by Jef Burnham
Now available in a 3-disc Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack from Funimation Entertainment.
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In TO, director Fumihiko Sori (producer of 2004’s Appleseed, director of Vexille (2007)) delivers two tales of mankind’s distant future, revealing the potential dangers of man’s expansion into outer space— particularly where continued conflict amongst ourselves is involved. In “Elliptical Orbit,” an orbiting space station providing supplies to a colony on the moon comes under assault by terrorists in opposition to the constant supply of provisions to the moon when so many on Earth are starving. And “Symbiotic Orbit” finds humanity, a century later, desperately searching for inhabitable planets in other solar systems as resources in our own are rapidly being depleted; but the search is hindered by each nation’s selfish political motivations.
TO shows all the hallmarks of Sori’s unique style of computer animation. While personally I’m still not completely sold on the style, particularly when it comes to character design, the animation in TO is truly impressive. Some of the OVAs’ characters boast decidedly unrealistic, cartoonish features that are strikingly incongruous with their surroundings, but Sori’s rendering of all things non-human is absolutely fantastic in its attention to detail. The realization of the fungus-covered “symbiotic planet” in particular is nothing short of breath-taking.
Where TO succeeds over Appleseed is in its particular cinematic approach to the computer animated worlds it presents. Appleseed offered an awkward, overly cinematic style characterized by constant camera movement and excessively stylized framing, which has caused many viewers to criticize the film as possessing a video game aesthetic. TO, on the other hand, embodies a far more traditional cinematic approach. To this end, scenes of character interaction are relatively free of the sweeping cinematic techniques Sori justifiably employs to depict spaceships and alien planets.
There are two key areas in which TO fails to impress, however: its soundtrack and length. Providing the score for TO is British DJ, Paul Oakenfold, who had previously composed the soundtrack for Sori’s Vexille. Unfortunately, Oakenfold’s TO score is every bit as bland, predictable, and all-around unimpressive as it was in his previous collaboration with Sori. In addition, both episodes of TO feel tragically underdeveloped at 43 minutes in length (including opening and closing credits). While they are each indeed fine stories in their own right, either of them could have been expanded to accommodate the entirety of TO’s running time and made for a far more rewarding viewing experience by sheer virtue of the added characterization the extension would have afforded the cast.
On the Blu-ray disc included in this release, the 1080p transfer of the HD Native looks incredible, with the sort of crystal-clear image that only computer animation could provide. Additionally, the audio of TO is presented here in suitably dynamic Dolby TrueHD for both the original Japanese audio and the English dub. However, given that the animation of the characters’ mouths was rendered to specifically accommodate the syllables of the Japanese language, the English dub fails to mesh properly with the animation, making the original Japanese the ideal audio track.
Special features on this set include interviews with Sori and voice actors Akio Ohtsuka, Romi Park, Jun Fukuyama, and Aya Hirano; as well as teasers, trailers, promos, and TV spots.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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