Dutchman arrives at a space station from a 15 year trip getting a precious energy source that could sustain the earth for many years. But terrorists have a plan to take over the Dutchman’s precious cargo as a war seems to have brought their country to the brink of annihilation. Amidst the chaos, the captain of the ship (Romi Park) and the director of the space station (Akio Ontsuka) must come to terms with the sacrifices and consequences of the lengthy travel times and how it had affected their relationship.
Then almost a century had passed in Symbiotic Planet, and mankind had mastered space travel and has begun to colonize other worlds. In this world where symbiosis is a way of life, and organisms are dependent on each other; humans are as usual struggling to co-exist and two sides (Eurasian and Euro-American) of the colonies are on the edge. However, though they come from opposing factions, Ion (Jun Fukuyama) and Alena (Aya Hirano) have become star-crossed lovers in this strange world. The arrival of U.N. mediators seemed to add more fuel to the fire, but it seems like this planet has a thing or two to teach argumentative humans….
The two stories may share the same time continuum, but the events that occur in the two tales aren’t related. They may have similar themes of ‘working together’ and anti-war undertones, but the tone and how the stories are rendered are very different. “Elliptical Orbit” focuses on family and how space exploration can affect a relationship. “Symbiotic Planet” takes a more Shakespearean approach while pitching a commentary on humanity’s need to establish division of territory and fascination to control things they believe must be controlled. One issue with this collection is the fact that they both seem to assume that whoever would watch them would have read the manga and have a knowledge of anime filmmaking. A lot of productions tend to ask the motivations, rather than answering the questions; this can be frustrating to the casual animated film fan.
I have to admit, the two stories do carry a certain cliché when it comes to execution. But I have to say that “Elliptical Orbit” has the better written story. I mean, “Symbiotic Planet” wasn’t so bad but it carries many stereotypes that have hounded sci-fi movies so much that I felt like its development was predictable. “Elliptical Orbit” has a simple set up, but it works; I like the idea of a space station that can become a rail gun, and I liked the way the characters drove the story. The direction by Sori also did a fabulous job in foreshadowing the details behind the relationship between Maria and Dan, and it makes its themes of relationship much more compelling. The story did appear hampered by less-than impressive action sequences, but the tale did its job when it comes to truly fleshing out the consequences of space travel.
“Symbiotic Planet” may have a much more clichéd storyline, but its message was more profound (if overused). Many such anime productions have anti-war themes going for them. I liked the story’s message of co-existence and how we can learn from others. Sori had always included a message of ‘teamwork’ and how lines can threaten peace and he does so once again in this film. Sori also adds subtle commentary about man's habit to believe that he is the center of the universe, that he should dominate and have the right to shape anything to his needs (when adaptation is truly the key to survival).
The production does have some spiffy set designs. The backgrounds and layouts do feel like I was immersed in another world. The designs and animation by Oxybot was real good, especially when it is rendering images other than humans. The characters looked almost photo-realistic (not having the over-expressive eyes in anime) and they have that 3D look. The thing is, the motion-capture in the feature seemed a little unpolished as some movements appeared a little stiff. Much as I loved the CGI and creature designs, I thought the human figures had that artificial-mechanical feel. I guess the project was rushed into completion and the animators didn’t have time to make the movements as refined as in “Appleseed Ex Machina”. The colors and the art are impressive as they exercise the same values of contrast, emphasis and balance.
The soundtrack was fitting to the stories. Both stories share the techno-style music in the opening before they both settle in contemporary styled, orchestrated synthetic track that set the mood for each scene. The voice acting was good, Hirano and Fukuyama took the lead in “Symbiotic Planet” while Park and Ontsuka does well as the leads. The rest of the Japanese cast were just as good, and while the English cast also did well, there was mild synching issues (this was intended for the Japanese language) so I would advise watching the two stories in the original language (the subtitles are excellent).
TO Film collection has two short films that prove to be a good sci-fi experience. While I thought that the stories needed more development and I felt that while I had fun with it, the films wouldn’t exactly satisfy those used to spoon-fed details in their narratives. The makers of the CGI anime took a leap of faith, and assumed that whoever saw “Elliptical Orbit” and “Symbiotic Planet” would know how to watch films directed by Fumihiko Sori. His films often take some getting used to since they are meant to be pondered and the script by Yukinobu Hoshino is very simple that it may even be said that it was clichéd. I feel that only his fans would really appreciate these two anime CGI films.
Recommended! [3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
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Elliptical Orbit:Fifteen years after its last contact with our world, a space freighter known as the Flying Dutchman requests permission to dock at a remote moon base. This mysterious ship carries liquid protons: a power source essential to the survival of Earth’s population. But before the precious cargo can be delivered, the base is ambushed by galactic terrorists who seek to destroy the new form of energy and issue a death sentence to all of humanity.
Symbiotic Planet: Against a backdrop of peculiar alien life forms, Aon and Elena – star-crossed lovers from rival countries – struggle to build a life together despite the objections of their superiors. Their budding romance is thwarted by an outbreak of potent alien fungus and the interference of a cutthroat militaristic madman. To survive, the young couple must maintain their faith in each other – and learn to trust the unique creatures which inhabit this strange and wondrous planet.