Expelled From Paradise (Cert 15)
2 Discs Blu-ray/DVD Combo (Distributor: All The Anime) Running time: 103 minutes approx.
Cyber hacking has become a major global problem ever since the rise of the internet and mobile phone technology of the past twenty years, so how ironic would it be that one solution to this issue would require not the most advanced form of cyber technology but the good old fashioned human touch?
With Earth ravaged by an ecological catastrophe and left a barren wasteland, the majority of the population escaped to the space station DEVA, where they exist only as virtual reality avatars for their digitised minds and personalities which have been uploaded to a huge server. After year of peaceful existence, messages from a hacker named Frontier Setter appear on the server, urging people to abandon DEVA and journey to a new world.
DEVA security agent Angela Balzac is tasked with hunting the hacker down. She is given a clone body and sent to Earth where Frontier Setter is said to be based. There she is forced to work alongside Dingo, a gruff human who relies on practical methods to survive and achieve his goals. But when they do finally confront Frontier Setter, they find his motives aren’t so sinister after all.
It’s a little surprising that a film with the impressive pedigree behind that Expelled From Paradise can boast hasn’t arrived on UK shores with a bigger fanfare. It comes from the pen of the prolific Gen Urobuchi, who gave us the likes of Magica Madoka, Psycho-Pass and Fate/Zero, is directed by Seiji Mizushima, the man behind the original Fullmetal Alchemist series and was developed by Toei Animation.
Of course this sets up lofty expectations but the proof is in the pudding, and the end result is a vastly entertaining sci-fi yarn in which Urobuchi indulges his philosophical musings on life, existence and identity but with a slight twist, both celebrating and advancing the familiar themes of the cyberpunk genre.
Firstly, Urobuchi expands on the cyber existence concept first suggested in the classic Ghost In The Shell by having the server be a form of higher life for the elite as opposed to a natural societal progression. With nothing to worry about people can just slip into any form they like and live a peaceful, idyllic existence – but is it really living?
After all, their lives are in the control of a huge server which is susceptible to all sorts of interference and people are only allotted so much memory according to status, continuing the caste systems which existed on Earth even in this virtual reality world. The Earth below may be a huge dust bowl overrun by vicious giant sandworms and people do what they can to survive, but their consciences are real and unfettered.
This brings us to the odd couple road rip undertaken by Dingo and Angela – the wise cracking, world weary flesh and blood older man and the buxom, scantily clad, fastidious, taught-by-rote young female avatar clashing on all issues. Angela hits the sandy ground running with her all-purpose Mecha suit by Dingo survives just as well with a shotgun and a fast truck.
Angela learns the hard way that technology has its cavils when Dingo takes out the communication panel on her mecha as it is emitting a signal the hacker could trace. Of course Dingo could have asked her to turn it off instead of blasting it with his shotgun but the old man is set in his quirky human ways. And the environment doesn’t agree with Angela’s temporary constitution, forcing Dingo to play nurse while she recovers.
While this all becomes part of a huge learning curve for Angela, the apex comes when they finally locate Frontier Setter and learn of his true intentions for contacting DEVA. It takes this rude awakening for Angela to realise that the utopia she has been living in is lacking basic human (oh the irony) rights of this citizens, which the remaining denizens of the apparent dystopia called Earth are free to enjoy.
Urobuchi hasn’t exactly covered any new territory with the themes and discursive points explored here but is one of those writers who is able to inject a fresh perspective into his work to avoid the trap of being a one trick pony. However in this instance the script has a greater potential than the 100 minutes (plus two post credit spots) can offer, suggesting it could be stretched to a 12 part TV series.
The two lead characters are composites of many anime favourites – it’s hard not to spot Spike Spiegel in Dingo’s DNA – yet are easy to accept as originals in their own right. Despite her deliberately provocative attire and initial tsundere attitude Angela has the makings of a strong and fearless female character, proving herself a suitable sparring partner for the grizzled Dingo.
Because of the nature of the story, the action sequences come in two forms, the physical and the virtual. It is the battles which take place on terra firma that are the most impressive – frenetic affairs against stampeding Sandworms and a squad of DEVA agents in their Mecha craft. Employing CGI gives the animation of these scenes fluidity and greater camera movement in following the hectic action in a multi-dimensional manner.
This also is reflected in the depth and quality of the artwork, the backgrounds, both natural and digital, rendered with the upmost detail. Yet the character designs are true to the traditional 2D cell drawn style which usually results in a jarring clash but in this case the blend is a successful one, the cast benefiting greatly from not being 3D.
If Expelled From Paradise has a shortcoming it is that the ideas Urobuchi presents us with need deeper exploration, as do the characters who have plenty more to offer. There may be an unshakeable familiarity to the material but the intelligence of the script and unusual upbeat execution of it moe than compensates in delivering a top-notch cyber punk romp.
English, French Language 5.1 DTS:HD MA
Japanese Language DTS:HD MA
English, French Subtitles
Rating – *** ½
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