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Friday, 06 May 2011 10:54
Asylum SessionThe first in a trio of short films that Anime Network began streaming in April 2011 (reviews of the other two coming soon), Asylum Session is one of those shows that sounds great when you see the description - and then completely fails to live up to the expectations it gives...

In a bleak and distant future, the last hope of tomorrow’s dreamers is a place they call the Asylum. In a world where civilization has run its course, where the mechanics of society have failed, a chosen few are still born with the ability to dream. Forced to run when her father blocks her visions of becoming an artist, Hiyoko finds herself drawn into a strange tent city set up in the ruins of an abandoned stadium, a place the residents call The Asylum. It is in this shadow community, were she meets other gifted youth, including the mysterious Akira, that she finds herself and her purpose. When profiteering officials and police plot to tear the Asylum down, destroying their last sanctuary, Hiyoko and the other refuges choose to fight back rather than flee. But rather than resort to weapons, their unexpected challenge is to create a street festival, using art and culture to win the hearts of the people: a festival they call the Asylum Session...

HiyokoAkira

That summary is the "official" one from TAN's website. Such summaries are how you get an initial impression of a show, and decide on whether you even want to watch it or not, so it's important that they accurately reflect what you're going to see, otherwise confusion and disappointment soon follow. Look at that description: "In a bleak and distant future", "a world where civilization has run its course, where the mechanics of society have failed". That sounds to me like the world of Ergo Proxy, or maybe Desert Punk if you're feeling a bit more humourous, and I'm all for shows with that sort of setting. Get a few minutes into Asylum Session, though, and you have lead girl Hiyoko in a normal school, in a normal-looking big city, wearing clothes and using technology that all seem pretty familiar from what we'd use today. The only thing that could possibly be considered as indicative of a "failed society" is the large group of squatters that's taken over a sports stadium in the centre of the city - and that's where you find the titular Asylum.

So the movie fails at the first hurdle, of building up a set of expectations and then failing to live up to them. I'm not sure if that's down to the promotional copyrighters at TAN / Sentai Filmworks, or they've just adapted Japanese promotional material, but it's a bit of a major cock-up in my mind.

But that's no real fault of the movie itself, so we'll move quickly onwards - although it has to be said that there's not much of an improvement here. Hiyoko's life, it has to be said, is rather sucky - the movie opens on her birthday, but her father can't even be bothered come home to mark it. Her mother is nowhere to be seen, and while Hiyoko would like to follow in her footsteps and become an artist, her father is dead-set against that and taking steps to make sure that she never get the chance to follow her dreams. It's that that eentually forces her to run away from home, wandering the streets before eventually finding her way to the Asylum. There she meets Akira, a rather opinionated, violent boy with the unusual ability to fly, and Miyonhi, who takes Hiyoko under her wing and teaches her how the Asylum works.

The first thing that strikes you is the movie's animation style, which is downright ugly - characters are not remotely easy on the eye, and the CG animation feel (similar to the recent Appleseed movies) doesn't help matters. There's also a heavy emphasis on night-time or low-light scene which leaves the background dark and lifeless, and placing unappealing character designs against that, with nothing to distract the eye elsewhere, make the movie actually quite hard to watch.

The story, such as it as, also doesn't do much. At its heart the idea is simple: the residents of the Asylum are fighting back against their impending eviction with a cultural festival, based on "Rockfest - a legend from thousands of years ago!", as the Asylum's Elder puts it. I suspect we're supposed to draw comparisons with Woodstock there. But the way it goes about it, with tough-guy Akira providing a counterpoint by arguing for a violent response, just didn't manage to draw me in. I couldn't care for any of the charactes, the pacing around planning the festival was too slow, the disappointment at not getting that "end of the world" feeling that the promotional blurb dangled in from of me was too great, that about two-thirds of the way through the movie I conceded defeat and gave up. If the movie improved markedly in the last third then I didn't get to see it - but I seriously doubt that it did.

Ultimately, then, a huge disappointment, and a movie that I can't recommend.

Anime Network streams are region-locked to US users only. The usual workarounds apply, or you can buy the movie on DVD from Sentai Filmworks.


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