Alice, the youngest person ever to be sent into space, is the only survivor when her flight crashes back to earth. Not only is she the only survivor, but she learns that she has been mysteriously catapulted 30 years to the future, where a mysterious dictator known as Nero rules the world with and iron fist and has sent his soldiers to capture, or kill her.
Since the introduction of Computer Generated effects to the world of entertainment, its utilization has been controversial to say the least. Many are quick to complain about the overuse of it in film and television, especially so in the fields of animation. While the majority of potential issues have subisded in western fields, anime still lays burdened with a negative reputation for CG. Using 3D CG in your standard anime can be jarring to say the least, with very sparse examples of it coming out looking good. And when it comes to full CG shows, the shear existence of the 2016 Berserk points to the
biggest argument against.
Despite that, full CG titles have been receiving some positivity as of late (Berserk notwithstanding). Shows like Ajin: Demi Human have seen popularity in spite of the criticism directed at the visual aspects, and the film adaptation of Blame actually looks good visual and word of mouth seems to reflect that. Placing these titles besides their 2D counterparts may elicit preference to the hand-drawn standard, but CG is here to stay in anime, like it or not. Quite a fast development too, given a straight CG anime wouldn’t seem feasible 10-15 years ago. That thought, however, is incorrect as it ignores the title that may just have been the reason we haven't seen 100% CG anime until recently. Hyperbolic, maybe. But it is applied to a title well deserving of such a dubious honor.
It was the year 2000 where we were “graced” by a little film called A.Li.Ce (henceforth referred as simply ALICE). The first ever 100 percent CG anime, ALICE seemed like quite the ambitious project. One would think a straight CG film would be absurd, yet similar sentiments were also directed at the smash success that was Toy Story nary five years prior. If American CG films can reach astronomical levels of success, why too can’t one from Japan. The absolute lack of anyone talking about or even footage on YouTube or even KissAnime should speak to how well that went. But make no mistake: ALICE is not simply a failure on terms of computer generated animation. Rather, it is a failure on nearly every conceivable level, making this one of the most aggravating watches that can be had from any anime, regardless of dimension.
The story (to briefly expand upon the short summary on this site) focuses on the titular main character, the youngest person to fly into space. Due to spoiler-filled events, she is thrust 30 years from her present and into a dystopian future ruled by a dictator named Nero and his supercomputer, the SS10X. Allying herself with the young man who rescued her and a reprogrammed stewardess robot from her ill-fated flight, Alice must not only find a way back to her time, but contend with both Nero and a shadowy “Liberation” army.
Right off the bat, ALICE stumbles based on the fact that time travel is involved. Not to put a damper on up and coming writers who want to use time travel, but it’s a difficult topic to do well, with it even being debatable if it ever has been done well. A strong writer is required for something like this; unfortunately all ALICE got was the writer of the live action Video Girl Ai film. With such a shift in genre, it’s no surprise the plot is a trainwreck. The film is awkwardly structured, with scenes constantly coming and going with nary a feeling from the audience. The time travel aspect itself makes no sense upon learning how it fits into the story proper. Attempts at dramatic moments or shocking twists fall short of the basic level of quality, seeming like they were pulled simply as an effort to keep attention on the film and away from anything that would be more worth someone's time.
World Building is also a complete non-entity; you’d think a dystopian movie would spend time establishing how shit everything is, and it’s clear ALICE tries to do that. Its failure comes from how boring the setting as a whole is. Nearly all the main locations are in some snowy area and there’s only like 4 areas visited in the entire story. Futuristic technologies are limited to generic looking computers and the dumbest looking transporting vehicle ever put to film. Imagine a jet-ski awkwardly propped up on a single ski, and then imagine it making extremely sharp looking turns. It’s absolutely idiotic. Worse yet, there is little to no scenes designed to show the world's impact on people on the characters. The closest gotten is a character talking about how his entire village vanished, but it’s hampered how it doesn’t seem to impact him in the story at large and that he’s the only example of a character being affected by this future. Aside from him, none of the major characters seem overtly inconvenienced by the setting, and the only negative implications given are simply told instead of conveyed through behavior or character interactions. Dystopian stories thrive on showing how worse off humanity would be in these dangerous settings, with anime like Psycho-Pass and Attack on Titan doing just that to great effects, showcasing multiple people affected by their unique settings and sucking the viewer into the hellholes they create. ALICE, reversly, makes no effort to build the world it has and still expects the viewer to be attempts to prove itself end up failing at even the basics of crafting an engrossing setting.
