Review

by Theron Martin,

Garakowa -Restore the World-

Synopsis:
Garakowa -Restore the World-
Reddish-haired Dorothy and dark-haired Dual may look like girls, but those forms are just the manifestations of anti-virus programs embedded within ViOS, an operating system which manages the Box of Wisdom, a sort of virtual repository for the collected memories of mankind taken from various cultures and time periods. Their job – indeed, their raison d'etre – is to hunt down viruses and delete them, even if that means having to delete an entire infected virtual setting (the form that the memories take) in order to eradicate the infection. Dual in particular sometimes wonders if there is more to all of this, though, and those suspicions only heighten when an anomaly shows up in the core part of the Box: a young girl beset by viruses but not infected by them. They soon learn that she is Remo and that she has no clear idea of who or what she is, but she has several characteristics much more human than they are, such as the ability to taste things. The former duo becomes a very amiable trio as they try to solve the mystery of Remo, but that truth – and what it says about the current state of humanity – may ultimately tear them apart.
Review:

Originally called D.backup, Garakowa is the creation of the duo Physics Point, who won the right to have their concept adapted into animated form as part of a contest conducted by Pony Canyon back in 2013. Although the creators may be newcomers to the world of anime, those in charge of bringing their vision to the screen definitely are not. Director Masashi Ishihama (From the New World) and the screenplay writer Fumihiko Shimo (Air, Kanon, Clannad, Amagi Brilliant Partk) lead an A-1 Pictures animation team in putting together this 67 minute production.

Compared to most of Ishihama's previous works, the look of this movie is utterly conventional. While the color scheme on the characters is often subdued, the artistry makes no use of the silhouetting effects and flat shading that his work has become known for, and it leans far heavier on elaborate CG elements. The trade-off is some truly astounding background art. Real-world settings are almost photorealistic and CG designs are crisp and inventive; the ever-expanding design of the virtual house that the girls live in is practically a showpiece for interior design, especially a staircase composed of clear panels attached to elaborate brackets on the wall rather than set into any framework or on any underlying structure. The outside of the house, which integrates in multiple starkly different architecture styles as it grows in size, is also impressive. Even the environment of the core system of the Box of Wisdom stands out (though more subtly so) for the way it evokes a sense of being in the interconnected space between worlds. The one problem here is that the character artwork is not as sharp, which sometimes results in the characters seeming to act in front of a painted background rather than as an actual part of the setting. Doing that deliberately could have been interesting, especially for what it could imply about the relationship of the characters to the setting, but this seems more like a minor technical shortcoming.

Shades of Ishihama's earlier works are more prominent in the swarming, writhing masses of the viruses, but the character designs could have stepped out of innumerable other anime titles; Remo, for instance, reminded me heavily of anohana's Menma in appearance, while Dorothy and Dual follow the kind of design pattern commonly-seen in Pretty Cure-influenced magical girl series (in other words, a more tomboyish girl with shorter, reddish hair paired with a more feminine girl with long, dark hair). The only stand-out feature about them is the wide array of clothing changes that they get, some of which are distinctly sexier than others; this is still tame enough to have earned a TV-PG rating, however. While the animation still uses common anime shortcuts like having characters sometimes talk from off-screen while the camera focuses on still shots, the animation quality is relatively smooth and active overall and characters consistently stay on-model.

A sparsely-used musical score has far less impact and is far less memorable. Montages of the girls exploring various settings and daily activities are set to bland insert songs and closing theme “Bud of a Dream” is a dreamy but also largely forgettable number. The only place the music's presence is felt much is in the ominous sounds it uses to build tension in the movie's darker and more dramatic final third.

The narrative and themes are also less remarkable than the technical accomplishments. Much of the concept essentially boils down to computer programs anthropomorphized as cute girls doing all sorts of cute things together; the only novel twist to it is that exploring the virtual settings in the back-up data (ostensibly to search for viruses) necessitates that the girls take on roles within those settings, which basically just gives the movie an excuse to show them in all kinds of different clothing and hair styles. This is fine if that and the visuals are all you want out of the movie, and taken solely in that regard the movie would be a resounding success. An amiable mix of fairly standard personality types among the three lead girls helps this along.

On the downside, though, the more light-hearted content makes the exploration of some more serious themes seem half-hearted at best. Nowhere is this more apparent than when the girls encounter settings defined by war and natural disasters after traipsing through more vacation-like scenarios. They are all shocked, but after a minute or two they move on like nothing had happened. If some kind of message was intended there that is deeper than “war gets in the way of our fun,” the opportunity was wasted. A couple of other scenes also awkwardly try to foster emotional involvement, and equally problematic is the oversimplified way that Dorothy gets won over to simply enjoying their semblance of life. Very little there gets adequately earned, which waters down the emotional impact that the movie aims for in its late stages. It also gets in the way of fully developing some other themes that movie tries to bring up, such as the dangers of trying to force a perfect world or relying too much on technology to solve mankind's problems. Many other anime and non-anime titles have accomplished those themes far more simply and powerfully.

In the end, Garakowa shows some ambition and creativity (the late twist about the nature of the viruses is one of the few narrative bright spots) but is far from satisfying at fulfilling its potential. It is best-appreciated for its more base entertainment values, such as its backgrounds, the way some technological elements are conceptualized, and of course the behaviors and interactions of the cute girls; leave the deeper philosophical ruminations for more capably-written works.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : C+

+ Outstanding background art, effective in a "cute girls do cute things" sense.
Does not achieve the emotional resonance it aims for, weak on developing its more serious themes.

Storyboard: Masashi Ishihama
Music: Masaru Yokoyama
Original creator:
Suyuli Hiraume
Otono Shimura
Character Design: Shin'ya Segawa
Art Director: Shunichiro Yoshihara
Chief Animation Director:
Emi Hirano
Toshie Kawamura
Shin'ya Segawa
Animation Director:
Erika Arakawa
Emi Hirano
Naoaki Houjou
Toshie Kawamura
Manabu Nii
Akane Umezu
Sho Yamamoto
Sound Director: Satoshi Motoyama
Director of Photography: Kenji Takahashi
Producer: Ryōichi Ishihara

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