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Comix Wave’s TO is far from perfect, but at least it’s not broken

In a previous blog entry, I gave Comix Wave a little guff for the hideous-looking Asylum Session, which I couldn’t even bear to watch. TO is another computer animated production from Comix Wave that is thankfully far more watchable. It looks pretty decent with well-realized character modeling and good cell-shading effects. Although the animation isn’t impeccable, TO’s main downfall is it’s dull, paint-by-numbers narrative.

TO is comprised of two 45 minute OVAs that have no connection aside from taking place in the same timeline. The plots aren’t even that similar, except that they are both easy to telegraph from the start (although there’s a decent twist at the end of the first episode, Elliptical Orbit). The second episode, Symbiotic Planet, goes so far as to incorporate the tried-and-true story of star-crossed lovers with a plot about planet colonization, topped off with an incredibly convenient climax.

I’m all for old-school sci-fi but TO’s science is never terribly interesting and noticeably inconsistent. It’s one thing to see action heroes jumping through windows on earth, but seeing someone jump through the window of a ship that is intended to protect its inhabitants from the vacuum of space is a little too hokey. Arguably the bigger problem is the lack of characterization. I found myself mildly curious about the history between the main protagonists of Elliptical Orbit but I couldn’t have cared less about the relationship of the main characters in Symbiotic Planet.

Getting back to the animation, pretty much all the inanimate objects are well rendered and detailed, such as the metallic hallways of The Flying Dutchman and the foliage on a soon-to-be-colonized planet. I liked the expression lines on some of the more aged character’s faces but the actual facial expressions and body animations are fairly stiff and unconvincing. Conversations and interactions frequently feel like they’re being portrayed by puppets. Even veteran voice actors such as Akio Ohtsuka are unable to overcome these shortcomings and sound a little distanced from what’s happening on screen as a result. I kind of liked the music, though; fairly standard orchestral compositions are heard throughout but the techno-heavy theme that plays during the opening titles is rather catchy.

Japan has a long way to go with it’s computer animation. Despite being produced in 2009, TO doesn’t feel like an improvement over past efforts. In fact TO might be less visually engaging than the 2007 movie Vexille, which shares the same director and animation studio. I’m a fan of traditional-style animation first and foremost but any type of animation still needs an engaging narrative to back it up, and this title doesn’t have it. In the end TO is competently directed and not badly executed, but it’s dull and wholly forgettable.

Broken Anime

I just tried to watch a feature from Comix Wave called Asylum Session. That was a non-starter. It’s a cell-shaded computer animated feature, and oh man it looks just awful. This might sound snobbish, but I watched maybe two minutes of it. The animation is overly bright and garish. Characters move awkwardly and freeze perfectly still to talk to someone. And their mouths, sweet merciful crap what is up with the way their mouths move?

It’s unwatchable. It’s broken. I don’t think I’ve ever given up on something so fast. Reboot has better animation, and that show is over 10 years old. I can’t believe this is the same company that’s been involved in Makoto Shinkai’s productions. I only hope Asylum Session represents the worst of Comix Wave’s catalog, because if its produced something even more awful I don’t wanna know about it.

Giving up on Asylum Session reminded me of another CG anime I gave up on sometime last year: Freedom. Katsuhiro Otomo’s name is attched to the project, but don’t let that fool you, he just did some mecha designs and has been reluctant to talk about his involvement at length. I’ve heard the story of Freedom criticized a fair bit, but if you ask me the animation is the reason why that OVA doesn’t work.

Freedom is better than Asylum, but the character animation is still unnatural. People in Freedom’s world wobble around while they talk and their mouths contort awkwardly when they speak. Worse yet, a lot of the background work is done in traditional style, including incidental characters, and the two do not mesh well at all. I technically finished the first two episodes of Freedom, but I mentally checked out when Takeru saw a traditionally animated character he thought he recognized in the middle of the second episode. As his hand reached out to touch her shoulder, she turned into a computer animated character. Ouch.

I certainly think it’s possible for worthwhile computer animated features to be made in Japan. Although the stories may not be perfect, titles such as the Appleseed movies and Final Fantasy: Advent Children can be a lot of fun to watch. The animation is nowhere near Pixar or even Dreamworks quality, but those features are by no means badly animated. However, if the budget or the talent just isn’t there, computer animation should not even be attempted. I’ve built up something of a tolerance to bad traditional animation, but bad computer animation? I raise my white flag and retreat.