Whilst not a Miyazaki film, you get the feeling that with anime movies if you can’t beat em, join em. The elements of Miyazaki are here and done actually quite well with some unique touches, great animation and genuine tear jerker moments making this a pleasant surprise.
What They Say:
Summer has finally arrived in the small, tight-knit community of Murakawa Village, where everyone practically knows everyone else. The population is so small that there are only five children Kiyoshi, Natsuki, Noriko, Koji and Amane enrolled and studying together at the village elementary school. A most unusual incident occurs during summer camp, when they find and save an injured dog, who turns out to be an alien from outer space! The alien named Pochi invites the children for a trip to the moon, but due to an unexpected accident, they end up traveling through the universe on the wildest school field trip of their lives! Ladies and Aliens! Welcome to THE SPACE SHOW!
The audio will be mentioned here, as we have a 4 track release, with English and Japanese both in Dolby 5.1 and Stereo 2.0. The reason this is mentioned is because I love the occasions we get a Japanese 5.1 track so that is what I listened to for the first half of the movie. Whilst good, the fact that I had to turn it up from my default settings isn’t a good sign – it isn’t the most powerful audio out there, and when I switched to the English track for the second half of the movie, it was the same feeling. Switching to stereo, there was only a slight difference which was a bit disappointing as felt this was a movie that would have benefited a really good track, instead it’s just a good track in its Dolby format.
The video also will be mentioned just for a few niggles when it came to the subtitles. The animation is superb, the Blu-Ray projects it incredibly well and it’s a joy to watch. The main issue though is the fact the subtitles seem to be a bit off at times, as lines appeared to be missing or off time (or too fast) with the dialogue. I noticed when I switched to the dub this appeared to be due to a case of ‘dubtitles’ where the dub cuts lines where lip flaps and Japanese are being seen and heard, but the lines aren’t translated. Not all the lines are dubtitles exactly, but it definitely gives that much of a feel, which is very disappointing.
The menu is set up nicely as most Blu-Ray menus do – shots of planets with shots from the movie move anti-clockwise with some nice background music on a space like background. The selections are Play Feature, Scenes, Extras and Set Up, where if you select, a pop up window appears where you can make your selection easily. The scene selection being a movie is also that, unlike most series DVDs which doesn’t offer a scene selection. Basic but works well like most Blu-Ray menus.
The only extras which was disappointing overall are a framed storyboard which is a storyboard set to music, it moves along showing how some of the concept designs were initially made and how some were coloured, and eventually to some CGI effects. It’s simply that, no explanation or narrative, just drawings and how they become the final design. There is also a trailer in Japanese which is like an abridged version of the film, and finally some credits for the English dub.
Welcome To The Space Show is quite a unique movie and yet seems so familiar. Featuring Koji Masunari and writer Hideyuki Kurata (of Read or Die TV fame), the movie definitely has influence of Miyazaki, and does feel that it isn’t the most original of films. However, it’s a rare movie that the UK gets before the US does, and to be fair, it’s definitely a movie that you can really enjoy as it hits the marks in terms of comedy and tearjerker into a 2 hour plot which actually manages to round up quite well.
It starts off in an unusual premise – we see three elemental creatures fighting over something, almost Star Wars style – lightsaber style combined with things like lightning in a very naturalistic setting. But almost as soon as it ends, we change to something completely normal. We are introduced to the main cast of characters, a group of children who are all meeting together for a summer camp at the school. We have our lead, Natsuki, an energetic tomboy who wants to be a superhero, her young cousin Amane, who is usually nice and sweet but seems to be constantly annoyed with Natsuki, the oldest boy Kiyoshi, who is seen as the dad of the group who is nice and big brotherly, but doesn’t seem to have any true characteristics or ambitions of his own, Noriko – the wannabe idol and pop star, and Koji, the young bookworm who has a fondness of space. The group are over at their school for a summer camp of studying, playing and trying to find the bunny Pyon-Kichi which Natsuki accidentally released. (It is actually a plot point which comes full circle by the end of the film to this movie’s credit) Whilst searching for the rabbit, they come across some crop circles, and Amane finds a weird dog like creature in the area. They take him back to the school to nurse him back to health, but as he recovers whilst they are playing outside, he reveals he can talk…much to the shock of the kids.
