Reviewby Casey Brienza, Jun 9th 2008
Origin ~Spirits of the Past~
DVD - Special Edition
It's the future, and the world is a very different place. The Forest reigns supreme, water is scarce, and humanity, the bulk of its once great technology lost to time, has been dethroned from its once powerful rule over all the Earth. Scattered survivors have become divided between those who respect the new normal and those who would see the world back to the way it once was. When Agito, a young boy of the former camp, inadvertently awakens a girl from the past named Toola, he sets in motion a chain of events that will ultimately decide the fate of all.
The portentously titled Origin ~Spirits of the Past~ (or “Silver-haired Agito” in the original Japanese) is supposed to be a haunting tale of man versus nature. But such a characterization would be deceptive. What this overlong hour and a half is really about is man versus tree. Or—dare I be more specific—man becomes tree. Literally. Twisted branches, bark, leaves, and everything. Suffice it to say that I can't remember the last time I saw such stupidity dressed up as profundity.
The story takes place in an unspecified post-apocalyptic future bearing passing resemblance to The Matrix's Zion…plus sentient, mutant foliage run amok and minus all the dark-skinned portions of the earth's populace. As we find out late in the story, a global reforestation project gone wrong threatened all humanity, and as a result a select number of elite were put into stasis. The scattered survivors, meanwhile, scratch out a modest living either in uneasy harmony with the Forest or somewhere out in a vast desert, having rebuilt a larger-than-life parody of Industrial Revolution…plus giant robots, of course.
But now a few of who have been put into stasis are beginning to awaken, and one of them, named Shunack, plots to undo the errors of history and raze the Forest to the ground. For this he needs the newly-awakened Toola and her fashionably pink Raban, a computerized collar of sorts that apparently everyone in their time used to wear. Unfortunately, Shunack's ambitions also mean the destruction of Neutral City and Toola's newfound friends. Agito, a youth descended from one of Neutral City's founders, merges with the forest in order to gain superhuman powers that will allow him to stop Shunack, rescue Toola, and stop a weapon of mass destruction in the form of a volcano on legs in its tracks. (No, “volcano on legs” is not a typo.)
Needless to say, Agito succeeds in saving the day, Shunack sees the error of his ways before getting swallowed up by a mutant tree, and Toola decides to let go of the past. Whoopie. Could this film have been any more predictable? Although it is supposed to be a picture-perfect happy ending, it just doesn't feel like one: the story is wholly unable to convince me that trying to become one with the Forest is preferable to what came before. Indeed, it is never a credit to the creator's original intentions when viewers start favoring the villain's point of view over that of the hero's, and sure enough I found myself hoping against hope that Shunack would succeed. Would you really want to live in a world where you need to negotiate with sentient trees for every precious bucket of water? Didn't think so. Three cheers for normalcy, gosh darn it! Besides, the rest of the characters, Agito, Toola, and the Neutral City citizens alike, are one-dimensional personalities, easy to imagine as so much cannon fodder.
Seeing an ambitious project like this one fall flat on its face is rarely a pleasant experience, and the highly ambitious Origin: Spirits of the Past is so outright awful it actually has proven impossible to laugh off its many narrative misfires. Though the quality of the animation is remarkably good even for a feature film, and the ethereal New Age-ish soundtrack, while certainly an acquired taste to say the least, matches the tone of the visuals, GONZO's heroic effort has been utterly wasted on yet another anime that best belongs on the trash heap of history.
In fact, the American voice actors don't seem able to muster the least excitement with regards to the whole endeavor, either. All performances are delivered either in monotone or shout—nothing between. That their Japanese counterparts manage to tough it out and that the subtitles are readable and well-executed are but small consolations.
The FUNimation Special Edition release of the film includes a bonus DVD with fifty minutes of additional material, most notably an in-depth production documentary. Too bad, at an MSRP of $39.99, it isn't worth remembering where Origin ~Spirits of the Past~ came from. I advise you, dear reader, to pretend that it never existed in the first place.
Overall (dub) : D
Overall (sub) : D+
Story : D-
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Attractive visuals and animation of a quality that befits a feature-length film.
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