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Monday, 6 April 2015

Expelled From Paradise.


Usually, today would be Kamen Rider Drive, but that's not been subbed yet, so instead that'll be up - well, tomorrow, most likely, but we'll see.


Expelled From Paradise.



Okay, I wasn't massively interested in this, and I probably wouldn't have watched it at all if it weren't for Gen Urobuchi's name attached as screenwriter. The lad doesn't screenwrite a lot - most series that get attributed to him just have him as concept creator, essentially writing up a short synopsis of a series and then letting others do the legwork, but the series that he has written (Kamen Rider Gaim, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Psycho-Pass among others) were all ones I enjoyed.

Expelled From Paradise is set in (and above) a post-apocalyptic earth, devastated from an undisclosed massive event a century prior. While the Earth itself is a vast desert reminiscent of Westerns, above it is DEVA, a high-tech space station where the minds of hundreds of humans are stored in cyberspace, living lives of enjoyment and self-betterment in virtual realities. After a series of hacking attacks on DEVA, Angela Balzac, a security agent, is dispatched to Earth to team up with mercenary Dingo and hunt down the mysterious hacker, Frontier Setter.

I - we'll talk about the writing in a moment, let's briefly talk about the animation and visual design, because I think that might be the most interesting part of this story. It's very nineties, and very deliberately and consciously trying to evoke memories of nineties science-fiction anime. The sci-fi Western setting that the characters spend most of their time in evokes Trigun and Cowboy Bebop in bloody spades, with heavy emphasis on 'Western' instead of 'sci-fi', with characters dressed archaically, using old guns, and wandering around towns built primarily of wood and scrap metal, with the science fiction elements such as robots looking blocky, grimy and generally distinctly low-tech and run-down. 

The animation style itself is even geared towards the comparison, with thicker lines, larger eyes, less detailing on clothes and hair, and a lot of bold and bright colours. It's too smooth and fluid to look like the genuine article, but it's still a passable emulation. 

Sparkly.

Speaking of smooth animation, I daresay it's a little too smooth. Character movement looks unnatural, even boneless at times, as if every movement is a little too fast and flowing and easy. Character's faces are inexpressive, and when the animation does try to make them express emotions, it looks jarring and weird. 

Another unpleasant facet of the animation is the constant, constant sexualisation of Angela. When every third shot is a shot of her breasts or her rear, that's too much sexualisation. Moreover, it doesn't make much sense for the plot: As Angela points out several times, she's from a sterile, sexless culture that doesn't experience any kind of physical pleasure (something which we are emphatically not shown, as our brief view of DEVA suggests that they are very much concerned with the simulation of physical pleasure) - but neither her design, with gigantic amounts of hair and and what is functionally a metal leotard, or the directorial decision to constantly avail itself of the male gaze reflect that. 

This is what people talk about when they talk about ridiculous oversexualisation in television and film: It would fit more with the story and themes if Angela was designed with a very stark utilitarianism in mind, and had her shots drawn to render her in an almost impersonal fashion. There should be a visual contrast between her and the much more colourful, animated, even sensual Dingo, for whom those lingering fanservice shots should be saved. Instead, she's dressed impractically and filmed like a piece of meat in an M&S advert.

Also, she's in a sixteen year old body, and that's really creepy.


So, how's the writing?

Um.

Not great, actually. Pretty terrible, I'd say. 

I don't know how much of that was working with a bad concept, how much of it was juggling executive and directorial commands, and how much of it was just that he did not bring his A game to this gig, but Urobuchi's script is terrible. It somehow manages to have everything people complain about in the average Urobuchi show - too much pontificating on philosophy, characters that often serve more as voice-pieces than people and character development sacrificed to that, set piece battles that don't necessarily make gigantic amounts of sense - magnified ten times over, while still feeling like nothing he's ever written before.

It's just - it's bad. The plot is aimless, the characters lifeless, the pacing sluggish and dull. The film attempts to get some mileage out of themes of DEVA being the Garden of Eden, and Angela being an Adam type figure who is cast out of it, but it almost comically mishandles those themes. Don't get me wrong, the idea of a sci-fi version of 'Adam and Eve are cast out from the garden' thing where the roles of Adam and Eve are genderswapped is an interesting idea with a lot of potential, but Expelled From Paradise blunders about like they don't know what to do with the concept.

For starters, while the Eden story is all about temptation, and the imperfection of man, and various writers have played it as a story about seizing one's own agency, which is an interpretation not intended by the story's original writers but a perfectly valid one from a storytelling perspective. Expelled From Paradise has Angela showing absolutely no desire to escape from either DEVA or the strict boundaries that they set for their citizens, and nearly no agency. When she does eventually get expelled, it isn't due to any kind of rebellion, or really any kind of expression of agency on her part - she attempts to get the input of a higher authority than her direct superiors on an order, something it's suggested is unusual but not disobedient, and said direct superiors shut her down out of fear.

Sigh.

That kind of takes the heart - temptation, imperfection, and personal agency - out of the Eden story, and also makes Angela seem like a very passive, reactive character. 

(Which she is. She does almost nothing in the plot without the direction or coercion of another character, and she barely has a lasting emotional reaction to anything. When she arrives on Earth in a clone body for the first time, something that should be a massive deal, it's just no big thing. When she gets ill, no big thing. When she discovers that her target is an entire benign AI, no big thing. When she's exiled, no big thing.)

Making this even more inexcusable is the fact that this is ground well-trodden by Urobuchi. He has played about with Judeo-Christian mythology and themes of temptation and personal agency often enough by now that he should be able to do it in his sleep.

In general, a pretty poor film, and one I wouldn't recommend at all.

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