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Oblivion Island – Haruka And The Magic Mirror UK DVD Review

12 min read

Oblivion IslandHaruka should probably reflect on what kind of trouble she’s caused everyone.

What They Say:
16-year-old Haruka is on a mission to find her mirror – a precious childhood gift from her mother that mysteriously disappeared. While following a strange fox-like creature in the woods, she tumbles into a mystical world where once-cherished toys and treasures go when their owners neglect them. Join Haruka and her new friend Teo on a roller coaster ride of adventure as they contend with the island’s greedy ruler, who wants the mirror for his own evil plan!

The Review:
Audio and visual quality is great throughout with no notable problems with either English or Japanese tracks or any issues in regards to playback or picture visibility. Subtitles are simple and easy to read with no glaring errors in regards to grammar, timing in relation to spoken dialogue or overlapping.

The menu for Oblivion Island is relatively basic, with the film title and a static image of Haruka and Teo taking up the top two thirds of the screen, whilst a wood texture covers the bottom third with the options written in a similar font to that of the film’s logo. Selected options highlight blue and are easily selectable. Each of the sub-menus works in a similar fashion, with an image and some text. The extras menu features a list of options on top of an image of Teo, whilst the setup menu features an image of Haruka. Interestingly, the language option which is currently selected on the setup menu is indicated by a little sprite of Cotton, which is a nice touch. The secene selection menu features a subdued image of the Baron in the background and two pages worth of selectable scenes, easily navigated via a ‘next’ or ‘previous’ option depending on which page you are on. Each scene is numbered and has a small image relating to the scene, allowing you to get an idea of what’s going on if you’ve seen the film previously and want to watch a particular part. The main page also has a short instrumental music loop playing over it, which is calm and unobtrusive, good if you’re sitting around waiting on someone to start watching. It’s also worth mentioning that the options are responsive and all seem to work correctly.

As with a lot of film releases, Oblivion Island comes with a lot of extras. There’s the usual film trailers and teasers, in this case both the original Japanese versions and an English release version, all of which are relatively similar and, in some cases, seem slightly spoilery. There’s also a couple of short clips relating to a charity supporting the lives of people in the Republic of Sierra Leone, which advertises that some of the profits from the ticket sales will be donated to the charity, which is a nice idea and surprisingly fitting considering the overall themes of neglect in the film.

Another common feature is the behind the scenes feature, although in this case the length is a significant negative element. The video clip itself is short of five minutes, much of which is clips from the movie and a short description of the film’s setup. Whilst there is a little in the way of intrigue, it’s mostly limited to the source of inspiration for the film and some concept arts, along with the intention of making a high quality work through carefully chosen voice actors and animation studios. Compared with some behind the scenes features which include such things as character inspirations, clips of voice acting being performed, glimpses into location and concept creation, soundtrack recording and all manner of other areas, Oblivion Island’s clip feels woefully short and, frankly, almost pointless.

Amongst the extras, one is significantly longer than the others, a feature on the history of foxes in folklore. As one such folk tale is heavily linked to the film’s message and setup, it’s really interesting to see the original story behind it all. The rest of the feature is a series of folk tales and looks into traditional Japanese food dishes which are related to foxes, including a tale which forges the history behind shrines to the fox god Inari. Whilst not particularly related to Oblivion Island, they’re interesting stories, especially to those who are intrigued by history and folklore.

One of the unique extras included is a task performed by an elementary school near the shrine which was used as a model for the film, which involves a bunch of kids using old train tickets on panels consisting of black and white squares. Once they’ve all finished, the panels are put together and it makes a huge monochrome image of Haruka and Teo at the shrine which is really quite awesome. It’s an interesting little clip and unlike anything else included on other releases to my knowledge.

