No, I don’t think this movie was exactly a hot seller (even by North American anime standards), but it isn’t bad. In fact, one might even say that Oblivion Island is a decent film. If one’s definition of decent is subtly disturbing and strange, that is.
The movie has an innocuous enough premise, one that borders on the clichéd. Haruka is a teen Japanese girl whose mother died of an illness while she was young. She now lives with her father, with whom her relationship is poor. On a particularly bad day Haruka travels to the local shrine, praying that the god Inari will find and return a hand mirror that she received from her mother. She ends up witnessing a tiny “fox” wearing a mask run out and snag her keys instead. Following him, Haruka gets sucked into the mystical world of the foxes.
I write “fox” because these creatures look nothing of the sort. If anything, they resemble a cross between a naked mole rat and a hyena. Okay, that might be a little harsh, but no fox that I’ve ever seen has yellow skin and ears like a jackrabbit.
The other side of the portal that Haruka enters turns out to be bizarre, to say the least. She lands on top of the fox she had been pursuing–a young one named Teo–and proceeds to have a number of adventures. Despite the title of “Oblivion Island,” most of the fox realm seems to resemble a massive cavern made of miscellaneous items collected from the human world. In fact, I can’t really think of a reason why they would insert the word “oblivion” except as an attempt to sound cool. In any case, Haruka follows Teo into the fox city and proceeds to don a very disturbing pig mask to hide her identity as a human.
Obviously the big thing that will stand out to any anime fans is the CGI basis of this movie. CGI has brought us some of the worst anime ever created, and at best it usually avoids attention. I am happy to say that the animation in Oblivion Island is as pleasant as most Pixar movies; it’s bright and doesn’t try to get too detailed. My only big gripe as far as the animation goes is facial expressions. The lips of the human characters don’t move quite as much as they should. The backgrounds are hand-drawn, as far as I can tell, and they look stupendous: a rich assortment of colors and objects that really bring the fox world to life.
The animation does lead to some outright creepy parts, though. I generally liked the diamond-themed Baron, the film’s antagonist, but all of the stuff emblazoned with his face was a bit unsettling. Haruka’s mask also looks like it belongs to a serial killer. Then there are the littler things, like the Edward Scissorhands-like claws on an orchestra conductor in one scene and the way that one of the main characters gets…well, I won’t spoil it.
The film’s plot is nothing spectacular when you get down to it. I was initially attracted to the movie by comparisons that online reviewers had made to Spirited Away, but it lacks the restraint and masterful execution of that film. The moral lessons portrayed are all too obvious. That said, the setting oozes creativity, and I would much rather have a film experimenting with CGI and unusual imagery than another bad harem/shounen/slice-of-life show.
I watched Oblivion Island on one of Funimation’s Blu-ray/DVD bundles. It looks just fine, but one of the latches on the inside of the case broke when I opened it for the second time. The previews offered in the special features section aren’t that great, but I have yet to watch other extras. The dub is hardly spectacular; I would recommend watching in Japanese.