Obata Yousuke lives on Pagopago in the Fiji archipelago with his father Tetsuo, a specialist in oceanographic biology. After a storm strikes the island, Yousuke rides to the lagoon with his Jet Ski and finds a strange baby dinosaur there. He takes it to his father's laboratory and names it Coo.
Coo grows and seems to be a large marine reptile (a baby plesiosaur) which lived there some 65 million years ago. But Coo soon becomes an object of interest for the French secret service, assigned to protect the nuclear interests of France in that otherwise peaceful part of the world.
Coo of the Far Seas is an interesting animated family movie. Yusuke is a boy living with his marine-biologist father Tetsuro on the isolated Pago-Pago island in Fiji. Only with the consent of the native chief can they happily live here, with beautiful surrounds, their dog Cousteau, friends, pet dolphins Blue and White Chip- a really awful place. Once we get to meet Yusuke and his family, including the realisation that his mother died when he was four, the eponymous character arrives in Yusuke's life. Coo is a plesiosaur who is born from his mothers carcass, and Yusuke just happens to find him as a
newborn, adopt him, care for him, and start to idolise him as part of his life. However, the existence of a Plesiosaur is bad news for a certain French company, who wish to eradicate all evidence so they can conduct nuclear tests in the pacific islands without having to react over complaints of protecting the environment and unique biodiversity.
Coo was the highest grossing animated film for the year 1993 in Japan. It was received well by Japanese critics. Coo even secured a place in the pre-eminent Japanese film societies Kinema Jumpo top 200. The book that Coo was adapted from won the auspicious Naoki prize. Yet for non-Japanese viewers the acclaim has been almost silent. The construction of the book, reminiscent of a Mishima, is uniquely designed to appeal to Japanese viewers through the use of personalised politics- some of which is blatantly racist and escapist. As such in the West Coo is practically unknown even though it did cause major waves in its home country.
Coo begins and end as a family film. The narrative is developed in a similar pattern to Miyazaki's work, and integrates many of the same themes. However, as the film develops, the contrasts become stark. Miyazaki's films have been from the outset concerned with the protection of environment, even developing Shintoistic concerns. Coo obviously deals similarly with the idea of environment. But where Miyazaki's statement is refined and mostly tasteful, told in the usage of metaphors and synecdoche, in opposition Coo has the subtlety of a jackhammer and the sophistication of an angry gorilla. Utilising mercenaries who wish to destroy the earth, and a female activist soldier who wishes to protect Coo and the environment, the message Coo tells could not be more simplified. And whereas the outcome of a Miyazaki is predictable but takes a meandering path that is sure to tease out the ethics of the situation, Coo also has an infinitely cliched ending where a pod of Plesiosaurs save Coo and subdue the evil French-men.
Further dis-uniting the comparison is the usage of a male protagonist. Yusuke is resourceful, strong, but also susceptible to melancholy from unfortunate events, just like a Ghibli heroine. Yet the very substrate of the film changes. The absence of a mother creates a male-dominated environment in the home unit. Cousteau, Blue Chip, and Coo are also males. The only female of import in Coo is an invasive green activist, who threatens the ideology and security of Yusuke and Tatsuro's home. The art style may stand out to many viewers as looking particularly like an art style used in 'bara' 'yaoi' 'boy's love' or 'shotacon' manga, and this would not be wrong. Coo actually started a precipitous uptake in the usage of such an art style in these genre's- the sexualisation of Yusuke and Tatsuro as males became stated from the lack of a female presence in the film combined with its popularity.
The predominance of males is one step in the direction of attuning Coo to a Japanese domestic market politically. To shortly list some of the other examples of this politicising in Coo would be the very presence of Tatsuro and Yusuke in Fiji. The pacific islands is seen as an extension of the Japanese kingdom in some aspects, certainly within the sphere of influence, yet the portrayal of islanders in Coo never goes beyond the somewhat negative attributes of being lazy, of being respectful of females, of having little bureaucracy, of having little civility, of relying on external business forces to live, being fat, and portrayed as being excessively dark skinned. This is a very myopic view of the pacific islands to say the least. Another example is that of the negative forces in Coo. They are French, and they wish to enact nuclear testing. This is a loaded topic to say the least, and lumping blame on the French, and having the defenders of Coo and the environment as being Japanese (notably not the locals), is another step towards promoting the dominance and ethical superiority of the Yamato peoples.
While Coo is weighted down by a marred inclusion of politics, and a very obvious and cliched ecologically-themed narrative, there is also a reason why it was a success. Adding to the merits of Coo is excellent animation, some interesting plot devices such as highly resourceful actions taken by Tetsuro and the green activist (in military defence), a pretty good soundtrack, and naturalistic development. By naturalistic, I mean the flow from scene to scene is logical and paced well, something often absent of modern Japanese animation. There are a few plot holes that is caused by this adoption of naturalistic development, but this is to be expected. The reason for this naturalistic development is most likely that Coo is an adaptation of a novel.
The animation is as stated excellent. There are many scenes of sea animals and movement within environments in Coo, and each is masterfully done. There is very little to criticise technically for Coo. The colours and portrayal of the pacific islands is also simply beautiful. The depiction stays idyllic, and is a power tool for making the audience appreciate the value of the earth that becomes key in Coo. Character designs stay extremely consistent throughout, though as mentioned it does to a contemporary audience look like character designs found in homosexual manga. It is important to remember it was a progenitor of the now-popular style, so if anything this is a strength in Coo, though in trade-off the character designs of females stay unimpressive throughout.
Overall Coo is just really interesting. It's exciting to try and figure out what caused its huge and enduring popularity in Japan. And to wonder at the extreme similarities Coo holds to some Western media such as Lilo and Stitch. It is a well produced anime, so it's easy on the eyes and ears. But there are a few things in Coo that is simply hilarious or distasteful. The very blatant politics on display in Coo is usually nothing but tiring, and the environmental theme in Coo is reiterated enough times to be solely annoying. Nevertheless it is an enjoyable watch. The feeling one walks away with is Coo might very well be the sort of anime you would get if Al Gore and Julian Assange were Japanese and collaborated on producing a movie.