Another interesting bonus feature covers the U.S. premiere of the film, following storyboardist and key animator of Oblivion Island Naoyoshi Shiotani as he goes overseas to promote the Western release of the film. He was also the one who created Cotton, and this feature gives a little insight into that process as well. There’s also a sequence which shows the opening to a pre-screening event featuring the voice actors behind Miho (Mitsuki Tanimura), Haruka (Haruka Ayase) and Teo (Miyuki Sawashiro). This is paired up with post-screening footage which involves the director Shinsuke Satou and those who performed the voices for Haruka’s parents (Naho Toda and Nao Oomori) all giving short speeches on what they thought of the movie and a little about their respective characters. Interestingly there’s also a short clip amongst the extras of director Satou and Haruka’s VA going to Gunkanjima (or Battleship Island, an abandoned island in Japan) and attending a ceremony to declare Gunkanjima and Oblivion Island as sister islands, pairing up a real place to a location in a film. Lastly, there’s also a feature where Haruka’s VA visits a shrine similar to the one in the movie, praying to the local deity that Oblivion Island will become a hit movie and attending a prayer ceremony. It’s worth watching just for the serious prayer ceremony going on whilst there’s a guy standing in a giant Teo costume in the same room.

Overall, there’s a good selection of features regarding the film and some interesting and unique bonuses, plus further insights into the creation and ideas behind the movie. If you enjoyed the movie then the features are highly recommended viewing too. The only thing which could’ve been improved was the behind the scenes feature, which had the potential to be far better if it was expanded upon.

Oblivion Island seems like a relatively simple film on the surface, featuring a young girl called Haruka going about her everyday life, living with her father after her mother died when she was very little, going to school and experiencing a very general life. When she was young, her mother gave her two presents, a stuffed animal called Cotton and an elaborate hand mirror, both of which were cherished by Haruka when she was young but have been forgotten over the years. Have you ever wondered where things tend to disappear to after not seeing them for a long time, as if they seemingly vanished? Well, in the world of Oblivion Island, these items are taken to another world, a place separate to the human world, a place where ‘neglected items’ are taken once humans have lost all interest in them. Haruka experiences this firsthand after seeing a humanoid creature at a local shrine after school one day, who takes her keys which she placed aside whilst trying to work out what this creature was. Upon investigating and attempting to follow, she ends up being dragged into the other world via a pool of water and being introduced to the creature, a character named Teo. After he explains what the mysterious new world she has fallen into is like, she begins to look for the hand mirror she was given as a child, hoping it may have been taken into this world at some point.

However, not all is that simple. In this world, mirrors hold a certain mystical power and are generally regarded as extremely precious items, ones which have been collected over the years by the all-powerful ‘Baron’. After a little searching (and a slight conflict with a group of bullies who seem to have a disliking of Teo and plan to expose Haruka as a human, as bringing humans into this world has consequences) it turns out that Haruka’s old hand mirror is not just any mirror, but a very powerful item and the Baron has taken a specific liking to it. Further searching commences and Haruka and Teo go to a performance show in which the inner memories of abandoned items are revealed using magic. By sheer coincidence, the item in question when they arrive happens to be a certain specific stuffed toy once owned by Haruka, who is now imbued with magical power gifting him the ability to move and talk. Turns out Cotton actually has a pretty major part in the whole adventure and, not only that, but he’s pretty badass by the end of it all too. A quick chat reveals that both himself and the hand mirror were stolen from the Baron at the same time by what is essentially a bandit clan living in the caves under the island called the Petitloss and, despite being warned not to go down there, Haruka and Teo go anyway. One pretty crazy minecart ride later and they’re trapped in a fight against a giant adversary which has some pretty spectacular choreography and eventually yields the hand mirror. This isn’t particularly long lasting though, as the Baron has set a trap for them, captures Haruka and takes the hand mirror back. It’s at this point, around two thirds of the way through the film, that the final climax starts building up, revealing the Baron’s world domination plan, Teo’s plan to rescue Haruka and why Haruka’s hand mirror is so important to the Baron.

Despite the climax being a good portion of the film, there’s enough going on that it doesn’t ever feel that it’s dragging anything out, and even has time to include a flashback to Haruka’s past. Somehow it manages to include that during the climax without it feeling out of place, a mechanism which many films tend to misuse but somehow feels correct here. All in all, the finale is one hell of a ride and feels enthralling the whole way, even though the majority of the twists are highly predictable. It even includes a heart-breaking scene at one point in full cliché stylings, yet it’s forgivable for how damn good the final act is as a whole and that particular scene is pulled off well to boot. Overall the story isn’t particularly original, but has enough quirks and differences to make it only a very minor drawback, plus the setting and style of everything make up for the actual plot.

