I learned after watching this movie for the first time that it was directed by the same person who did Shinsekai Yori. Not that I necessarily needed to get confirmation on who directed the movie, because almost all of his tricks from SSY are present in Garakowa as well. I won’t go into much detail of exactly what he contributed to this work, since the product has turned out to be as forgettable as it is now, but I do want to touch upon a short, barely 3-minute montage, in a movie that lasts just over an hour, and how that montage did its damnedest to convey the sense of worldliness and global scope that was sorely needed to make its story work.
Make no mistake, even for a short film Garakowa lacks polish. The animation is choppy. The character design doesn’t always stay on model. The writing quality doesn’t quite match the emotional punch that it goes for. The background art borders on photorealistic at times and that clashes real hard with how cartoonish the character design is. One can argue about intent given the subject matter of Garakowa’s story, and I won’t really get into that much since it would take far too long to properly explain the setting of Garakowa, but for the most part, the two things that caught my eye about this film were the backgrounds and the direction. Just look at it.
The story tries to capture something by showing all of these locales, all of these settings, that you usually never see in anime. Waterfalls. Deserts. Igloos. Victorian architecture. These girls explore Earth’s most abundant sources of beauty mostly to make a moral statement: that Earth is beautiful and worth protecting. Even in the face of mankind’s self-destruction and Mother Nature’s wrath, its bounty has no bounds. They go hiking, kayaking, scuba diving, whatever it takes to reach these places. They absorb the local cultures and clothing. They lounge at a pastoral university campus, work part-time in a Japanese convenience store, and go sightseeing in Paris, Greece, and Easter Island. The movie attempts to convey this, and many more things, over the span of three minutes.
This is not enough time. You have to have stakes, actual human conflict, to be able to get the audience invested in these sorts of things, especially when your stakes involve the fate of what seems to be the entire known world and all the beauty that lies hidden. But the movie fails to have a solid foundation before setting off on its own. It’s a diverse, fascinating, even emotionally resonant montage that takes you around the world, but only for three minutes. It teases at all the potential avenues its setting can explore and dissect, but it’s painfully clear that the story it tries to tell falls far short of the scope of its setting.
That’s a shame. I would have wished for an anime directed by Masashi Ishihama to fare better than what Garakowa turned out to be. I want to believe that there is something, anything, to recommend this movie for aside from very specific aspects like the background art and the direction, but unfortunately that all I can really compliment the work on. The rest of the production simply does not hold up as a cinematic piece, or even as a TV anime.That’s how crushingly disappointing this film was to watch. I resent that this is a fact. It means that this work will be forgotten and these screenshots I hold now will perhaps survive as the only relevant pieces of information when it comes to talking about Ishihama’s talent as a director. I wish for what could have been.
But something that’s just not what happened. Garakowa is a bad film. Nothing about it holds water by any reasonable standard of media. It’s beautiful at times, yes, and sometimes it does interesting things, but those things alone do not a good movie make. You have to have a good script. You need internal consistency. You need to have talented animators that can actually convey the story that Garakowa tried so hard to be. The fact that I still remember that this thing exists is amazing, for as far as I know it has already been forgotten within the year.
Still though, I’m allowed to cling to it, even for something as trivial as pretty pictures and cool camerawork. Even if this film wasn’t the kind of spectacle I wanted it to be, it at least made it painfully aware that I crave a good version of this film. Something that takes these wonderful, creative settings and locales, and makes something worth a damn. I’ll wait for that for as long as I want.
- Garakowa: Restore the World has an official release by Pony Canyon if you’re interested in checking it out for yourself, but I’d rather that you find some file online and looking at the pretty pictures before subjecting yourself to the atrocity that is the rest of this film’s qualities. And even then, I feel that only Ishihama fans will appreciate what this film offers.