Fifteen years after its last contact with our world, a space freighter known as the Flying Dutchman requests permission to dock at a remote moon base. This mysterious ship carries liquid protons: a power source essential to the survival of Earth’s population. But before the precious cargo can be delivered, the base is ambushed by galactic terrorists who seek to destroy the new form of energy and issue a death sentence to all of humanity.
Against a backdrop of intergalactic colonization and bizarre alien life forms, Aon and Elena – star-crossed lovers from rival countries competing for valuable natural resources – struggle to build a life together despite the objections of their superiors. Their budding romance is thwarted by an outbreak of alien fungus and the interference of a cutthroat militaristic madman. To survive, the young couple must maintain their faith in each other and learn to trust the unique creatures which inhabit this strange and wondrous new world.
Science fiction is arguably one of the most diverse genres in visual media, with series like Stargate, Farscape, and Babylon 5 enjoying a fair amount of commercial success. Even more than this, both the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises have become household names, and the impact of these two franchises dwarfs that of more recent shows.
However, while television has enjoyed several successful science fiction franchises, it is anime that has produced more sci fi tales than almost any other medium. From space opera to cyberpunk, from utopian dream to dystopian future, from aliens to mecha, anime has, throughout its history, produced some of
the most iconic and influential science fiction works in visual media (one example of this is the original Ghost in the Shell's influence on The Matrix).
There's one small problem though. While there is a wealth of great sci fi tales in anime, there is one type that has largely been ignored, and that is science fiction in the classical style (i.e. Arthur C Clarke instead of Tengen Toppa). Imagine my surprise then, to find not just one, but two "classic" sci fi tales, and both are TO.
Based on the manga 2001 Ya Monogatari (2001 Nights - a play on "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "1001 Nights"), by Hoshino Yukinobu, the series was originally adapted as an anime in 1987. Unlike the previous iteration though, the story for TO is an adaptation of chapters 12 (Symbiotic Planet), and 14 (Elliptical Orbit), of the manga, with each episode being dedicated solely to that chapter.
The first episode, Elliptical Orbit, is about a giant space station in orbit around the earth. The station is, for want of a better term, a giant gun that "shoots" cargo containers to the moon, but on this particular day there are unexpected visitors.
Episode two, Symbiotic Planet, involves the potential colonization of an alien world upon which a myriad of species of fungi and symbiotic lifeforms grow. Two competing teams of scientists have been sent to study these species before any colonies can settle on the planet.
One of the reasons why I like TO is because there is a very clear focus on the plot and, unlike many recent sci fi offerings, there is no attempt to curry favour with the audience by adding action where none is needed. While each episode does involve some form of combat at times, there is far more relevance placed on the human relationships, and any action is treated as nothing more than a product of the circumstances. In addition to this, the time dilation aspect of Elliptical Orbit is handled rather well, while the romanticism of Symbiotic Planet reminded me of nothing more than Romeo & Juliet.
Unfortunately, while I consider the pacing of each episode to be pretty good, there are those who consider the series to be a little on the slow side, and although I can somewhat understand the perception, the speed and manner in which the plot develops is central to each tale. Given that each episode is an individual story in its own right I found that the pacing works very well, and draws the viewer into the tale in a very firm but gentle manner.
In terms of looks, TO is one of the few anime made completely in CG. While this may not seem like a good choice at first, the use of CG allows for some truly breathtaking scenes, and adds a certain realism to structures like the space station in Elliptical Orbit that normal animation methods simply can't match. In addition to this, the animation is good throughout both episodes, with character movements being particularly notable for their fluidity.
There is, however, one small issue. While TO may look great and have some quality animation, there is a remarakable lack of emotion from the characters. Granted there has been some effort put into facial expressions, but unfortunately this doesn't really work out too well, and in some cases can make a laughing character look psychotic. The sad part of it all is that full 3D animation has successfully managed to provide expressive characters, while CG still seems to be lagging behind in this department.
This lack of expression is, thankfully, not reflected in the acting, a fact which makes the lack of emotion on the character's faces all the more noticeable. Elliptical Orbit features the vocal talents of Paku Romi and Ootsuka Akio in the two lead roles (Maria and Dan), while Symbiotic Planet has Hirano Aya and Fukuyama Jun playing the, pardon the pun, startstruck lovers Elena and Aon. The acting in both episodes is very good, and if the facial animation matched up to the quality each seiyuu displays, TO could have been truly excellent.
As for the sound effects and music, the choregraphy in both departments is not only well executed, but surprisingly detailed, and while every scene is not dependent on atmosphere enhancing music, the tracks that are used are well chosen.
While TO may have many good points in terms of audio and visuals, the same cannot be said of the characters. Elliptical Orbit, for example, really does warrant a more detailed look at the extremely complex relationship between Dan and Maria, in particular because of the time dilation aspect, while the lovers in Symbiotic Planet could really have done with more development and background.
