Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror

Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic MirrorType: Movie
Genre: Fantasy
Vintage: 2009

Version reviewed: Japanese Subtitled
Date of Review: 19 Sep 2012

Grade: B

A modern Japanese fairy tale told through computer animation.

Plot Summary
A folk tale which Haruka remembers from her childhood comes to life when a treasured hand mirror goes missing. The fox spirits in the story always said that ‘what you neglect, we collect’, and Haruka finds out for herself that it may be more than just a story, after all.

The Review
Oblivion Island is a bit of an anime curiosity in that it is a feature-length film created entirely with computer animation. While in the United States computer animation has all but replaced traditional “flat” animation not only in the cinema but also on television, Japan seems to have reserved its computer animation largely for the video game industry. They are still very good at it, and in this theatrical outing, Production I.G demonstrates it with this modern fairy tale.

Oblivion Island’s protagonist Haruka is sixteen years old, though the story seems designed to appeal to a mostly younger audience. It is a simple story sticking to convention and without any unexpected turns, but is still enjoyable to watch. The theme is a common one, even in Western film and literature: a young girl finds herself transported to a strange world and must find something in order to return home. The added ingredient this time is the Japanese folk tale of fox spirits coming to take away the things that people have forgotten about. While children may be the primary audience for Oblivion Island, there are still some scenes which are a bit disturbing in their own way. Then again, even most Western fairy tales have dark elements to them.

So how does the animation itself fare? It isn’t groundbreaking, but it is consistent and well done. Character designs are simple, but detailed. The backgrounds are where some of the more creative work is found, as well as the opening story sequence. Character movement appears to have been actually animated rather than motion-captured. Production I.G’s work on Oblivion Island won’t be mistaken for PIXAR, but pushing the boundaries of the medium isn’t what this film is setting out to do. The style and design choices used suit the story well, and at times I found myself forgetting that I was watching CG animation, which to me is a sign of a job well done by the animators.

Oblivion Island is a fun little movie; it is mostly a whimsical fantasy, but there is a bit of a message underneath it all. The story is very easy to follow, and the animation, while fairly simple, is not lazy. The only thing this film asks is that you wish to be entertained for an hour and forty minutes, and I found it to fill that requirement easily.

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