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.