Origin: Spirits of the Past Review

If first impressions were all that mattered then Origin: Spirits of the Past would probably have been hailed an instant classic. It starts with a breathtaking sequence that shows a forestation project on the moon going horribly wrong, breaking the satellite apart and unleashing an immense power that smites the Earth. Expressed by a montage of stunning images that are edited to an evocative, trippy folk power ballad by KOKIA, this is epic stuff that recalls the impact of the finale of Aronofsky’s The Fountain (which came out after Origin). I just wish I could say the rest of the film matches this! Set hundreds of years after a great apocalypse has left an advanced civilisation in ruins by covering the Earth with a hostile living forest, the human race survives as simple tribesman who live in peace alongside the forest, and a military nation that seeks to destroy it. One day whilst exploring the forest, a boy named Agito stumbled across an old tomb, where he awakes Toola, a member of the advanced race who has been in stasis since the apocalypse. Her awakening creates great unrest among the druids who protect the forest, and earns the attention of the military nation of Ragna, who seek the knowledge she possesses of an ancient technology that could destroy the forest.

If I say that Origins is basically a mix of the Hayao Miyazaki classics: Nausicaa and Laputa with elements of Akira thrown in, then that is putting it very mildly. The plotline is so derivative and shallow that you really can’t equate it to such a spectacularly stylish opening. It’s basically just Miyazaki on steroids, taking his ecological themes and weaving them around an extremely superficial and ultimately empty series of action set pieces. In this way Origin is very aggressively paced, but paradoxically rather dull and the main appeal of the film is in the rather beautiful art design, which itself is partly compromised by the inconsistent hand-drawn animation. Origin was the first feature film from TV animation production house GONZO, who are well known by anime fans for the high production values of their shows. Their approach to narrative has always been sorely lacking and in the past they have ruined Manga serial adaptations by creating their own mediocre plotlines, so perhaps Origin: Spirits of the Past was doomed to mediocrity from the start.

The Disc: Presented in fullscreen 1080p this is a solid transfer from Manga that is let down sorely by the compression. Origin’s colour scheme is rich and expressive, ranging from gentle pastel shades to bright and vividly deep tones that all look lovely and sharply defined on Blu-ray. Image sharpness, brightness and contrast levels tend to fluctuate depending on how each scene has been animated, but for the most part the image is pleasingly sharp and brightness/contrast appear very natural throughout - as do black levels, which also depend on which animation process is in action. Print damage is restricted to just one or two infinitesimal nicks and scratches here and there, and grain is so slight that for most the film you may be fooled into thinking the image is grain free. Now here’s the problem: Origin is not a long film, but the AVC encode on this BD-25 disc averages out to a reasonably low 20Mbps and the compression is pretty atrocious for the HD medium. The transfer is riddled with banding issues that crop up so frequently throughout that they do become an omnipresent annoyance, likewise there’s also too much mosquito noise and chroma noise than should really be expected from Blu-ray. There is a little edge enhancement present at times, but it’s too minor to be a problem.

Audio options are either the original Japanese or an English dub, both in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 which are both extremely loud tracks that may have you fiddling with your volume levels. In general the sound is very pleasing; with perhaps the only obvious weak point being that treble is a little harsh, especially in dialogue (Although the English dub fairs a little better in this department). Sound dynamics are very good, dialogue is a little high in the mix, but as a result it remains very clear and defined. Bass is seriously pounding and could be a tightened up just a fraction, but there’s no denying the action sequences are quite punchy. The opening song by KOKIA is particularly aggressively mixed and forced me to turn the volume down on my amp. There aren’t many Extra Features on the disc, but there is a very good, long Making Of featurette that covers pretty much everything you need to know about Origin and its particularly lengthy production. Nearly ten minutes of TV promos at least provide plenty opportunity to listen to that excellent opening song from KOKIA again and again.

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