Character wise, it does a very good job of building character into Haruka and Teo and even Cotton despite the hour and a half running time, making them relatable, believable and easily able to side with them throughout the film. Another area the film falls down on slightly is building up any of the antagonists, be it the three bullies which appear on multiple occasions to ruin Teo’s day during the first half of the film before making an about-turn for the finale or the Baron himself, who seems to want to change the world through destruction just because he’s in a position to do so and it doesn’t quite fit his tastes. It would’ve been nice to see some of the history behind the Baron, understand why he’s doing what he wants to do and why he’s so worried about his looks. Once again though, it’s a minor negative in amongst an ocean of positives, so it can be overlooked in exchange for sheer enjoyment.

Talking of positives, where this film really stands out is aesthetics. To say it bluntly, this film is absolutely gorgeous. Production I.G. have been known to do some pretty spectacular animation in the past as it is, both through conventional means and CGI (they did the parade sequence in Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence which looks incredible) and this once again proves their finesse with the medium. At first the CGI designs for the characters bugged me a little, but it doesn’t take long at all to adapt to it, especially when within the other world and nobody is human aside from Haruka. Since almost all of the film is set there, it isn’t really an issue. Whilst on the topic of the other world, the designs for everything look amazing. The island itself is impressive, very colourful and full of detail and character, whilst all the contraptions and machines are made entirely out of magically adapted items taken from the human world and combined to make something new, an aesthetic which follows through for the duration of the film and has its own sense of charm. The creature designs are also impressive, I didn’t see a single character or crowd member look the same, with a large variety of different shapes, sizes and features, giving an extra fantastical feel to the setting. Not only is the concept design lovely, but the actual quality of the animation is spectacular as well.

Character movement is incredibly smooth and realistic, the backgrounds are full of movement and interaction between unknown crowd members and machinery and some of the effects used in the finale give it a truly epic feel in the proper sense of the word. The soundtrack is slightly less standout, but still used to good effect, the right kinds of music being played during the right scenes and overall having a very happy, upbeat theme throughout most scenes. Of course, there are suitable battle themes for the few fight sequences there are, melancholic and sad pieces for their respective themes and, whilst not particularly memorable in its own right, it all comes together for a complete experience when combined with the visuals. I can barely even remember the ending theme (Kimi wa Taiyou by Spitz), though. Another thing worth noting is that, despite some scenes having dialogue between the main characters, talking in the background from crowd members in the locale and soundtrack/sound effects, it still doesn’t feel cluttered. The dialogue is still clearly audible above other sounds, but everything also comes across as sounding like separate audio rather than muddled noise. This is something which doesn’t seem to happen in a lot of shows or films, so it’s quite impressive how it comes across here. Even if the story and characters don’t grab your attention, it’s safe to say that the aesthetics of the film will likely come across as being worth the time spent watching the film.

In summary, Oblivion Island is a very solid film. What little it lacks in plot originality or antagonist development is easily made up for through overall concept, aesthetic prowess, protagonist development and sheer levels of charm and style. Very much recommended for anyone looking for something which doesn’t require too much thought whilst keeping a level of depth above that of an average blockbuster film, as well as those who are looking for a visual treat. Recommended for those who enjoyed Spirited Away or Coraline.

In Summary:
Whilst Oblivion Island may not have the most original plot or a well-developed antagonist, it makes up for these small flaws on many other levels. The concept of having another world revolving around abandoned and neglected items from the human world is intriguing and is portrayed through some truly lovely concepts, whilst the protagonists both gain a surprising amount of development for the relatively short running time of the feature. On top of that, it’s an aesthetic treat in regards to animation quality, design and choreography. Despite any fears of it being completely in CGI, it isn’t intrusive and, whilst it looks a little odd for the first five minutes or so, everything looks so pretty that adapting to the style shouldn’t take long at all. Very much recommended.

English 5.1, Japanese 5.1, English subtitles, Behind the scenes of Oblivion Island, A Visit to Fushimi Inari Shrine, Battleship Island: An Actual Oblivion Island, Greetings at the Premiere, A Word from the Cast, The U.S. Premire, Haruka and Teo’s Panel Puzzle, A Journey Through Fox Folklore, Sierra Leone Relief Spots, Japanese Teasers, trailers and TV commercials, English trailer.

Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A+
Video Grade: A+
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade:  B+

Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: April 1st 2013
Running Time:  98 (Film) 68 (Extras)
Price: £18.00

Review Equipment:
23” Samsung HDTV, Creative speakers and Sub, Laptop with HDMI connection.

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