Produced by: TMS Entertainment, Showgate
Distributed by: Madman Entertainment
Genre: Action, Drama, Sci-fi
Runtime: 89 minutes, 1 DVD
Available from: Madman $29
Everyone knows that Science Fiction is a genre that very often allows for a very high degree of creativity on the part of a creator or producer. There have been many visions of the future in science fiction that are often shared and displayed amongst popular media. Each has their own different take on the future, and each a different prediction regarding the fate of the Earth and Humanity. Entire facets of popular culture are focused around the genre. The creative opportunities that it provides however can be either liberating, or restricting, depending on the creative vision of the creator. As an animated anime series, it is quite obvious that TO (2001 Nights) is a series that attempts to follow in this stead. From the same creative minds behind animation series’ such as Appleseed and Vexille, TO (2001 Nights) tells two stories of humanity as it finally reaches the space-age, and how a few select individuals deal with the challenges along the way.
“The most dangerous thing in space – is MAN
Fifteen years after its last contact with our world, a space freighter known as the Flying Dutchman requests permission to dock at a remote moon base. This mysterious ship carries liquid protons: a power source essential to the survival of Earth’s population. But before the precious cargo can be delivered, the base is ambushed by galactic terrorists who seek to destroy the new form of energy and issue a death sentence to all of humanity.
Against a backdrop of peculiar alien life forms, Aon and Elena – star-crossed lovers from rival countries – struggle to build a life together despite the objections of their superiors. Their budding romance is thwarted by an outbreak of potent alien fungus and the interference of a cutthroat militaristic madman. To survive, the young couple must maintain their faith in each other… and learn to trust the unique creatures which inhabit this strange and wondrous planet.” -DVD Blurb
Immediately it should be noted that the story and plot-line of the DVD is divided into two separate stories. The actual story takes place within these two separate OVA’s and features completely different characters and events to drive the story. Named ‘Elliptical Orbit and Symbiotic Planet’ respectively, the two OVA’s display different themes that provide insight into two very different challenges that humanity will likely face in a day and age where expansion into outer space becomes necessary. Despite the fact that the two stories seem to be told within the confines of the same contextual universe and timeframe, the two different films feature almost no plot driven connection.
The common link that is shared between both films is that of discovery in outer space. Centuries from now, the Earth has finally reached its limit in which it was able to sustain the human populace. With natural resources running out and environmental degradation occurring on unprecedented scales, humanity has been forced to take to the stars. Those who have played through a Star Ocean game in the past will find this familiar territory. Both assume a contextual state of mankind’s first exploration voyages to explore and colonise newly discovered worlds. However, the two are completely individual, and might be viewed as such by some, and as a combination by others.
The first film: Elliptical Orbit centres around the topic of human concerns of moving into outer space, and features a much stronger focus on the human aspects of war and ageing. The movie is centralised around a resource transport station that receives an unexpected visit from a ship that had suddenly returned from a 15 year exploration mission. It is revealed that the ship contains a very precious cargo, vital to the survival of humans both on Earth and in Outer Space. The chief of the station, Dan, discovers that Maria, an old acquaintance of his is the captain of the vessel, and the two discuss how their lives have changed over the past 15 years. However, as the excitement over the shipment starts to build, the station suddenly becomes the target of a mysterious terrorist group, who hold a grudge against the notion of humanity moving into space and leaving Earth Dwellers behind to rot on a dying planet. The arrival of the precious cargo acts as a catalyst for their attack. A conflict erupts on the station and it is up to a select few folks aboard to defend the station and keep humanity’s dream of space exploration alive.
The second film: Symbiotic Planet concerns itself more with notions of both Romance and Environmental preservation. On an alien world, two rival alliances have set up colonisation operations, and both attempt to pave the way for the future of intergalactic development. Only problem: the two groups do not get on well. At all. However, between the tension and potential for conflict lies a very sci-fi style Romeo and Juliet story between two lovers from the rivalling groups, named Aon and Elena. During a meeting with the United Nations representatives to determine the future of the planet, a sudden outbreak of a strange alien fungus infects both groups, and suddenly all bets are off. Caught between their loyalties to their own countries and each other, the two must fight for not only their own survival, but for the fate of the planet itself.
It must be said, that even though Symbiotic Planet features a rather cheesy and overdone romance sub-plot, I enjoyed it more out of the two. While certain parts of the whole “fated lovers” plot gets a bit hard to swallow at points, I feel the story development that occurs within this film is far greater than that which occurred in Elliptical Orbit. Generally speaking, Symbiotic Planet is the better of the two films. The characters were more interesting, more plot development takes place and more context is provided. With Elliptical Orbit, the story flows really disjointedly. There are significant plot points and action sequences in the film that are completely left out. There are a few points where the viewers are told a gun-battle or scuffle takes place, but is never actually shown. In a sci-fi anime that attempts to sell itself in the sci-fi action-drama genre, the film seemed to do a bad job at nailing that second point. In the whole film there was one gun battle. One, and highly anti-climatic. Heck, even the first genre point was lack-lustre. The drama facet of the anime was only told through the rather rocky and ambiguously confusing relationship between the two protagonists. That said, Symbiotic Planet is not without its flaws. Without giving away much, the plot-twist that occurs close to the end is weak, and the flow of events painfully predictable given the many hints of conflict that are dropped throughout.
Overall, in terms of story, both film did a great job at establishing context and the universe itself, but were rather poor in their own delivery of their individual stories.
