What They Say:
In a future ruled by an unwavering dedication to good health, three high school girls led by the defiant Miach Mihie attempt suicide as the ultimate act of rebellion. Tuan Kirie survives, but can’t shake the hatred she has for the perfect world she lives in.
Years later, a simultaneous mass suicide rocks the globe and sends society into a state of shock. A small group stands up to take credit for the event, claiming they’ve hijacked the consciousness of every person on the planet. Everything about the terrorists’ message sounds too familiar to Tuan. She suspects her old friend Miach might be involved, but how could that be when she’d supposedly killed herself years earlier? Desperate for answers, Tuan launches an investigation that takes her across the globe chasing the ghost of her old friend. But what is Miach’s end game? Will she finally wake the world from its monotonous slumber? Or, end it all for good?
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language in 5.1 as well as the new English dub in 5.1, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The film has a very mild mix overall as it’s more about mood and atmosphere and not a big action piece but it has its moments where it really does shine. The opening action is solid and we get some pretty intense moments in the more graphic scenes, but it’s how it handles the flow of dialogue with the panning sequences and the neat things it does during some of the virtual aspects. There aren’t any big tricks to it but it makes it all feel fairly immersive and in general creates an engaging soundstage for things to work in. There’s a lot of good camera work in this to keep it all moving and the audio mix for both tracks definitely helps to expand and enhance that. We didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally in theaters in 2015, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. Animated by Studio 4°C, the film has a great visual design to it that really works well. While there are some sky blue banding moments in some of the backgrounds as part of how the animation was created as opposed to an encoding issue, the transfer in general looks fantastic. Colors are rich throughout as it handles a range of different things that the animators throw at us with the virtual world as there are some very busy things going on. The color palette is crisp and strong but it works an interesting soft pink aspect to the look of the structure of the world that’s a very nice balance to it all. Utopia stories tend to be bright white and clean and I definitely like that it works that but with a softer side through this. It’s definitely very appealing looking overall and was very easy to get engaged with it because of how great it looks.
The packaging for this release brings us a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds the two discs inside against the interior walls. We also get an o-card with it that mirrors the artwork of the case but has a glossier feeling to it that serves the artwork well. What we get isn’t a still from the film but a really detailed and appealing illustration of the two main characters where there’s a wonderful etherealness about it. There’s a lot to like with the character designs and the simple clouds that make up the background works great, especially since part of it feels like it’s at the edge of a beach in a way. The back cover works with simple grays and whites in the background that keeps the focus on the shots from the show, done in a creative block along the left that works very well, while the right has the summary of the premise in a detailed but not too revealing way. The extras are clearly listed as is the block that breaks down the UltraViolet information. The bottom segment runs through the usual technical grid that’s well presented and easy to read – and accurate! – as well as some minor production information. The reverse side of the case artwork is definitely a big plus as it uses the Japanese release artwork of Miach off to the right where there’s a ton of whitespace to her left, making it a soft but distinctive piece.
The menu for this release keeps things simple but it certainly takes the right approach overall as we get a series of clips that focuses on the look of the world with a calm and natural design. Doing some of the scenes from the film with a black and white filter for part of it adds to that as it almost feels like we’re being set up for an art house science fiction film of some sort. The logo across the middle in white is large but done with that simple thin font that keeps it from being obstrusive while the navigation strip along the bottom is done with a soft white background and red text and borders, going for a very simple but easy to use approach. It may not be the most standout menu you’ll see but it’s effective in the right ways and, most importantly, problem free as both the main menu and the popup menu.
The extras for this release are kind of minimal as you’d expect for a feature as we get a few promotional videos and some trailers. While I would have liked a feature-length commentary, those are rare on the anime side for the English actors. What we get instead is a four-minute video piece with four of the actors being asked a few questions about the show and its concepts and their views on it, which is interesting enough to leave you kind of wanting a full on roundtable discussion.