More than anything, however, ALICE has no clear idea of what it wants to be. At first it seems to be a straightforward sci-fi adventure type story, but then gets completely bogged down by superfluous nonsense that only seeks to drag it further. Alice names the stewardess bot “Maria” because she reminds her of the Virgin Mary (or, as it’s called here, Mother Maria). It comes completely out of nowhere and is never addressed again, being the only religious thing in the whole movie. Then there’s a bit about hacking into Nero’s supercomputer that is just kind of dumb to watch before it’s unceremoniously thrown to the wayside. Undoubtedly the worst is a out of nowhere and pretty ham fisted environmental message that, without spoiling too much, is briefly brought up at the start before vanishing until near the ending, where it randomly takes center stage in an hair-tearing final act. And even that vanishes once again to have the ending randomly have some message about living for the person you love. There’s just no consistency to be found. Everything is filled with potentially good concepts, but it’s all destroyed by lacking focus and choosing to put its efforts in less important scenes.
On a similar level, the film fails completely to endear us to any of the characters. There are scenes that attempt to connect us or make us like these people, but they don’t work because they don’t let us truly “know” them. For such a small cast, none of them are fleshed out in any meaningful way. Characters don’t have to be the most insanely fleshed out or realistic to be engaging. They just have to be enjoyable to watch in some way, shape or form. ALICE doesn’t even get that far, as the characters can hardly be described using basic adjectives. Our title character is the greatest offender, basically having no definable personality to speak of despite being the crux of the stories key moments. But maybe that’s because she has to play off all the other dull people who inhabit this lifeless world. Most of them get one scene of “backstory” (such as the previously mentioned “village disappearing” scene) but that seems like they were plastered on upon realization there’s nothing to connect to. A tragic backstory does not make a good character, and ALICE has basically no truly memorable character. The closest it gets is Nicholai, the leader of the Liberation army, but that’s only because he has the same voice as Gendo Ikari and he’s kind of hamming it up. But when the only memorable character is only so because of his voice actor, there’s clearly something wrong. Character dialogue is also absolutely bland and uninteresting. There’s stilted and awkward lines aplenty, though on the whole it’s less aggravating than it is boring.
And now we arrive to the elephant in the room: the animation. Looking at anime databases grants no information to the film’s budget, and to be frank it shows. This is absolutely horrid to look at. All the characters act stiff and movement is jumpy. Backgrounds either look flat and untextured or pixely and boring to look at. Attempts at thrilling action are hampered by how unnatural it all moves. Occasional moments of slow motion are especially ridiculous to behold. It’s not like Japan was incapable of producing good looking CG at this time; the Final Fantasy games on Playstation were proof enough of that. Yet ALICE moves consistently like complete trash. There does exist an exception in the opening scene which actually is somewhat well animated, but even there it’s still below average.
Even taking away the actual animation part, the designs of the characters themselves are unappealing. Alice’s head is bulbous like she has some sort of swelling and Nero’s soldiers look like they were all the same model copy-pasted god knows how many times. Worst of all is Maria, as the film repeatedly attempts to have her be “sexy” to some degree, which utterly fails not only because of how poorly modeled she is, but also that her design as a whole isn’t even attractive in the slightest. It’s like someone took a Bratz doll, shrank the eyes, and decked it out like a neon lit garbage truck. Everyone else looks bland and lifeless, which, while fitting to the film, doesn’t earn it points. And for the first 100% CG film, it’s an utter disaster at showcasing the technology.
The music,honestly, isn’t even that bad. Unfortunately, it’s all kind of a big non-entity, barely leaving any impact that could have been had. There legitimately isn’t anything to discuss with it; it’s okay, but that’s all it is. It’s composer has this as his only credit for any anime, and while he has done other work, it’s not too well known. Still, it’s probably better than the film deserves.
This leads to the only actually kind of good thing about ALICE: the voice acting. The Japanese acting, at least. This film has an impressive seiyu lineup, including the likes of Ryo Horikawa (Vegeta) as Nero and the aforementioned Fumihiko Tachiki as Nicholai. Alice herself is voiced by Kaori Shimizu, who actually does a semi-decent job of portraying her character through the blase-ness of her dialogue. Everyone does, honestly, in spite of the poor material to work with. Truthfully, it’s kind of a shame to have such memorable seiyu talent be woefully underutilized. Imagine what could’ve been done with a competent script; alas, one can only dream.
Oddly enough, there actually exists an english dub, but you wouldn’t know it from doing research. No cast listings exist on Anime News Network and there isn’t a list in the english credits. This is strange, but maybe it was for the best as this is one of the most bafflingly amateurish dubs ever recorded. Everyone sounds somewhat confused and volume for everyone speaking volume fluctuate between characters. The absolute worst would probably be Nicholai’s english voice, which is so far less deep and imposing compared to Tachiki’s take that it’s embarrassing. The company that produced the dub and released this film, ArtsMagic, has had only 3 other releases, and it’s clear that both the staff and the actors themselves had little to no experience with acting or sound mixing. It somehow makes an already terrible experience that much more draining. If one had any inclination of tracking down a DVD and watching this, avoid the dub at all costs.
