GKIDS and Cinedigm have been doing a wonderful job of choosing amazing foreign animated films for US distribution for which those of us with mainstream fatigue are incredibly grateful. However, when it comes to Welcome to the Space Show, the words ‘ambitious’, ‘visually stunning’ and ‘scattered’ come paradoxically to mind.
The Film ✮✮1/2
The story follows five kids as they attend summer school where they will be self-reliant for a whole week as they finish summer homework at the local school. Without any adult supervision, and only each other to depend on, they quickly become restless and go in search of the missing class rabbit Pyon-Kichi. In their search, they stumble upon a crop circle and an injured dog whom they take back to the school to nurse him back to health.
As it turns out, the dog is not a dog at all, but an alien from outer space who has come to Earth for research on a certain plant species when he was attacked. In appreciation for having saved his life, Pochi offers the children a trip to the moon, which they of course accept, not knowing that as soon as Pochi submits his research notes, all entries to Earth from the Moon will be closed indefinitely. In desperation, the children and Pochi hatch a plan to earn money while on the Moon in order to purchase tickets to Pochi’s planet where they will be allowed entry back to Earth.
While the premise of the film allows for lots of adventure and thrills, the characters end up feeling a bit forced. Natsuke, the fifth grader who lost Pyon-Kichi in the first place, is cousins with Amane a second grader. Though the film is an ensemble piece, the focus of the story mostly follows their relationship which used to be wonderful, but as the film’s plot develops, it becomes evident that circumstances have gotten in the way. Meanwhile, we get to know all of the other characters in the film: Kiyoshi is the leader of the group and the oldest, Noriko dreams of becoming a pop-star, Koji, Noriko’s younger brother, is fascinated by all things sci-fi, and Pochi the professor-dog alien from Planet Wan.
This cast of characters, under the right circumstances could prove to be anime’s Star Wars cast, if only the plot and length of the film hadn’t gotten in the way. While the film does achieve wonderfully stunning visuals, along with alien and planet inventiveness, getting from plot point to plot point tends to feel a little tedious, and the resolution of the film is somewhat predictable, though the plot twist in the middle does come out of left field.
Bonus Features ✮✮✮
Getting excellent bonus features from foreign animated films is proving to be much more difficult than what we would hope.
- The Making of ‘Welcome to the Space Show’: This bonus feature is not going to be what you think it’s going to be. While it is 90 minute conversation with director Koji Masunari, it is not in your typical documentary style presentation. Instead, it is an episode of a show called ‘The Creator’, where the hosts interview the minds behind some of Japan’s current biggest anime. Though there is quite a bit of typical TV fluff, the golden nuggets within the interview are worth the wait. Along with director Koji Masunari, the hosts also interview Production Designer Okama Noriyuki Zinguzi, Producer Tomonori Ochikoshi and several others.
- From Storyboard to Film: A side by side comparison of the storyboards and the final film. This would be super cool if the two areas showing the animation and storyboards were a bit bigger on our actual viewing screens.
Welcome to the Space Show is definitely a very light, and fun film, though a bit lengthy and airy in the middle. The wonderful animation and documentary are definitely something to look forward to even if the story as a whole is a bit tedious. While I don’t think this film is for everyone, I’d still recommend it to anyone who is looking for a different perspective in animation and story style.
Edited by: Kelly Conley