Watching anime films in the UK is, by and large, a waiting game. If you speak little or no Japanese there’s the wait for films to be subtitled (or, if you’re unlucky, dubbed) and even once that’s completed any possible UK release tends to lag behind the US, which in turn lags behind Japan. Sometimes the only solution is to import region 3 DVDs at ludicrous cost. So when you get a chance to see a major anime film ahead of its Japanese release, you jump at it.
And so yesterday we caught the second screening in the world – the first was at the Berlin International Film Festival – of 宇宙ショーへようこそ, or “Welcome to the Space Show”. It’s a family film from the makers of Read or Die, which was a rather strange but quite fun OVA and TV series about a world in which the British Library is a kind of secret intelligence service (yes, really, the British Library), employing “papermasters” with supernatural powers.
The plot follows five children who are left in the charge of the eldest at a summer school. They head off into the woods to find the school’s pet rabbit, Pyon Kichi, who had escaped from the care of one of the elder girls, Natsuki. Pyon Kichi is nowhere to be seen, but they do find an injured dog lying in a field marked with a giant crop circle. The children tend to the dog’s wounds and, in turn, the dog – who turns out to be an alien called Pochi (a name rather too close to Poochie for Simpsons fans) – takes them on a school trip. Into space.
There’s nothing too remarkable in the plot – the kids have to overcome some obstacles and foil some bad guys in order to return home – but the two hour section of the film set in space is wonderfully drawn, with a huge cast of colourful aliens, from dogs to eyeballs to a walking goldfish bowl, and some really stunning scenes. It’s visually diverse and just plain bonkers enough to keep you enthralled, and some of the animation is wonderful.
It’s funny, too, with laughs that’ll work for even small kids (often courtesy of the rather grumpy Pochi, who doesn’t appreciate being referred to as a dog (“犬 じゃない!”) or, for that matter, having his backside examined by curious children) and some neat sight gags – look out for the famous baby robot in the background of the alien creche, kicking his little, er, legs.
All in all it’s a colourful spectacle of a film for kids, but also enjoyable for adults who’ll appreciate the sheer technicoloured exuberance of it all. Subtitles might be a bit of a stretch for its potential audience in the UK, and it is quite long (2h20 or so), but if given the chance of a dubbed release here, albeit probably in a year or two, I’d hope it could do well as an alternative to generic-family-film-crap served in 3D.
Also, many thanks to the British Film Institute, which showed Welcome to the Space Show as part of a weekend of anime, including the UK Premiere of Evangelion 2.0 and a load of other stuff. We also caught Hosoda’s Summer Wars on the big screen, which was just as fantastic as I’d hoped after reading this review a while back. And remember what I said about waiting? Sadly Manga Distribution has today announced that its UK release – on DVD and Blu-ray – will now be pushed to 2011.