Oblivion Island: Haruka and the magic mirror

By | January 29, 2014

I stumbled upon this Japanese CG movie by chance, having picked it up from a store credit received due to faulty headphones.

The title sounded interesting, and the screenshots on the back of the box, while small, looked pretty good quality. It was produced for Fuji TV’s (a major Japanese broadcast company) 50th anniversary, and had also won an award, so my expectations on quality were pretty high from the start.

I’ll give some relevant background about myself before I go into details – I’ve been interested in computer graphics (CG) ever since I was a kid. I’ve followed many of the techniques developed over time and have even considered becoming a CG artist as a profession, with some experience with 3D modeling tools (such as Blender).  I’ve also seen several full-CG films, with my two favorites being Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, and Advent Children. Though both of these are a bit outdated, they excel in using amazing detail in character design and telling a action-filled story targeted at an older audience. There are some more recent films that are also quite good, with Tangled being one of my favorites, but most CG movies made (except those from Japan) tend to target a young audience.

Now onto the review itself. You may have already seen this coming, but this quality of the CG was not quite what I was hoping for. Not only were the character models simplified with awkward movements, but many of the scenes used large textures to replace more complex geometry. You know there is a problem when the best looking character is the stuffed animal. In many ways the CG looked like that from a game, albeit one that didn’t elect to spend a massive budget on graphics. Thats not a big surprise since a large portion of visual graphics technology is created for in-game graphics or cut scenes. (The budget spent on visuals doesn’t seem to be published but if anyone knows this information please let me know.)

Though the CG quality was lacking, they used the available budget to good use and told an emotional story superbly. The 3D graphics didn’t particularly stand out, but they didn’t hold back the storytelling either.

The story itself was quite entertaining and involves a girl named Haruka who travels to a mysterious world in search of a precious item, a mirror given to her by her mom. In this world, various forms of animal creatures collect things left behind by humans. The Japanese title,  “Hottarake no shima”, means something like “Neglected island” and is a better description of the world than the English title “Oblivion island”.

Other aspects of the film, including music, voice acting, and pacing, were excellent, and the ending was quite satisfying. The world design was also colorful and impressive, though very reminiscent of a game setting.

The Japanese used wasn’t too advanced and would serve for good listening practice – just make sure to shut the subtitles off. For those that want to focus more on understanding the story than Japanese practice, the English subtitles are translated quite good and adopt a literal approach, rather than the conceptual approach I’ve seen in some other recent anime translations, where translations can be quite far off from what was actually said.

All in all a great viewing experience, appropriate for children as well as adults. Just make sure to put your expectations regarding CG aside when watching.

For those interested in another review of this movie you can check this review out, which agrees with my complaints about the CG. There is also a more detailed discussion of the story.

Side Note

The text on the posture used for the feature image said: “あなたの忘れてしまったモノがこの島にあります”。This translates to “Your lost object(s) are on this island”.






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