Reviewby Theron Martin,
BD+DVD - The Movie
Kyouichi is a robot in a not-distant future era where robots capable of mimicking human behavior are apparently ordinary. In the wake of a plane crash he is asked to “become human” in order to conduct experimental robot therapy with the significant other of one of the crash's victims, where he portrays the deceased to help the victim adjust to the loss of the loved one. In this case he becomes Hal, lost love of the young woman Kurumi, who is so overwrought that she will not leave a closet. As “Hal” tries to coax her out and back into the regular world again, he also gradually pieces together the nature of the relationship between Hal and Kurumi, with a series of Rubik's Cubes with messages written on them being vital clues. But is robot-Hal capable of handling the devastating truth which lies at the successful completion of the mission?
A few elements in Hal – the robot Kyouichi, a few other references to robots in flashbacks, one or two other high-tech items, and a suggestion of some past calamity that created sunken city ruins – earn it a “science fiction” classification, but on the whole the movie only qualifies as such on a technicality. In fact, that this is to some degree a futuristic tale is easy to ignore, as the settings are almost entirely low-tech and very little shown in it couldn't have existed 30 years ago, much less 30 years into the future. No, at heart Hal is a tragic love story, albeit an unusual one in that the tragedy happens within the first couple of minutes and the rest of the 60 minute run time is about the survivor coming to terms with that tragedy. In this case the happy outcome is being able to move on and have a life after love is lost.
That unusual structure and the novel premise are the strengths which drive this 2013 movie. Mechanical humanoids have been used before in both anime and general science fiction to replace lost loved ones (Chobits, for instance), but I do not believe that doing so specifically for therapeutic reasons has ever been done before in anime. It opens up a realm of interesting possibilities on the psychological front; can a person achieve a sufficient sense of completion from interaction with a duplicate, for instance? The movies certainly suggests it is possible, especially if the behavior of the duplicate is modeled closely enough on the original – and that is certainly possible with an advanced AI designed to learn and extrapolate behavior from details like video clips and diary entries. The use of messages written on 5x5 Rubik's Cubes is also an interesting device, as it literally makes understanding Kurumi and how best to appeal to her into a puzzle that needs to be solved. While this gimmick may be a little too literal, it does economize the storytelling progression enough for the tale to play out in a mere hour.
For the most part the story plays out successfully. As robot-Hal gradually starts to learn what Kurumi really wants, he also comes to understand the original better, which allows him to see where the original went wrong and thus adapt better to Kurumi. A doctor in charge of his case is his regular sounding board, but a group of old ladies at a retirement home also contribute. If story moves a little too fast in depicting the healing process, that can be attributed to having to work within the movie's limited run time rather than any major flaw, and the few humorous touches are light ones which mostly involve the old ladies. As events progress we see troubling signs that the original Hal might not have been that great a guy after all, which seems to shade the story in the direction of redeeming Hal, too. In the end the movie pulls a major gimmick, one which indicates that the audience has been misdirected all along on one major point, although in retrospect (or during a second view) a couple of clues to what the gimmick will be pop up early on if you know to look for them. (Most viewers will likely not pick up on those details being actual clues the first time around, however.) Though it feels like a cheap ploy, the end ultimately is probably a little more satisfying for having being done that way.
The visual quality of the production effort by Wit Studio (the same studio behind Attack on Titan) varies. At times the backgrounds are gorgeously detailed; on other occasions, however, they are much rougher, though still full of detail. Character designs, when not done in caricature (as the old ladies at the retirement home are) are very distinctive, with Kurumi's design in particular distinguishing itself with her big mouth and expressive facial design, and Kyuichi's design manages a childlike quality despite clearly being robotic. Graphic content is very limited and fan service is nonexistent, while the animation produces smooth, detailed movements sufficient to support the content very well.
The musical score was done Muchiru Ushima, who has previously done great dramatic work in titles like Blast of Tempest, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Sound of the Sky and turns in another sterling effort here. This time, though, she uses a much lighter touch, with most of the symphonic orchestrated numbers being very gentle and understated when used at all. It does get heavier during key dramatic scenes late in the movie but never too much so. Closer “Owaranai Uta” is a great, melodic wrap-up song.
Funimation's English dub has its voice actors chosen well, with Chris Burnett (Romeo from Romeo x Juliet) being a good fit as Hal and Bryn Apprill (Kotori from Date A Live, Izumiko from Red Data Girl) and Bill Flynn (Dr. Agasa in Case Closed) hitting the right notes as Kurumi and the doctor Aranami, respectively. Especially well-done are the old ladies at the nursing home. The script takes typical Funimation adaptations but no big liberties.
The Funimation release comes with both DVD and Blu-Ray versions, both in a case which comes in a slipcase and includes two alternate covers. On-disk Extras are substantial: a pair of roughly 10 minute “behind the scenes” pieces features various original Japanese staff explaining how they constructed certain scenes, an audio commentary where ADR director Mike McFarland interviews the three most prominent voice actors one at a time (which actor was not told about the gimmick in advance?), some trailers, and a clean closer. No significant flaws were noted with audio or visual quality on either disk.
Hal is a little too short, and plays out a little too hastily, to achieve its full, desired emotional impact. However, it is still a strong effort which should have full appeal for audiences of both genders. If you're looking for a low-key romantic tale and don't mind a big chunk of gimmickry, this one should fit the bill.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Musical score, scenery, animation, voice acting.
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