Blu-ray Review: WELCOME TO THE SPACE SHOW Keeps Afloat on a Big Pile of Awesome
Whenever Manga-UK releases a film on BluRay I do perk up and take notice. The BluRay market in the UK is a bit of a difficult one, the country's size and regulations having prevented the platform to be as successful as, say, in France. This goes especially for Asian cinema and double especially for Japanese Animation it seems.
So Manga UK's current policy is that if it's going to release something on Blu, it'd better be good, affordable and make good use of the platform, otherwise it'll sink.
Their current release of Koji Masunari's recent anime "Welcome to THE SPACE SHOW" is no exception: the title is definitely worth checking out, this release is very cheap, and while it is rather barebones the AV-quality is nothing short of magnificent.
Whoops, was that my entire review already? I'd better redo this and elaborate a bit.
Five children spend a week of summer camp living in their village school by themselves as a lesson in self-reliance. But on the very first day they come across an injured dog and decide to nurse it back to health. The dog, however, turns out to be an alien researcher called Pochi and in his gratitude he invites the kids along for a short study-trip to the moon and back.
The "to-the-moon" part goes well as does their meeting with a huge intergalactic civilization, but suddenly all traffic between the moon and Earth is cancelled due to Pochi's research results. The group now needs to find another way back home, even though the detour takes traveling many light-years around several galaxies...
Will the kids be back home in a week?
Will they learn a valuable lesson in self-reliance?
Why are all their efforts sabotaged by evil criminals?
And what is the kids' connection to the galaxy's most popular television program, "THE SPACE SHOW"?
Studio A-1 Pictures recently joined the group of current Japanese animation studios to keep track of, due to some successful television series like "Fairy Tail", "Blue Exorcist", "Black Butler" and "Birdy the Mighty: Decode". That last series quickly chucked away its ecchi premise (a glamor model in a Barbarella space-suit sharing her body with a teenage boy) in favor of characterization and describing its intergalactic universe, and is probably the closest to what can be seen in Studio A-1 Pictures' first cinema-movie: "Welcome to THE SPACE SHOW".
The first thing you'll notice about "Welcome to THE SPACE SHOW" is the care and attention to the artwork, especially the way characters interact with their environment. Copious amounts of cgi are used to make branches and fields of corn move, there is detail within the detail and the initially rural setting is lovingly described.
What you'll also notice is that whenever aliens feature in the narrative, the visuals get batshit crazy. Colors explode and the action is eclectic.
Combined, this makes for a very rewarding if tiring viewing experience. Pay attention and you will see many hidden extras. But "Welcome to THE SPACE SHOW" is a very long film. Its running time is 136 minutes and watching this late in the evening made me bleary-eyed rather quickly. When the kids start their intergalactic journey and visit gorgeous planet after gorgeous planet, each with its own introduction and chase sequence, I nodded off from sheer exhaustion.
In the end, I watched the film in three consecutive evenings, taking in about 45 minutes each time. This is a practice I do not often recommend, but for this film I think it might even be necessary. I can only imagine how punch-drunk I would have been if I had seen this in a cinema.
It's not all gorgeous vistas and chases though. The long running time comes from its creators not knowing how to (or wanting to) cut things short. Trivial discussions are used for characterization and pouring on "The Message", but it's done so blatantly that these scenes often fall flat. During the story's dips there is also much time spent on crying and apologizing, but instead of heartfelt it comes across as forced sentimentality. Meanwhile, some pretty important plotpoints just happen, and the motivation for the villains is not explained well. Hell, even WHAT they're doing exactly isn't explained well!
While the long running time, the sentimentality and the plotholes mar the film they never manage to sink it. Too many sequences in it are fun to watch, or gorgeous, or often both. Whether you're watching steampunk machinery, huge organic living spaceships, Utopian paradises, apocalyptic dormant gods or evil circuses, the kids' galactic tour is engrossing. Some of the more abstract bits have been contributed by a studio which can be considered a ScreenAnarchy favorite: Studio 4C, and their work is very apparent at times, parts of it reminding of the excellent "Kaiba" even.
If it all sounds like overkill this is because it is. "Welcome to THE SPACE SHOW" would probably have worked better as a 13 (or even 26) episode series than as a single film. But as a technical calling card to the industry and the public, a "Yoohoo we are here!" statement in Japanese animation, "Welcome to THE SPACE SHOW" is a huge success.
"Welcome to THE SPACE SHOW" is a film that is overlong and tries too hard to have a message, nearly fumbling the ball in the process. But it is also a film which is very hard to actively dislike. A decent cast of characters and a bewildering barrage of great designs kept me glued to the screen, and bits of it are infinitely rewatchable.
It's definitely not flawless but it is definitely recommended!
About the BluRay:
Manga UK has released "Welcome to THE SPACE SHOW" as a double-play pack,consisting of one DVD and one BluRay with the same content. The DVD is PAL region 2 encoded, the BluRay is region B. Both are of high quality, but the BluRay really shines.
I still have problems pulling screenshots from a Blu so all pictures here are taken from the DVD. Let me assure you that for each of these shots, the BluRay beats the DVD to pulp. Being a recent and computer-enhanced piece of animation, "Welcome to THE SPACE SHOW" features artwork that is at times insanely detailed like a Mandelbrot fractal printout, and at those moments the BluRay made my jaw drop. Picture quality is through the roof here, and several scenes can be used to show off your home theater (should the need arise).
Sound is fine as well, with both Japanese and English available in both PCM-stereo and HD-5.1 mixes. Prepare to hear things go WOOSH all around you when in space. The English subs are of good quality too.
As for extras, you get a small item showing a few minutes of design sketches, a trailer and that's it. That is meager to say the least but this set carries a fairly low price from release-date onward, and the feature itself is treated well so I'm not complaining. I'd pay top dollar for a special edition but apparently I'm a minority (grrrrr...). Manga UK so far has a good reputation for those BluRays they do release and this one won't damage that.
"Welcome to THE SPACE SHOW" is now on sale in the UK. You can buy this discset through our affiliate (click here).