Its efforts and goal of historical may have been sky high, but ALICE fails in every potential way imaginable. As a story, it’s inconsistent, stupid, and poorly pieced together. Its characters hardly even have character. The only things kind of decent about it is the seiyu talent, and the fact that it’s not worth getting that upset about. It even fails as a showcase of 3D technology, as everything is so poorly put together it probably scared potential investors and animators off of creating something fully CG. Nowadays, that sentiment has changed and as far as can be told straight CG shows have gotten consistently better reception. But ALICE will forever stand as the absolute lowest that this type of animation can sink to, and should only be seen if you’re interested in the history of CG in Japan. Aside from that, there is seriously no reason to watch this quote unquote “film”. As a result, it lands quite comfortably at a 2/10.
For every “hidden gem” anime you might there’s bound to be 10 or 50 or 100 more that were buried behind the piles of trash for your own good.
A-Li-Ce is obviously one of those. Being an example of early 3D anime made in 1999 it’s hard to expect much but even with that in mind the movie looks like a mediocre PS1 cutscene. Most of the environments are pretty bland and unimaginative, varying from bare bones landscapes and rooms that look like they were someone’s first assignment in 3D software. Outside of obvious technological handicaps like low res textures, low poly models and unsophisticated effects
the animators also managed to generate some of the ugliest faces I’ve seen in a while. All the characters look like emotionless robots that on occasion glitch out to try and spook you with some stupidly exaggerated emotions.
Presentation issues don’t end on bad visuals either. When it comes to sound the movie is just as much of a mess. Mixing on the voices is messed up in places which occasionally made japanese VAs very hard to hear. The english dub has some weird volume spikes too on top of just being terrible. Other than that there’s a lot of gripes to be had with the general sound effects. More of often than not the actions on screen are not a great match with their sound with some examples being far more egregious that others. There’s a scene where soldiers cut a hole through a thick glass with lasers and push it in so naturally the movie makes a glass breaking sound yet the glass is just one big slab that awkwardly moves out of its place. Whenever people shoot I’m having a hard time deciding whether they’re shooting bullets or lasers cause the projectiles they shoot out are large spears of light while the guns make both the “pew” of a laser gun alongside clicking of the traditional rifle you might see today. I’m leaning towards bullets though cause whenever enemies in metal armor got shot there was a sound that’s normally used for two blades clashing.
That’s pretty much it for the sound, when it comes to music all I can say is that I hope you like cheesy late 90s techno.
The story itself is a gigantic clusterfuck that only gets worse as it goes on and ends on a comically terrible screw-up that writers seem to have either ignored or overlooked.
What follows is a massive story spoiler, if you just want a spoiler free assessment of it here you go - it’s ass.
The story revolves around time travel. Out main character is Japan’s #1 idol as well as an astronaut who’s yanked out her timeline in 2000 into post-apocalypse of 2030 where a AI killed off most of humans to make the sky more blue (literally). The world is split between two factions, Nero who rules the world with his overclocked PC and liberation army who invested a time machine to hack him. In the harsh world of 2030 she meets one of the worst 3D models in this movie who’s a guy living by himself and a pleasure model android (that also has guns and shit). Together they set out on a thrilling adventure where more and more details unveil until it’s so ridiculous you start wondering if they made the CG first and retrofit a story into it later.
As it turns out Nero is Alice’s kid who grew up without a mother but used her comatose body to power up his top of the line gamer rig just so that he could know what she’s like as a person. It leads to him peering into Alice’s memory and finding out about her friend who killed herself (I think) cause the world is so screwed and polluted (yet it looks pretty normal). This in turn led to trimming world’s population down to 1 billion so that ecosystem could recover (yet everything looks like shit). Liberation army on the other hand tries to break Nero’s battlestation and put him in jail forever for being an asshole.
Roughly in the middle of the movie some merc from Lib army captures Alice and her friends so they strap her in mindhack machine and tell her to penetrate Nero’s cyberspace since she’s the only one who can do it due to having the same brain patterns as her future self. It all goes as planned until the previously useless dude breaks out alongside his pleasure model android and free Alice from the machine. They then all set off for the fortress where Lib army got decimated after cancellation of the hack.
Nero exchanges a few words with his 16 year old mom until leader of lib army shows up and tells everyone how they’re stupid and he will be a god after shooting Nero’s computer. He succeeds and everything explodes but dies in the process. Everyone escapes and our heroes split up as Alice hops in the shuttle with a time machine to go back to the past to fix this whole mess. However we still get a glimpse of what happens to other characters after tower explodes and since nothing changes it’s same to say that either they did a major screw up when it comes to establishing time travel or Alice somehow managed perfectly recreate the events that led to the world going to shit.
I’m sorry for pretty much writing out the plot but come on, who the hell is actually gonna bother watching this?
The movie is just flat out crap. It might sound like it fits into “so bad it’s good category” but the moments where it dips from mediocrity into hilarious awfulness are not nearly common enough for that.
There's hate, and then there's the white hot, seething hatred anime fans have for CGI anime. Look, none's denying there have been some atrocious missteps in the past when it comes to CG in anime, but it can be done right!