Anime Reviews Featured
Welcome to the Space Show – Review
by Miguel Douglas on May 21, 2011
In a small countryside town in Japan, five primary school kids have come together in this idyllic spot in order to spend their summer holidays at a camp. At first the children enjoy carefree days amidst unspoiled nature far away from adult supervision. But their life changes dramatically when they come across what they believe to be a small dog, badly in need of help. The creature—known as Pochi—turns out not to be a dog at all but an alien on an important mission. It seems there is a mysterious substance on earth that is coveted throughout the universe, with Pochi and the children getting caught in a galactic adventure.
Perhaps one of the most daring animated projects to come along in years, Welcome to the Space Show is a film that shares many outstanding qualities that have made other films such memorable visual and narrative spectacles. This is certainly not to say that the film is in anyway inferior because it uses selective elements from other popular animated films, but some viewers may see such correlations between Welcome to the Space Show and other animated creations—perhaps most appropriately films from Ghibli. In many regards though, Welcome to the Space Show is a film that establishes a firm and original grounding due to the grandiose scale and highly creative universe it offers, all which sets precedence towards the scope of what Japanese animated films can showcase.
Directed by Koji Masunari, known mostly for his work in directing the Read or Die series and Kamichu! (2005), Welcome to the Space Show is an impressive cinematic debut from him. It’s not too often that you see a director who mostly works within the realm of television successfully transition to cinema, but Masunari does so with considerable flair that really establishes his own style. With a considerably strong team behind him that includes character designer Masashi Ishihama and writer Hideyuki Kurata—with the three collectively being known as the Besame Mucho—the results are bound to be something out of the ordinary. They each bring some form of originality to the forefront, which provides the film which some outstanding qualities in terms of inventiveness. Masunari had multiple teams of people work on different aspects of animating the film, all which culminate in almost every scene being of a distinct and imaginative quality.
But when speaking of the scope of the film, it would be a humungous understatement to say that it’s simply “sizable”. Welcome to the Space Show presents an incredibly dense and innovative universe that is visually stunning. From the marvelously detailed spaceport located on the dark side of the moon to the astonishing display of coloration during the Galactic Space Festival, the film expresses an artistic quality to an almost absurd degree—which is a good thing in this case. There is so much commotion going on in the background environments in the film that it’s almost overwhelming at first, but it does create a universe that is thriving and incredibly prolific in its conveyance of numerous alien societies and social structures. Clocking in at over two hours, the film has plenty of time to elaborate on the universe that the creators intended, showcasing worlds and characters that are literally out of this world in terms of creative prowess—rivaling that of the visionary universe of Star Wars. From an overall aesthetic standpoint, Welcome to the Space Show is easily one of the most impressive looking animated films coming out of Japan in the last five years.
Going alongside the visual quality of the film, the narrative is just as huge. Consisting of a rather significantly large but distinctive cast, the film’s story is certainly geared towards the younger audience but there are just enough mature concepts as to appease the older crowd as well. The film nicely focuses on the concept of developing bonds of friendship amongst your peers and the importance of teamwork in order to get out dire situations. With the setting of the film beginning within a small country town, the film explores how children of all ages—and in the case of the film, even aliens—can become friends and overcome their differences. The film showcases the children through a variety of emotional stages, from being naive and impressionistic in the film’s opening scenes on Earth to essentially having to each get a job in order to buy a ticket back to Earth—these characters mature realistically as the film progresses. Most of the situations concerning the character development within the film can also be consider somewhat plausible—besides the obvious space travel and aliens—but Masunari and Kurata construct a very realistic approach to how these characters grow. So often in other films we see a rather predictable ethos being displayed, one where characters are forced into implausible situations to exert some form of sympathy from the audience, but Welcome to the Space Show handles this aspect with generous realism as to not make the audience seem to far removed from understanding the cast as characters with real emotions, dreams and aspirations.
And while the film is gracious through its abundance of characters and settings, it remains an element that may also lead to some of the negative aspects viewed in the story. The film becomes rather convoluted as it nears it conclusion, which remains an element of the film that could potentially turn off those that Masunari was aiming for when creating the film—the younger audience. While the film’s visual flair may support a younger audience not exactly caring about the complicated narrative towards the end, in contrast to the rather simplistic narrative flow viewed in the first half of the film, it just seems a little odd. With such a huge universe displayed within the film, I would image Masunari and company providing a more comprehensible lead up to the film’s conclusion that would easily tie up its many loose ends it creates during its final half, but this doesn’t exactly happen the way one might expect. The approach just seems a little too easy and assuring for Masunari to take, where being generic takes precedence over creativity for the sake of simply bringing closure to the massive universe that the film presents. While all this may sound detrimental to the quality of the film, it doesn’t take away from it still remaining a strong lead up to a surprisingly satisfying conclusion that’s very modest in relation to the extravagant nature of the film. In a way, this again returns the film to focusing on the power of friendship, which is certainly a hopeful message for all audiences.
Considering all the quirks that make Welcome to the Space Show the film it is, it’s still one extraordinary bold cinematic feat considering the climate of the Japanese animation market in the last five years. This is a film that isn’t afraid to go to great lengths to be experimental and inventive in its creational process, thereby producing a film that can stand out amongst the rest as a truly visionary work. The film’s considerable length never felt too long, mainly because it’s literally awash within its own universe and joyously parades its inventive structure. Similar to other works—most notably Ghibli—the film is appropriate for all audiences, which is certainly one of its most prominent strengths. Despite some of its narrative flaws—especially concerning the latter half of the film—Welcome to the Space Show remains an incredible cinematic debut from Masunari. Here’s hoping we see more from Besame Mucho in the future, and if Welcome to the Space Show is any indication of what they can offer to the world of cinematic animation, the results are sure to be pleasing, innovative and bold.