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Thursday, September 22, 2022

TO -- DVD review by porfle

Originally posted on 5/23/11


Japanese director Fumihiko Sori (APPLESEED, VEXILLE) brings two futuristic tales from Yukinobu Hoshino’s "2001 Nights" manga to vivid life in TO (2011), giving us sci-fi and anime fans enough brain candy to gorge ourselves on.

Impeccably rendered spaceships and settings serve as a backdrop for the CG motion-capture characters.  Neither too cartoony nor too realistic (and deftly avoiding the dreaded "uncanny valley" effect) this cross between 2D and 3D character animation blends the best elements of both to create what Sori calls "3D live anime, Japanese-style full CG animation with the feeling of cel images."  The result is a strongly appealing hyper-anime aesthetic with the subtle facial nuances and body language of live actors.

"Elliptical Orbit" opens with the enormous space station Midnight Bazooka, which propels containers of supplies toward a moonbase via a long firing chamber, doing a slow fly-by right out of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and STAR WARS as it orbits Earth.  Captain Dan and his crew are visited by the starship Flying Dutchman on its return from a 15-year mission to bring a cargo of liquid protons from a faraway mining planet.  The ship's captain, Maria, has remained her young, beautiful self during periods of extended hypersleep while Dan has aged, yet their deep emotional bond clearly remains strong.

As they catch up on old times, the Bazooka is invaded by a force of armor-suited terrorists bent on firing the Dutchman's cargo of liquid protons at the distant moonbase and destroying it.  Dan, Maria, and their respective crewmembers join to fight the invaders in a fierce space battle that takes a heavy toll on the outnumbered and outgunned good guys.  While the spectacular SPFX and dazzling sci-fi trappings are consistently impressive, equal attention is given to the thoughtful and adult-oriented human story, ultimately revealing an added dimension to Dan and Maria's relationship that is hauntingly resonant.

The second story, "Symbiotic Planet", is a Romeo and Juliet tale of two lovers from different bases on the same alien world.  Ion, a member of the American-European outpost, and his sweetheart Alena of the Eurasian contingent, meet secretly every night until forbidden to do so by their superiors.  The opposing camps are at such a hostile impasse over territorial rights that even a visiting UN delegation fails to avert impending military conflict between the two.

As hostilities reach their peak, Ion is exposed to alien spores in the research lab and must seal himself in as his body begins to change.  Eventually the entire compound is infected by the unknown organism, disabling its occupants as enemy fighters arrive bearing missiles of destruction.  Their only hope for survival is a strangely transformed Ion, whose pacifism may prevent him from pressing the button which activates the base's lethal defense system.  Beautiful visuals and gripping suspense highlight this sensitive cautionary tale.

Both stories are a pleasing blend of action and emotionally compelling character interplay.  "Elliptical Orbit" delivers more in the way of nuts and bolts sci-fi and shoot-'em-up space opera along with its moving story, while the more esoteric "Symbiotic Planet" explores the contrast between an ethereally peaceful planet and the inherently warlike humans who infect it with the same hatred that has ravaged their own homeworld.

The 3-disc Blu-Ray/DVD combo from Funimation is in 1.78:1 widescreen with English (dubbed) and Japanese Dolby 5.1 surround sound.  Subtitles are in English.  Each episode (combined running time: approx. 86 minutes) comes with an interview with Sori and his main voice actors, promos, trailers, teasers, and TV spots. 

Sharply written and "performed" by wonderfully lifelike CG characters, and set in a virtual world that's a constant pleasure to behold, TO is superb sci-fi that is both thought-provoking and visually dazzling.  If "2001 Nights" contains more stories of this caliber, I can only hope that Fumihiko Sori will continue to tell them.

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