It’s not a secret that here at Japan Cinema are big fans of GONZO, and more recently of FUNimation. That said, I was extremely excited to receive Origin: Spirits of the Past. Taking into account the fact that GONZO’s TV series typically look better than most anime movies and OVAs, I couldn’t wait to see what they’d do with a full movie budget. The production values are of the highest quality, which is to be expected of a 2006 feature. Origin presents the kind of world where the backgrounds are everything; I was wholly impressed by the intricate shadings, the crisp textures of the moss and rocks, and the CG water effects. Set three centuries from now, some kind of event (though none of the characters know exactly what) has caused an object to descend from the moon and collide with the Earth. This collision gave the forests of Earth both sentience and special powers, which allowed them to overrun human civilization.
The story takes place in an unspecified post-apocalyptic future bearing passing resemblance to The Matrix’s Zion. A young boy named Agito enters a forbidden sanctuary where a glowing machine resides. This machine preserves a young girl named Toola, who has a mission entrusted to her from the past. Three-hundred years into the future, the Earth’s environment has been ruined by the interference of mankind, and in between the 300 years, the forest has come to life and is at constant war with man.
There is danger everywhere as Neutral City is filled with precipitous ledges and the forest is equally dangerous and unpredictable due to the less than friendly inhabitants. The story is a good length and manages to be exciting the whole way through and it tackles the theme of humanity’s harmony with nature in a new way as well as the big question of how people should face the future. This film reminded me a lot of Princess Mononoke, and although not as good, still held the weight of natures message well. But thats where the good ends, as seeing an ambitious project like this one fall flat is rarely a pleasant experience, and the highly ambitious Origin: Spirits of the Past is so outright awkward in its narrative it actually has proven impossible to laugh off its many narrative misfires.
To be frank, there was no new ground explored here but it was a comfortable type of story that served the message fairly well. The trouble with most manga movies is that they are invariably better to look at than to listen to. This one is a pioneer in digital animation, which calls itself an epic fantasy adventure that ponders the meaning of life. It often looks wonderful but the plot is so convoluted that the meaning of life seems distinctly cloudy by the end. That aside, considering the film has taken two years to cross nine time zones and comes from one of the artists of the most revered animé series of all time (Neon Genesis Evangelion), it would be unfortunate if it still doesn’t get the audience it deserves.