Welcome To The Space Show (Cert PG)

1 Disc (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 136 minutes approx.

Five school friends – squabbling cousins tomboy Natsuki Koyama and the youngster Amane Suzuki, shy Noriko Nishimura, sci-fi fan Kōji Harada and the eldest, Kiyoshi Satō – embark on their annual school summer camp where the camp pet rabbit Pyon-Kichi has gone missing. During the search Amane finds an injured dog which the kids take in and nurse back to health. The next day the dog leaps up from his sick bed fully fit and thanks the kids for their kindness.

Yup, this is no ordinary dog but an alien named Pochi Rickman from the planet Wan who just happens to be in dog form, on earth to seek a substance called Zughan. To show his gratitude Pochi takes the kids on a trip to the moon to see the famous Space Show, a huge variety style performance broadcast via a giant spaceship. But when the kids need to return to earth interplanetary travel is temporarily postponed, forcing them to find an alternative way home thus beginning an adventure none of them will ever forget.

From A1 Pictures and the team behind the hit show R.O.D The TV comes this ambitious and visually stunning space adventure, picking up the gauntlet thrown down by the likes of Studio Ghibli and Mamoru Hosoda to create the next feature length spectacle. By aiming this at the younger market they may have set their target a little lower than their aforementioned peers but the end result is still a remarkably enjoyable one.

The conceit of the story initially revolves around the ancient flower substance called Zughan which has be considered extinct all across the universe. Rumours of its presence on earth is what brought Pochi to our planet. It is not until much later when the kids are stuck on the moon that we learn that the Japanese plant Wasabi, which is used in sauces and condiments, is something of distant cousin of Zughan.

Natsuki just happens to have a wasabi root in her bag which draws the attention of the two henchmen of Neppo, a powermad criminal who wishes to become a god but needs the power of the space ship Pet Star, which runs on – you guessed it – Zughan. Thus we enter into a series of chases, kidnappings, sacrifices and super powered showdowns among the disparate dichotomy of humans and aliens in the noisiest, most colourful and wonderfully inventive way imaginable.  

The adventure may be about the five human youngsters and while they do end up benefiting from this trip to form a closer bond with one another, especially Natsuki and Amane, it is unquestionably the spectrum of alien beings who are the truly fascinating and enjoyable characters here. Our young protagonists are pretty much cut from the familiar tropes cloth and are established quite concisely in their brief introductions at the start of the film; however the various aliens they meet are wonderfully crafted beings, both visually and personality wise. They range from basic anthropomorphist types like Pochi to bug eyed creatures like Neppo – who is an evil version of Mike from Monsters Inc. – to humanoids with peculiar physical quirks or attributes.

For instance, Ink the small girl who runs a junk shop has arms for hair; or the walking energy form official Tony who carries his pet goldfish around on bowl where his head should be! And for the Miyazaki aficionados there is a homage (or rip off as is your want) to the famous Catbus from My Neighbour Totoro in the form of the dragon train, a massive serpent whose elongated body makes up the compartments for the passengers to sit in, which also change around to suit the mood and needs of the travellers.

Indeed on the art front, especially in the rural vistas of the Japanese countryside, there is more than a strong hint of Ghibli’s high standard of landscape backgrounds which look particularly plush and inviting. Once we are space bound, the wonders of CGI and BluRay are fully explored with a dazzling display of lunar vistas, the neon coloured pageantry of the Space Show itself and the incredibly intricately designed space cities, crafts and other futuristic accoutrements.

Whether deliberate or not, the young protagonists are the least impressive in design which may be to allow the fantasy artwork to be appreciated more or just a lack of inspiration when it comes to human character designs; the youngster Aname seems to be aimed at moe fans that much is sure. Borrowing again from Ghibli, the voice cast for the youngster are all genuine child actors and not adults putting on childish voices as is the norm in TV shows. And look out for our very own Susan Boyle whose song Who I Was Born to Be is the theme song for this film.

While there are no complaints on the production front the two and a quarter hour running time is the film’s biggest drawback. Since this is aimed at a younger audience it is asking for quite the commitment from the little un’s to sit still for that length of time and frankly, a good thirty minutes could have been trimmed from this.

Despite its junior target audience, the story doesn’t slip into habits of simplicity and thus will appeal to older viewers too, making this a suitable if overlong family viewing experience. It may not have the moral or social commentary of a Ghibli film but the action is explosive enough to replicate that same sense of exhilaration and one does feel like they’ve been on a fantastic journey with the characters, much as one does with Miyazaki’s classic Spirited Away.

Welcome To The Space Show may wear its influences on it sleeve but bold and canny enough to stand up on its own merits. Perhaps some prudent pruning off the run time would improve it, but for a slice of hyper, fun, amusing, visually impressive and pure anime entertainment it delivers the goods with gusto.

 

Extras:

English Language PCM Stereo (BluRay)

English Language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (BluRay)

Japanese Language PCM Stereo (BluRay)

Japanese Language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (BluRay)

English Subtitles

Framed Storyboard

Trailer

English Dubbing Credits

 

Ratings – **** 

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