by Kerrie Hui, Reporter
It’s been almost two years since I’ve watched my last anime, but if there were a single thing that I could bet my money on when watching an anime film, it would be stunning and detailed visual settings alongside sweeping emotional music; and Children Who Chase Lost Voices, directed by Makoto Shinkai, is no different. From the get-go you are shown far-reaching, colorful and mountainous views of a small town in rural Japan, as the presumed protagonist races through it to return to her empty home (a lot of running seems to happen throughout the film).
The young female character that we have been following thus far is later introduced as Asuna, a teenager who spends her free time after school listening to her blue crystal radio (the crystal component being a memento left to her from her deceased father) in the mountains near her home. One day, whilst on her way to the mountain, she encounters an otherworldly bear-like monster and is saved by a mysterious stranger, named Shun, who defeats this beast (rather reluctantly) with a similar blue crystal. This causes some secretive government agents to come and investigate the scene.
Asuna and Shun strike up a friendship in the short amount of time they are together, where Asuna relishes in Shun’s story of his home, Agartha. The next day, Asuna’s new teacher, Morisaki, describes Agartha as the mythological Underworld hidden deep in the Earth, a place where the Gods retreated to after humanity began to grow, and where one can make a request of these Gods to revive a loved one back from the dead (preferably not as a zombie). Enthralled by this tale and of her new friend Shun, Asuna seeks out Morisaki for more information relating to Agartha; we learn that the entrance to Agartha is protected by gatekeepers, fearsome creatures such as the otherworldly bear that Asuna encountered previously. When she returns home, Asuna’s mother reveals that a boy’s body was found, which unfortunately turns out to be Shun. Saddened by this news, she races up to the mountains in denial, searching for him.
Asuna discovers Shin, Shun’s identical brother, on a mission to retrieve Shun’s blue crystal in the mountains. They are then surrounded by the Arch Angel, a clandestine group who seeks to discover Agartha for its knowledge and wealth. The two escape under gunfire, Shin leading them underground towards the Gateway to Agartha. The blue crystal, named the Clavis, turns out to be a key to the Underworld that also serves to grant safe passage free from any attacks from the gatekeepers. As they near the entrance, a gatekeeper in the form of an extinct whale (whose senses have been dulled through years of exposure to the the pollution on Earth) fails to identify the Clavis and attacks Shin and Asuna. Shin hands Asuna Shun’s Clavis for safekeeping as he tries to defeat the gatekeeper, but is outmatched. The Arch Angel (whom have apparently been following them this whole time) arrive to save them, slaying the whale-beast in the process. The commander of the Arch Angel soldiers takes Asuna hostage and threatens them at gunpoint for the Clavis. Asuna, under Shin’s instruction, opens the gateway into Agartha and enters the mysterious world with the commander, who turns out to be Morisaki (Asuna’s previously mentioned teacher). Once inside the gateway into Agartha, Morisaki ends up turning his gun back on the other Arch Angel soldiers in the hopes of entering Agartha only for himself: his only reason in joining them was to revive his deceased wife. The gateway closes with Shin being able to stealthily sneak back in to Agartha.
When Shin tells her that she could return to the surface by simply walking back through the gateway, Asuna chooses instead to join Morisaki in traversing through Agartha in hopes of reviving Shun. Shin, now reporting back to the Council of Elders of Agartha, is reprimanded by them for failing to identify Asuna’s blue crystal as a Clavis itself and also for allowing these strangers to wander the Underworld alone. He is ordered to track them down and confiscate Asuna’s Clavis. Meanwhile, Morisaki and Asuna continue to journey through Agartha with a goal to retrieve their loved ones, unknown to them that Shin is tasked to hunt them down in this mysterious land…
I have to say, it took the film a while to establish its setting and characters before it started getting interesting, which may put some viewers off as it is a lengthy, 116 minute film. However, this serves to provide you with a more comprehensive and well-written story, and overall an extremely aesthetically pleasing piece, which at some points completely captivated me and made my jaw drop in awe. Some may find Asuna rather annoying (I know that I did a bit), but it reflects how well her character is written as a typical everyday and believable teenage girl and not as a stereotypical strong feminine protagonist, which may be irksome to some audiences.
Australian residents currently have the opportunity to see this film on the big screen along with three others as part of the Reel Anime 2012 festival, which is currently showing in various cinemas around the country for a strictly limited run until September 26. If you want to check out what cinemas near you are hosting this festival head to www.reelanime.com to find out the details.
ComicsOnline gives Children Who Chase Lost Voices 3.5 out of 5 blue crystals.
Keep leading your band of merry mercenaries toward ComicsOnline.com for more anime reviews, news and everything geek pop culture!