His name is Pochi, an alien from the planet Wan. He quickly befriends the kids, but admits he is in search of an ingredient called Zugghan which apparently is found on planet Earth. Nobody knows what it is, but Pochi thanks them anyway for helping him by asking them for a wish if he can fulfill it, so they decide they want to go on a trip. Pochi does it one better by taking them to the moon! It leads to some fantastically animated visuals as Pochi and the kids travel into space, where everything is treated seriously in terms of immigration, using technology to set it to the language the Earthlings use (even actually serving as a plot point during Amane’s test to see if she can become a visitor), which leads to them figuring out money and food, and seeing why the movie is called, as they are introduced to a show called ‘The Space Show’ an intergalactic sketch show with music and a soap opera in space, but Pochi seems to have a grudge against it and it’s stars for some reason as he glares at the female dog Marie…
The main plot initially seems to be that the kids have to get back home before their parents arrive at their camp after their holiday. To do this, they need money and there is a job montage of the kids trying out stuff. Some is predictable (Natsuki screwing up a lot), some quite sweet (Amane babysitting and Koji befriending a cute alien girl named Ink and her father who is making a spaceship), it leads to what appears to be a throwaway segment where Natsuki eats some wasabi. Much to the shock, it actually turns out to be a relative root to the Zugghan ingredient which apparently has medicinal purposes as well as possibly links in space to immortality/godhood. And it turns out, the creator of ‘The Space Show’ sent out some assassins to find it whilst Pochi was making sure they didn’t…from this, they are able to get the money needed to get back home but now have to avoid certain people trying to steal it from them. They meet new friends on the way who manage to stop any thieves or attackers, combined with flashback history between Pochi, Marie and the host of the Space Show Neppo. It does lead to the finale though when Amane is kidnapped by the group and the kids have to go save her, so using the help of their new friends and Pochi and his parents, which leads to some great fight sequences between Neppo and Pochi, as well as the Space Show’s machine beast, the Behemoth and Ink’s spaceship. It does lead to a roundabout way of how the initial problems between Natsuki and Amane come full circle, and how surprisingly neat it manages to finish, with the group becoming closer, and just how goodbyes are always painful.
This movie is a great example of fitting a simple plot, expand it in 2 hours and manage to tie everything well, along with combination all emotions. The characters are probably the weakest area, mainly because they aren’t given enough time to develop. (I barely remembered Noriko was in it until the end where she actually stops Marie from hurting Natsuki) There are some great moments involving the cast where they get involved (Amane probably gets the best development, followed by Natsuki and Kiyoshi, whose resolve in what he wants to do is a key discussion the movie wants to show), and the history between Pochi and his former scientist comrades which leads into the antagonists reasoning for the Zugghan plot is full of action and suspense, though again, you felt in the time they couldn’t develop it as good as they could.
What it does well is the sheer splendor of the environment. It’s a fantastic movie to watch, with imaginative visuals, great action sequences and great designs of the characters. I mentioned it does feel a lot like a Miyazaki film, and to be fair, whilst not the most original of films, it gets passing marks for how well everything flows together. Also it’s one of the few films that has made me tear up. 3 times. The reconciliation between Natsuki and Amane is a key motif throughout the film, and the Ink/Yoji relationship is so sweet that it works as an actual friendship and they don’t take the easy way and make it romantic that as brief as it was, you do tear up when they have to say goodbye. The way the kids are treated as equals in this literally alien world is also a plus point and it’s also great how they are able to explain how the kids can live in this environment, though the work montage was strange (Amane is like 8 and yet one of the competent ones…and working? Aliens never had a child labour policy…then again it was the kids who need the money…)
The one character that really stands out though and is what makes the movie much better than your average Miyazaki clone is Pochi. The dog being is clearly a combination of fun, a little silly, can get embarrassed and even flirty at times, but you know there is something behind that exterior. He acts as a mentor and a friend to the kids, you see he has a family life with his parents, and has a touch of badass with his elemental form and his fight scenes, and he has a real plot line as everything goes through him. The initial set up all comes through by the end when it initially confused you, and through him, the plot both thickens and gels together. He’s easily the most memorable character in the film and with a film this colourful, that’s saying something.
This is a definite good film for children and adults alike, and overall the combination of imagination, design, music and overall plot manages to escape the niggles in plotholes and characterization though, as the characters grow just enough so they are mostly memorable, and everything ties in together to create an enjoyable viewing.
Welcome To The Space Show is a little gem which whilst has little in the way of originality makes up for it with the creativity of the scenario they bring themselves. Space like you’ve never seen it before, it had the imagination of the child combined with the traumatic issues you can get through life as an adult. Whilst the movie isn’t long enough to really give the characters justice in development, it does a good enough job and the movie is very solid, entertaining, fun, and at times really heart breaking. It links everything in its plot, ties up the loose ends, and makes you happy you saw it. Recommended.
5.1 English/Japanese, 2.0 English/Japanese, Movie Trailer(Japanese), Framed Storyboards, English Dub Credits
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: C
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: July 2nd, 2012
Running Time: 136 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.