Japan’s Gonzo Studio is best known for its anime featuring slick production values and embracing the fusion of traditional 2D animation with 3D CG elements. Gonzo’s prolific output has centered around sci-fi actioners like Kiddy Grade or Yukikaze but has showed a willingness to branch out into genre mashing with the Weimar Republic meets airships of Last Exile or Speed Grapher’s neon decadent near-future monster bash. In its fifteen year production history, somewhat surprisingly, Origin is Gonzo’s first foray in to features.
A technological catastrophe has left the earth in ruins. Communities live in the shadows of fallen skyscrapers gathering and trading water. These communities have an uneasy relationship with the Forest which manages its human tenants through a combination of limiting the release of water and homicidal aggression. When a young boy, Agito discovers and discovers and awakens a young girl Toola, the uneasy detente between the Forest and humankind is in danger of being torn apart.
In an attempt to give their first feature weight, Gonzo has cloaked Origin in themes of import and gravitas: a world attempting to rebuild after a cataclysm, ecological renewal and the danger of repeating the sins of the past. Unfortunately Gonzo has forgotten that these themes have become stock to audiences familiar with the form. So focused on working its way through its thematic checklist, Origin never breaks out of a clockwork shuffle, failing to realize the viewer is already well ahead and becoming less and less engaged as plot points are hit with predictable inevitability.
The characters too fall in line to the metronomic story beats, failing to rise above their indentured servitude to the narrative. The nominated hero, Agito is in turns peppy, adventurous and noble as the story demands. Toola, the volatile agent of change, dutifully maintains her naiveté as she brings the world to the brink of disaster. Only the Forest, personified by two highly malevolent and manipulative sprites, shows the necessary verve to break out the characterization ghetto. Their razor-sharp, Lady Macbeth-like manipulations of humans convey a real otherworldly self-interest.
Where character and plot stumble, Origin achieves real visual momentum through memorable images: an aggressive, sentient forest comes to life in a truly threatening and breathtaking manner, a shattered moon and its halo of rock held in its gravitational field adds the alien sense of a cataclysm lacking elsewhere and the finale achieves a Otomo-esque grandeur. As we have come to expect from high end Gonzo, the art of Origin is stunning.
Seemingly overawed at entering theatres, Gonzo makes the mistake of burdening its first feature under the weight significance, failing to realize that significant themes do not necessarily make an entertaining film. With a plot on auto-pilot and characters that lack heft, Origin ultimately suffers under the burden of familiarity.