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Project Itoh: Harmony UK Blu-ray Anime Review

10 min read

harmoney-ukThat one movie that makes you ask questions and you know no-one can give you the answers…

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 theyve hijacked the consciousness of every person on the planet. Everything about the terrorist’s message sounds too familiar to Tuan. She suspects her old friend Miach might be involved, but how could that be when shed 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 Miachs end game? Will she finally wake the world from its monotonous slumber? Or, end it all for good?

The Review:
Like the previous Itoh movie, we have 5.1 releases on both English and Japanese though no 2.0 release or easy option for subtitles – that aside, no adjustment needed from my original settings (I had to actually lower it down a little in both languages aside from the extras), with a show that has not as much music and instead you rely on the sound effects and language which give it this incredible atmosphere, (though some great music near the end of the movie and in the credits) with no issues with it being out of sync and working to full effect – a good set up in English and Japanese (a good dub with veterans Jamie Marchi and Monica Rial in particular standing out) makes it a good audio to listen to in both languages.

Presented in 1080p using the AVC codec at 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the gorgeous flow of the animation managing to flow computer effects with animation (some of the background shots are amazing) makes this some stunning effect to watch. There was no delay in animation flow or sync with the audio (or timing of the subtitles when watching in Japanese) and when you combine with the sheer amount of tech-text that comes up due to the eyes they use and how fast it can go it flows so well that it feels like a live action at times. Splendid.

There was no packing for this test release; however there is collectable packaging in the full release.

The menu has shots of the movie (the introductory shots are lot of the flashback images with those previously mentioned gorgeous backgrounds) as an atmospheric piece of music plays as a white bar near the bottom of the scene has your selection of Play Movie, Scene Selection, Set Up and Extras. One issue was that the selection colours are red and black and it is actually quite difficult to initially see where the choice is as the background doesn’t fade into the bar that well so it might take a little time to realize what you are choosing until you get used to it. You can select your choices quickly and easily like most Blu-Ray though, via the main menu and via the pop-up menu in movie.

Traditional extras we have are the promotional videos for the movie, the original trailer, the US trailer and a long sequence for shows (not selectable like most series releases) which contained The Empire Of Corpses, the live action Attack On Titan, Seraph Of The End, Maria The Virgin Witch, Blood Blockade Battlefront and Tokyo Ghoul A.

The big extra, similar to The Empire Of Corpses is a behind the scenes short with 4 of the actors/actresses involved called Funimaton Short: Harmony, where the cast answer questions set to them. We have Monica Rial (Miach), Jamie Marchi (Tuan), Chris Bevins (Vashlov) and Rachel Robertson (Cara) – questions asked include the basics (what their characters are like, and what they are trying to achieve) to themes of the movie, to more searching questions that the movie does set out for the viewer (what does it mean to have a soul, are the laws in the movie a danger to society, is the world a better place after the events of Harmony?) – considering what happens during the movie it is indeed a hard sell of questions which is pretty much the point as the viewer has to think about these things as well.

That said, they all agreed the lunch scene was the most memorable. And I definitely agree. *shudders*

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Harmony is the second Project Itoh movie out in the last couple of months – (released in Japan pre Empire of Corpses but in the UK released after) and like the former was based on a novel before Project Itoh suffered from cancer, and takes a similar dystopian theme – however instead of an alternative past, we look to the future where technology is evolving after an apocalypse of sorts, and our main character looks to both her past and the future to solve a conundrum. How does it fare/compare?

The initial opening kind of spoils the ending but you don’t know it until you actually see the ending so you just look a bit confused before our main character comes in, a lady by the name of Tuan, who works as a Helix Inspector a.k.a. someone for the World Health Organization after said apocalypse known as the Maelstrom, where diseases and nuclear war left the world in dire straits (the USA is mentioned to have all but died) – to counter this, countries are divided into several smaller states, and health and socialization is controlled by ‘admec’ to allow the medical purposes to control better living. And whilst this is true, it also means some controlled reactions to certain situations. As an inspector, Tuan isn’t subjected to this but as shown early does some things on the side to make the moral of her crew better whilst kicking ass when things go wrong. Naturally , this doesn’t still well with mer boss Cara, who whilst won’t get rid of her because of her own misdeeds, sends her back to her native Japan which she is disgusted by…simply because everyone is too in control, too nice, etc.

