Review

by Kim Morrissy,

Hello World

Synopsis:
Hello World
In Kyoto in the year 2027, Naomi Katagaki, a male high school student encounters a person who claiming to be Naomi from 10 years in the future. Together, they must change the future and save a classmate, Ruri, whom the younger Naomi starts to date in three months.
Review:

If you're a fan of director Tomohiko Ito, the premise of Hello World may seem like something in your strike zone. Like the virtual worlds portrayed in Sword Art Online, Hello World follows the life of a boy living inside a computer simulation. And like ERASED, it's also a story about the boy's future self, trying to redo the past to save the girl he loves.

In practice, however, Hello World feels closer to KADO - The Right Answer, an anime-original work written by Hello World's screenwriter Mado Nozaki. This is partly because, like KADO - The Right Answer, Hello World is a 3D anime. Although Ito drew storyboards for the film, it's hard to compare his work on 2D anime to a 3D film, where the production pipeline and aesthetic sensibilities are very different. Also, like KADO - The Right Answer, Hello World is a sci-fi work filled with interesting concepts and an evident love for the genre. Unfortunately, however, it's also an unsatisfying tale by the end, with an underdeveloped setting and plot.

The story follows most of your typical anime romance plot beats at first, as our male high school boy protagonist struggles to overcome his shyness until one day when he encounters a man claiming to be himself from the future. The future Naomi informs him that this world is a computer simulation of the world from the past, and that he's trying to change what happens here out of his own sense of guilt for failing to protect the girl who was briefly his girlfriend back then. The most interesting part of this development is that instead of being presented as an ingenious plot twist, it happens early, and the meatier developments happen later. The film is more interested in its romance, which is for the best because it's a cute one.

The relationship between Naomi and Ruri is endearingly awkward. Naomi is intimidated and taken aback by Ruri's gruff and no-nonsense attitude, but they eventually bond over a shared love of books. A romance between two introverts with a lot in common would probably have been boring in a TV series, but it works well enough in a film, especially since there's a distinct lack of frustrating misunderstandings to complicate the courtship.

Yukiko Horiguchi's adorable character designs are a perfect fit for the first part of the film. In terms of personality and appearance, Ruri strongly resembles Anko from Tamako Market, another cute anime with Horiguchi designs, so that should give you an idea of the film's light-hearted teen coming-of-age story vibe. Things take a turn for the more serious in the second half, however, and the characters feel much less convincing then. The characters are too simple and cutesy to feel like anything more than cookie-cutter stereotypes when the plot demands dramatic beats from them.

One of Hello World's biggest problems is that for all of its lush visuals, its world ultimately feels empty. There are only three named characters of consequence in the entire film, and two of them are the same person in a different timeline. The side characters are peripheral to the plot, barely interacting with any of the main characters at all. The antagonists are faceless, masked creatures with no real minds of their own. Hello World is ultimately a personal story, but it never feels like the protagonist's growth is earned when the conflict is so nebulous.

The film's other big problem is that its setting is underdeveloped, especially in the second half as the worldview of the story expands. There are explanations here and there regarding the nature of the world, but it all feels like exposition for the sake of moving the plot along, and it's difficult to get immersed in the setting. Peculiarly enough, although the Kyoto portrayed in the first part of the film looks more or less like the real city, the environments in the second half of the film are empty and lifeless. Whether this was by design is hard to say, but I distinctly got the impression that the city of Kyoto was reduced only to its main landmarks, which made for a disappointing spectacle.

At least the animation is fairly strong, especially for a 3D production that tries to emulate the look and feel of 2D anime - an endeavor that has produced a number of hit-and-misses lately. There are stumbling moments with the character animation; Horiguchi's simple character designs lend themselves more to Kyoto Animation's school of detailed character animation and expressions, which still seems out of reach for 3D anime. But the action set pieces are still pretty cool to watch, even if the environment and monster designs themselves are not terribly inspired. Hello World had some of Sword Art Online's best action animators working on it, which made a positive difference overall.

The "boy meets girl" anime film with sci-fi trappings is a dime a dozen in today's post-your name. landscape. Even outside of that context, Hello World doesn't feel like a particularly inspired film. It's too stereotypical and half-baked to leave a strong impression after its run time ends. I'm normally a fan of Horiguchi's character designs, but I don't think they suited a 3D sci-fi film terribly well, either. Overall, Hello World looks and feels generic, despite glimmers of real potential here and there. I'm still waiting for the day a director as clearly talented as Tomohiko Ito can craft an anime with a compelling plot that he can do full justice to.

Grade:
Overall : C+
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : B-
Music : B

+ Cute romance, animation is strong for a 3D anime
Plot and setting feels empty and underdeveloped, character designs don't play to the film's strengths

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Production Info:
Director: Tomohiko Ito
Screenplay: Mado Nozaki
Character Design: Yukiko Horiguchi
Sound Director: Yoshikazu Iwanami

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Hello World (movie)

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