That said, TO is effectively a snapshot in time, and because of this the viewer is only privy to a small glimpse into the character's lives, especially given the running time of each episode. While there are those who wish for a little more in terms of detail and development, if one considers the show as nothing more than a glimpse into someone's life, then the lack of any real growth ceases to be a hindrance to one's appreciation of the anime.
In all honesty, TO managed to surprise me, not just with its quality, but also in the areas it lacked. That said, the stories themselves are both intruiging and engaging, and hark back to the "classic" science fiction of yesteryear. Truth be told, I would recommend this to any sci fi fan as it is a singular example of how good "classic" science fiction can be when modern techniques are used to bring the story to life (unlike the mediocre Lensman movie and series).
Hopefully there will be more shows of this type, especially as Planetes has already proven that "classic" sci fi anime can be very popular.
When I picked TO up, its MAL rating was at 6.75 (and is probably going to get even lower). Daunted by this low score, I didn't know whether to watch it or not.
Thank God I did.
- Art/Animation. Though this show may be 100% CG, it's 100% good CG. The second episode proves that. Save the characters, everything is so beautiful. There's no glitches and mishaps you might see with hand-drawn works.
- Soundtrack. A lot of the time, the show simply pans out to let you soak in the art. And it plays some great background music at the
same time. I usually don't take much note of a show's BGM, but TO really brought it out with minimal dialog and maximal (?) music.
- Sci-Fi. The best sci-fi (except mecha) stories make the technology seem both believable and commonplace. TO accomplishes this. It combines the new, creative ideas of light-speed traveling and planet colonization with the age-old plots of "man waits for woman" and "Romeo and Juliet." The sci-fi puts a fresh new spin on the plots, and the plots make the sci-fi believable. It's a win-win-win combination: the sci-fi is improved, the plots are un-cliched, and the viewers are guaranteed a great show.
- The design of the Bazooka in Episode One. Honestly, that looks like a giant phallic symbol. It looked wrong the moment I saw it, and I couldn't unsee it.
- CG'd characters. The animation only slips up with the characters. Though normal people fidget and move around, most anime don't show that. CG is different - if you don't make a CG character move around, it looks eerily unnatural. However, TO goes overboard, making the characters move around TOO much.
- CG in general. A lot of people claim to be hand-drawn purists, but CG is in just about every anime (except for Miyazaki works). TO just takes it to the next level. I will admit that it took a while for me to get used to the CG, but it wasn't much of a problem after ten minutes or so.
- Physics. A lot of the stuff that happens doesn't follow the laws of physics. People can't change direction in space by swimming. You can't break through a window in a space station that easily.
I guess a lot of people must have dismissed this show as CG crap after watching one minute of it, or brainwashed mecha fans like more action with their sci-fi, because this show is clearly underrated. I suggest you look past the CG and see the true value of TO. You'll be glad you did.
This show felt incredibly awkward. The dialog, the art, and the relationships between the characters.
The first and second episodes share nothing in terms of story. The first episode is about human relationships in space when people age differently. It's been done before(and better) but an interesting idea none-the-less. Instead of pursuing that idea to it's fullest they decide to just throw in one of the lamest generic bad guys I've ever seen. It does have an interesting twist, but it doesn't really justify watching the whole thing.
The second episode is about 2 lovers on an another planet that just happen to belong to
opposing factions. It wants to pose the question of whether it's humans that shape a planet or is it the planet that shapes humans, but it's really just an uninteresting story.
Art: I think the backgrounds were done pretty well, but the characters just didn't look right.
sound: I didn't really have any thoughts about the sound either way
characters: I think they did a really bad job with the characters. The way they interacted felt awkward and I couldn't bring myself to care about any of them.
[b]TO[/b] is really two beautifully illustrated science fiction short stories presented in classic anthology style. Generally speaking, I am a "CGI hater" but [b]TO[/b] is a glimpse of what we can look forward to as the art evolves. It is high budget CGI at its best featuring stunning spacescapes, ships, equipment, and interiors, but as usual, human movement , facial expression, and lip flap leaves a lot to be desired. Human movement does seem a bit more fluid in the [i]Symbiotic Planet[/i] than it does in [i]Elliptical Orbit. [/i]Thankfully the voice acting, even in the English dub, helps make up
Overall, I found [i]Symbiotic Planet[/i] generally more interesting and moving than [i]Elliptical Orbit [/i]but both stories were very worthwhile.
If you are a fan of hard science fiction this is a must see. Granted it has its squishy physics moments but generally it's pretty good. As with most science fiction, there is also some romance, political intrigue, action, and a touch of suspense.
The opening and closing songs didn't do much for me but the overall sound was impressive on good speakers.
For me it really isn't quite a 9 but it is more than an 8. Yes. I liked it that much.