by Theron Martin,

Origin ~Spirits of the Past~


Origin ~Spirits of the Past~ DVD
In a post-apocalyptic future, Neutral City has sprung up on ruins located between the militant nation of Ragna and the sentient forest that controls the area's water supply. While on an adventure one day young Agito, whose father helped found the town, falls into some deep ruins. There he discovers a stasis structure that still contains one perfectly-preserved living person: a girl named Toola, who comes from the civilization prior to the calamity that destroyed the Moon and ravaged the Earth. Accidentally awakening her, Agito helps Toola adjust to this very different new world, but she has trouble accepting it and is swayed by Colonel Shanuck of Ragna, a man who, like her, awakened from stasis a few years earlier, and seeks a device that could undo the damage done to the world – and Toola is, of course, the key to finding and activating it. But activating Istok could just as well be the doom of the world as its salvation, and that is something the forest will not allow.

Visually and audibly, Origins is everything one has come to expect from a top-end Gonzo production: great artistry, quality animation, excellent and well-integrated CG work, and an ambitious soundtrack. It is, in fact, the most impressive-looking anime movie to come out in North America since Steamboy. What it lacks is a soul. A lot of things that look and sound good go on, but the story has all the depth, development, and spirit of an average fantasy RPG computer game.

While it doesn't exactly feel rushed, neither does the writing devote much time and effort to examining the potentially interesting settings (Ragna and the forest) or how the calamity which all but destroyed the world came to pass. The ruins of former civilization do get explored some, but little more effort is devoted to that than is necessary to discover Toola and bring her into the picture. More extensive world-building would have gone a long way towards improving the title, although that would have also required more than an 90-minute running time and may not be feasible in an action-centered tale clearly targeted at a shonen-oriented audience. The storytelling also occasionally inserts odd, seemingly random plot elements, such as the call Toola gets on her Raban (the multipurpose collar she wears, which is easily the coolest bit of tech in the movie), whose source and purpose is never thereafter explained.

Characterizations also suffer for lack of development, as none of the major characters advance beyond basic personality traits (and some not even that far). Agito, the male lead, is your typical adventuresome young man, while mostly helpless Toola, the female “lead,” is so bland that she serves more as a plot device than an actual character until the late stages of the movie. Considering that the whole “spirit of the past” subheading refers as much to her trying to let go of the past and live in the present as Shanuck's inability to do so, she is a particular disappointment. Shanuck fares a lot better, as the storytelling successfully manages to obfuscate whether he is a true villain or just a guy with a different viewpoint until the late stages of the movie. Other supporting cast members are just common archetypes filling in their required positions in the scheme of things and being conveniently ignored or discarded when not needed.

While the writing may be on the weak side, the visuals most certainly are not. Backgrounds, whether featuring the underground ruins, cleverly-designed Neutral City, or the settings of Ragna and Istok, are striking and beautifully-detailed, and CG designs for mechanical units are so finely-rendered that it takes a bit of concentration to recognize them as being CG effects. None of the character designs stand out as particularly distinctive or original but they are nonetheless well-drawn, with the only slight weak point being the handling of facial expressions on some characters. Most impressive is the vibrant use of color, especially the sharp red tones in the uniforms of Shanuck and the female Ragna officer and the outfit Toola starts wearing upon visiting Ragna. The animation also stands among Gonzo's finer efforts, but you would expect nothing less from a project with a feature-movie budget. It is not hard to see why Origins was nominated for the 30th Annual Annecy International Animation Film Festival, as its look can easily attract attention. Also be sure to watch fully through the credits for bonus scenes.

The soundtrack, which is available in fully-realized Dolby 5.1 on both dub tracks, also proves worthy of a grand project. Unlike many anime movies, it actually sounds like you would expect a big-budget major release to sound, complete with soaring, grandiose symphonic numbers complemented by sillier tunes in the occasional light-hearted moments, all of which complements the events on screen well but does have a slight tendency to overdo it. The haunting opening melody and pleasant closing love song are well-performed by prominent Japanese recording artist KOKIA.

Carrie Savage (Toola) and Chris Patton (Agito) anchor a veteran English dub cast primarily composed of voice actors recognizable from numerous other prominent FUNimation titles. They uniformly do acceptably well with the material they have to work with, although the writing does not provide much of a chance for any of them to shine. The English scripting does vary at times from the original, but in general it is tighter than the norm for FUNi titles. Overall, anyone who normally tolerates English dubs should find this one to be sufficient.

In an uncharacteristic move for FUNimation releases, no extras have been provided beyond company trailers and a slipcase which only duplicates the cover art. As per normal for FUNi releases, the closing credits can be seen in English or the original Japanese, depending on the language setting being used.

The quality visuals alone justify taking a look at Origins, but the caliber of the writing is unlikely to inspire repeat viewings. If taken purely as an action piece it doesn't fare badly, but this is a tale that would have worked better as the core of a video game or visual novel, or perhaps a short series.

Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A-

+ Beautiful visuals, excellent animation and soundtrack.
Thin on storytelling, lack of extras.

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Production Info:
Director: Keiichi Sugiyama
Naoko Kakimoto
Nana Shiina
Umanosuke Iida
Hiroyuki Kakudou
Mahiro Maeda
Keiichi Sugiyama
Music: Taku Iwasaki
Character Design: Kouji Ogata
Animation Director:
Masami Goto
Naoyuki Onda
Atsushi Yamagata
Mechanical design:
Kenji Andou
Mahiro Maeda
Art design:
Masanori Kikuchi
Rei Nakahara
Hajime Satō
Mecha design: Kenji Andou
3D Director: Ryukou Masuo
Sound Director: Kazuhiro Wakabayashi
Executive producer:
Hiroyuki Inada
Shinichiro Ishikawa
Keiji Kameyama
Hiroaki Kitano
Ichiro Seki
Yuuji Shimamoto
Maki Horiuchi
Koji Kajita
Takatoshi Kobayashi
Yasuaki Kurata
Shouji Murahama
Noboru Sugiyama
Tsutomu Yanagimura

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Origin ~Spirits of the Past~ (movie)

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