After quite enjoying the release of The Empire of Corpses, marking my first exposure to the Project Itoh works, I was definitely interested to see what Harmony would be like. Though there was appeal with Corpses because of the visual design of it with the old school and tech, the promos that came for Harmony prior to its original release in the fall of 2015 had me hooked. I avoided knowing much about it beyond that because I wanted to just experience it but I couldn’t help but to admire the visual design. The color tone, the “old school” Japanese science fiction seriousness, a general lack of moe-ness and other current distractions with most anime series, these things made it appealing. It also didn’t hurt having Studio 4°C animating it as they really bring something neat to its design here, which is hugely important in making this work.
The premise is straightforward enough as it takes place some decades after the Maelstrom that nearly pushed humanity to the edge with plagues, war, and other problems. In the time since then, there’s been a plan in place that has helped a lot of humanity get to a far better place through WatchMe, a device that people attach to their bodies and through augmented reality contact lenses that place them in constant contact with Amedistration, which is working in concert with the World Health Organization. In essence, there is a big brother of sorts that’s helping everyone stay healthy and pretty happy through constantly being watched. It’s the kind of piece that makes for a lot of discussion about the pros and cons of it and each side can have a lot to say. With its focus on Japan where we see how the population has embraced it seemingly entirely, there’s a real peace here and some very healthy people that live very long lives because of it. Some see this as a prison of sorts because everything is controlled, but it’s hard to really go too deep into it with how it’s presented here because that’s not the crux of the story. Is there free will? Has creativity and individuality cratered? Or is that just the view of one person?
Within this we’re introduced to Tuan, a woman who works as a Helix inspector for WHO overseas to deal with the expansion and operation of the Amedistration. She’s a bit loose on the rules in a lot of ways and that comes from dealing with societies that aren’t partaking in the program. That looseness is what gets her brought back to Japan from Niger and put on leave for a while to sort herself out and connect back with the community. But as we see from her past during her teenage years some thirteen years prior, she lost a friend who committed suicide when she and another were going to do that as a group in order to make a statement and break free from the prison of the community. She managed to fool the system since then and became an adult to gain some independence, which being a senior Helix inspector certainly offers. Her return to Japan brings all of this back to light and the flashbacks fill in a lot of details about the strange Miach, a war orphan that comes across as very detached from the world – and for good reason.
The film dives well into these two characters and their place in this world and within these intricate and strangely designed but appealing cities where everything is taken care of. When things start to turn bad, which connects with events decades in the making, it’s a fascinating view of how this technology that does so much good can be so abused. Admittedly, it’s the kind of thing that you can see coming a mile away in a lot of ways, but it’s also the kind of system that you can see a lot of people really craving after suffering through the Maelstrom and what likely felt like the end of the world. Utopia’s built out of the rubble are often problematic and authoritarian, but I definitely like seeing this play out since it’s not presented in the usual bleak terms we get from Western science fiction writers. It also has its interesting aspects to play out with the Japanese side because of the monoculture that they have and the national identity. I’d have loved to have seen more of what this world looks like outside of there since that would be a lot more instructive, but I suspect that it was kind of glossed over whereas the book digs into it more.
Harmony is the kind of film where, yes, you can see the dangers but also see the appeal. It’s the kind of work where there’s that sense of “we can do that but better” and see what kind of future there could be. Part of what I love about science fiction is that it’s asking the questions today for the problems of tomorrow and coming up with a range of answers. What we get here isn’t new for the most part as you can point to stories decades ago that tackle it, but the execution and design of it is just fantastic. It’s the kind of very engaging two-hour work that you can just sink your teeth into and enjoy while also noting that it’s one of those works that you wish was on the track to be developed as a Hollywood live-action film as opposed to other films and properties. It’s the ideal kind of piece that can be localized right. I definitely enjoyed this film and already feel like I need to revisit it and view it in a new light with all the twists and turns revealed.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Funimation Short: Harmony, Promotional Videos, Original Trailer, U.S. Trailer, and Trailers
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: September 6th, 2016
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.