Region: 2 - UK
Length: 136 minutes
English 2.0 Stereo
English 5.1 Surround
Japanese 2.0 Stereo
Japanese 5.1 Surround
Five young school friends set to spend a week together at summer camp avoiding the hassles of parental supervision unexpectedly find themselves on a truly out-of-this-world adventure when their class rabbit goes missing. Searching for their pet, the kids find and rescue what they believe to be an injured dog. As it turns out, the creature is actually a stranded alien named Pochi, who rewards their kindness with the offer of a trip to the moon! However, this simple sightseeing excursion to view the lunar landscape up close spins out of control and leads to a thrilling chase across the galaxy, with the five friends and their extra-terrestrial companion on the run from evil aliens intent on ruling the universe.
It's not often I disparage anime for being overindulgent. Most anime projects, by virtue of their benefactors, never reach their full potential. Money, time and opportunity are the achilles heel for anime. So when movies like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time or Children Who Chase Lost Voices come along, they have scripts that are compact because they have to expand and articulate over the runtime of the film and not waste themselves in the first twenty minutes. But in mid-2010, I began to hear about this amazing from director Koji Masunari (Kokoro Library), writer Hideyuki Kurata (Read Or Die) and A1 Pictures (Working!!) called Welcome To The Space Show. It looked like a great story, seemingly one part Issac Asimov and one part Steven Spielberg. But now that I've seen it, I can tell you that there's another reason anime movies work, for the most part, for me: they know how long and in what manner their stories take to tell. Welcome To The Space Show isn't in that group, unfortunately.
Before we get into the problems of the film, let's talk about the good parts. The cast in this film, I like. They are not misfits, mindless little stooges or pandering tropes. They are just kids, trying to enjoy their summer. Kiyoshi is a good natured kid with a pleasant demeanour and being the oldest, the one the others look up to. But it doesn't go to his head and he knows how he has to be seen with the other kids. Natsuki is a big sister type, especially to young Amane, who should be looking up to her. But Natsuki is a flake who screws up, her outdoor sporty type just is not compensating for her uneasiness with Amane. Amane herself is curious. She exhibits a maturity that she sometimes uses to great effect as she feels can't rely on Natsuki. And Noriko and Koji round us off with a girl who comes across as a bit airy-fairy but turns out to be anything but and a science kid who just wants to see the universe echoing Max (Joaquin Phoenix) from Space Camp. Pochi is a good companion and rarely comes across as "I Am The Great And Powerful Oz!" in how he guides the children. The universe outside the Earth is just amazing. Truly, I want to find artbooks for this movie, it's that gorgeous. Huge spires, tramways that stretch forever, aliens of all descriptions, gravity defying structures, the busy streets and buildings, the strange wheeler dealers, all of it shows how much love and attention went into the movie and I'm not talking about "Here's a huge building with sparkly lights! Aren't you impressed!?" The designers and artists clearly wanted to show you how they imagined the Star Wars universe but with less Banta PooDoo.
I like how all the threads of the story come together even ones that don't start until the mid-point of the film. I really liked the execution of Natsuki and Amane's relationship. They initially looked like sisters but apparently Natsuki and her mother moved in with Amane's family. I don't know if they're even related but it doesn't matter. They treat each other like family and yes, that means the bad parts too. Also, the writers give us the reason why Pochi is on Earth and then tells us and Pochi the real reason why he had to go to Earth. The writers try and give us a tour of the characters all while going on a whimsical journey, literally, the universe. The people they meet and make friends with are people who only kids have the capacity to trust. It's their own selves that they wrestle with.
And so we come to the part of the review I've dreading: the main problem with the movie. It's too damned long. With a runtime of over two hours, this is the longest animated movie I've watched and boy does it feel like two hours. This review was only completed after my third attempt at the movie. It was so hard to watch. I never look at my watch when I'm watching old epic films, but by god, I couldn't believe how much I did with this movie. It just keeps going. We leave the Earth, then we leave the Moon, then we leave the Space Railways, then we leave another planet, then we go into space again, all while each place takes at least 20 minutes to set up and execute. It's like the show's producers never told their parent company Aniplex what the runtime was until they had finished. Then Aniplex just went "Sure, OK." and didn't instead hire a ruthless editor. As a result, the characters suffer. We have exposition, character, development, amazing space scenes, more exposition, more character development. Amane and Natsuki take nearly an hour and a half to resolve their problems and even then, it takes the end of the film to see the resolution. There are three sets of villains in the film! They could have cut the first set out and it would have been fine. For that matter, they could have trimmed 50 or so minutes from the film, and it would have still been an amazing experience. The characters take two hours to reach their crisis point despite going through two similar crisis points that they just breeze through.
Children often times don't want to go home after being in the park or staying up late. They will stretch things out for as long as they can, sometimes ruining things for themselves and others. Somehow, I fear this film's creators felt the same way about their film. I don't know what I'm confused by more: the fact that I wanted to stay in this cinematic universe or the fact that I knew it should have ended sooner.
I truly love this movie and its characters and the sentiment behind the movie. The art design is amazing and worthy of Ghibli-levels of attention. English singer Susan Boyle has an amazing end credit song that's light and emotion filled. The English and Japanese casts do a wonderful and competent job. But this film's legacy will be that it didn't know how to end itself, didn't know to say goodbye to its audience properly and ultimately, undeserving to being saved because it was nice to watch and it meant well.
One final note and it's to do with the blu-ray disc I got to review the movie. There was no way to select just the subtitles for the signage. The signage subtitles are mixed in with the dialogue subtitles for the Japanese language track so if you want to know what's on the billboards, screens and so on, you have no choice. I am very surprised that Manga UK didn't provide these signage subtitles.