Within the confines of the two films, only the four lead characters are really worth noting:
The 1st lead character in Elliptical Orbit, Dan is the chief of operations aboard the Earth’s orbital transport station. He is a rather aged fellow that clearly retains the ability to hold a grudge. He commands a great deal of loyalty and respect from his crew. He is seen at the beginning of the film talking about the movement of comets and how their rare visits make him feel like an old man. It is revealed that he had lost his family either to sickness or war over the past 15 years, and the re-emergence of Maria from the depths of space triggers a feeling of both anger and regret. His relationship with Maria is ambiguous up until the very end. Despite the fact that Dan is one of the main characters, he really didn’t do much of anything in the whole film. He only really ever helped by distracting a single terrorist and provided Maria with a few tactical suggestions. Even though he clearly was not someone familiar with combat, his role as a protagonist should have had him playing a greater role in the grand scheme of the film. Overall, as a character, his performance was pretty forgettable.
As the other lead character of Elliptical Orbit, and the captain of the star ship ‘Flying Dutchman’, Maria probably plays the largest role in the story. Unlike Dan, her own origins are kept a secret until the very end of the film, which suddenly throws a real “What the?” moment in the faces of the audience. Her crew are loyal to her, but the reasons for gaining that loyalty are implied as being adult in nature. Her relationship with Dan often is clearly one with a history, and she has regrets about not being able to keep in contact. However despite her lack of back story, she feels a stronger character for it, and she take it upon herself to drive out the terrorists as a responsibility not only to Dan, but also to herself and humanity.
The male lead of Symbiotic Planet, Aon is an American biologist from the allied American base situated on an alien world. He is a determined and clever young man, and he clearly harbours strong feelings for Elena. This is reflected in both his determination to see her while keeping her safe, and his scorn at the insistence of his superiors that seeing her will be a liability to their cause. It is Aon that first discovers the outbreak of the alien fungus which causes a dramatic lock-down of the American station during the UN talks. In an effort to see that their safety is not compromised, Aon shows that he is willing to risk his life to research the planet better to avoid humanity exploiting it, as it has done with countless other worlds. Overall, his role in Symbiotic Planet was well tuned and well executed for a futuristic Romeo and Juliet plot.
The female lead of Symbiotic Planet, Elena is a diplomatic representative for the Eurasisan colony. Like Aon, her superiors believe that her infatuation with Aon will jeopardise the goals of their nation’s development in outer space. She too clearly thinks that a potential for violence may arise. It does sooner than expected when she discovers that Aon has been subjected to the outbreak of the alien fungus. Determined to see him safely through his ordeal, and hopefully stop an armed conflict between the two nations, she risks her own life to brave the fungus spore and find her lost love. Elena most certainly takes a back seat in terms of plot focus in this story. Most of the plot focuses around Aon as opposed to her. That said however, the scenes she is present for do helpfully establish the context of tension between the two factions, as a diplomatic representative. While not the best developed story-wise, she does provide Aon a reason to keep going.
AUDIO / VISUAL
The visual stylings of this anime are actually very unique and well animated. Returning to the idea of creative freedom in terms of the sci-fi genre, the creators have clearly made the most of the opportunity. The three-dimensional character and environment modelling is a unique animation style. As it stands, it does not look like the strictest definition of the “anime” framework that many viewers come to know. The construction of the environments provides a very high-tech, and otherworldly feel to both films. The level of detail made in this respect is a little overwhelming. Along a similar note, the character modelling was very interesting to see. Even though the animation in terms of characters was not done in the same two dimensional style of anime, it still very much felt like an anime given the pallet of cell-shaded colour schemes. A cell shaded three dimension anime in essence. It is clear that a lot of attention has been paid to creating a really strong and really well honed visual experience.
While watching, especially the character models, I could not help but draw a comparison in my head to the same visual style that was recycled from Appleseed. While doing animation in this style is not the most original of concepts, visually, it still provides a pleasant viewing experience. But most of all, I found myself comparing the two TO films to Fire Emblem of all things. OK, one is sci-fi the other fantasy, but the visual stylings of the films were IDENTICAL to that of the animated scenes in Fire Emblem Radiant Dawn (Wii) and Path of Radiance(Gamecube). After a little checking, I found that even some of the voice actors are the same! Turns out that the creators and development groups also dabble in video game production. Who’d have thunk it?
The only issue I have with the visuals of the OVA’s is that they were focused on a little TOO much. Even though they were very well developed and neatly displayed, it felt like the storyline and plot flow in both films was being sacrificed for it. This is more so in Elliptical Orbit, but both films had this issue. No matter how good a visual presentation may be, it should not take precedence over other facets of the film. I think too much pride may have been put in this unique visual presentation, and as such, the story’s of both suffered.
As for audio quality, the music pitch and regulation was quite decent. Not anything fanstastically mind blowing or disappointing. I felt that the music selection was well chosen to endear a sense of wonderment at galactic exploration, and yet still retained the appropriateness of human-earth-like situations. The voice acting was also well chosen and well executed to provide a strong sense of engagement with English speaking audiences, however I did notice that voice match-up between the English voices and the original Japanese facial animations was poor at some points.
Overall both films were ultimately enjoyable to watch. Both were a great and unique visual experience, but I do feel that the suffering of the story behind the overwhelming importance of the graphic presentation hinders the credit I can attribute it. The disjointed pace of story flow is a significant criticism in itself. Symbiotic Planet is most certainly worth viewing on its own merits. But the films do come in a double pack, so one might as well take a look at Elliptical Orbit too. Ultimately, I feel that TO (2001 Nights) was a decent animation presentation, but it could have been so much more if a few story and plot details were better attended to.