Anime Review: Origin – Spirits of the Past

Written by Richard Brown

Historically, I have a hard time with animes movies. Part of this is the tendancy for directors to come over all artsey; the other is that  movies from established franchises like One Piece or Ghost in the Shell, don’t fare as well on their own. Origin is however the rare exception, a purpose-built one-off movie. But is it any good?

The Basic Plot

Several hundred years in the future, the world is dominated by an intelligent and often hostile forest. Agito lives a village that tries to co-exist with it, although a nation nearby is building weapons. While stealing water for his ill father, Agito finds a cryogenic chamber, and awakes the girl Toola, a survivor from the times before the forest. As she tries to come to terms with life, it becomes clear she holds the key to destroying the forest.

American DVD case

Beauty versus Brains, Style versus Substance

Visually, Origin is a very well made anime. There are beautiful scenes of a village perched atop a mountain of fallen skyscrapers, and very pretty scenery throughout. The animation refuses to be static, barely slowing down through the entire movie, and the technical achievement is noteworthy. From an artistic perspective, Origin is competing directly with Studio Ghibli output, most notably Princess Mononoke (see trees) and Laputa (see girl with ancient artefact). Its not as polished or as obviously Japanese, but undeniably nice and more accessible to western audiences. Characterisation is also reminiscent of Ghibli work, and I mean this as praise rather than criticism. For the first 45 minutes at least, Origin bears the comparison. The problems start in the second half of the movie, where it becomes clear the writing cannot match the visuals, as stereotypes, clichés and the downright silly start competing for screentime.

Toola and Agito

Toola decides to go with the obvious villain to find an artefact that will destroy the forest. Agito decides to rescue her, going into the forest to gain, wait for it, tree based super powers. While it is welcome to see this level of animation spent on characters which can toss around artillery shells like tennis balls, you can’t help but question the plot. Why is destroying the forest a bad thing? It admits it eats people and we see an entire city surviving without it. Why are the only people actually trying to rebuild depicted as the bad guys? Why does Agito side with the forest, and why does he want to rescue Toola even though she went willingly? And most importantly, who thought a mobile volcano was a good idea? The movie develops an ecological message (perhaps a contradiction there, as the forest is a science experiment gone wrong), but the build up to this was mishandled. Origin feels less like a self-contained movie, and more like a hurried compilation of a series, where the key ideas were kept, but the scenes that tied them together were jettisoned. As a result, plot elements pop up suddenly and are passed over at speed without pausing. Like hedgehogs on a motorway at two in the morning. To make matters worse, dialog also suffers, with Agito spending prolonged scenes screaming “Toola!” at the top of his voice. Suffice to say, you will find this either highly irritating or unintentionally funny. The same is very nearly true of the entire movie.

Conclusion

Pretty and fun, but sadly dumb. However, Gonzo seems to have spent years on the visuals and twenty minutes on the script, a lot like a Hollywood movie in fact. Just watch it with your brain turned off, and possibly the sound too.

5/10

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