This is where the morals and story kick in to whether having all control for a better living at the cost of your own mentality, or to bring back your will even when it could leave you suicidal. This conflict is demonstrated the best through several flashbacks involving Tuan, and two friends Cian and the key one, Miach. Miach is one of the most interesting characters in anime – she is protesting the way this kind of control over their lives is being used, and is testing to see how she can control her body and go against the system. This leads into her committing suicide by starving herself – however her two friends (Miach and Tuan definitely seem more like lovers than just friends to add to the sensuality and symbolism) get afraid and don’t go for it or in Tuan’s case, fail.

What makes this however relevant is when Tuan returns to Japan and meets up with Cian – whilst Cian is all chatty and bubbly, Tuan is pretty much bored over how perfect the system seems to be in Japan with everyone being too kind and it is learned that Miach’s body was donated to science. It seems a normal meal…

…then water turns into wine. And by wine I mean a drop of blood goes into Tuan’s water. And by blood I mean Cian stabbing herself through the throat.

To say this scene made my eyes open is an understatement and is pretty much the iconic scene as well as the set up for the rest of the movie. Miach always fantasised about the downfall of humanity and the signs of Cian’s death combined with several other suicides happening around the same time leads to investigation. Tuan via visiting Miach’s parents and listening into a phone call Cian had before she died comes to the scary conclusion that Miach isn’t dead, and is controlling these potential suicides. It is later learned that Tuan’s father took the body and with a Russian Interpol agent also looking for him and more deaths on the way, it is no surprise that Miach calls Sion, almost wanting her to find her…

Investigating and re-meeting her father leads to more turmoil and death as well as learning the side effects of what Miach was used as an experiment for and what she was – basically initially having no consciousness (and what broke her out of it is truly heart wrenching and terrible you wonder if the girl could have even been remotely sane) – with the inevitable reunion being cryptic, scary, romantic, planning – with a very ambiguous ending. Not just on whether Tuan accepts Miach’s ways or not, whether that gunshot was for either of them, and what the conclusion turned out to be….

This is a very thought inducing movie, mainly on the choices you have to make, whether it is morally right to do what they do, or because they are so much happier why should you change? This film looks at a society where everyone enjoys good health and a good chance of happiness, yet our protagonists do not like it and thus the ghost of Miach is haunting around them, which leads to the iconic lunch scene and the plot truly begins. It is even more disturbing because a lot of the views in the film aren’t exactly discussed in general conversation but the film via its flashbacks and the catalysts in the film (Miach’s calls, Tuan’s search for her father) asks if it is possible to have too much kindness. In that regard, it makes the film a much harder call to watch than Empire of Corpses, because the questions aren’t really answered, and it makes the viewer having to think about a lot of choices, ones they would never expect to think about in real life.

It definitely isn’t for everyone, and certainly not for the light hearted or for someone who wants to just enjoy the anime. Indeed, the fact the main character isn’t very well defined is a problem – she just goes from place to place, gets information, does stuff before she gets her final goal. It is easily accepted that Miach is by far the most interesting and likeable character in the movie, and we don’t even know until the end that she is still alive – most of her action is from the story told and via flashbacks. Indeed, you could argue Tuan’s role is simply discovering if her best friend/confidant/soul mate/lover is still alive because her character is very weakly defined outside of following Miach’s ideologies, but failing to follow through with them and wants to make amends. The very open ending helps with that as you don’t know what happens between them BUT you do know what happens involving the nanotechnology system, making you wonder if Tuan, Miach or both pushed the envelope so to speak?

The story and the thoughts behind the movie is incredibly strong, soul searching and intelligent. The characters however are very formulaic outside of Miach, who comes across as a martyr, saviour and the smartest person in the movie. Even when she is causing massive deaths she is still seen as not the bad guy simply because of her free will and wanting free will to return, and when you learn what managed to bring her consciousness back, it adds even more sympathy to her. By contrast, Tuan just goes through being a bit selfish in wanting to find her, and causing more problems than ones she has solved.

The movie however is gorgeous animated and a real masterpiece in his Lain mind-screw type of way. I definitely prefer Empire of the two Itoh projects out there, but this is definitely one for your anime society to get people scratching their heads and talking about. And it is definitely worth watching at least once just because of that.

In Summary:
Harmony takes a route with difficult ideas, morals and thoughts and brings it into a movie, and very nearly succeeds. The story itself, the idea behind Miach, is nothing short of brilliant. The journey it takes however means it just falls short of perfection due to one-dimensional characters in the present when the flashback sequences are far more interesting and engaging, and it isn’t until the end where everything connects and you realise how many strings Miach has pulled. However, it is still one of the most intelligent films I’ve come across and the story it tells and doesn’t pull punches definitely earns my respect.

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: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B

Released By: Anime Limited
Release Date: November 7th, 2016
MSRP: £34.99
Running Time: 120 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Playstation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.

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