A future where the continuity of history has broken off, a world of enormous ruins that continues endlessly. Oceans and continents have vanished, existing only within the archives brought up from the remains. Ura works in the Archive Excavation Department, which restores and analyzes the data left behind. One day, he finds a disturbing visual record...
Pale Cocoon tells the story of a post-apocalyptic Earth as observed by two humans, a man and a woman. They are involved in the extraction and cleaning of digital archives left by humans many years before. They include all types of media, pictures of Earth, newspaper clippings, video... the works. They are to a certain extent futuristic archaeologists. The story follows them as they hope to unravel Earth's history. Although short, as one off OVA, it doesn't feel like it is short. If that makes any sense. The plot is nicely developed and reaches an interesting conclusion.
The animation and direction for Pale Cocoon is
absolutely amazing. I found myself getting lost in the amazing visuals and rewinding to where I was previously. It is meld between 3-D backdrops and traditional 2-D characters. This was pulled off spectacularly and as I said before, looks "absolutely amazing". The "camera" is used in a very realistic manner and often pulls back to give a sense of grand scale and is some of the best cinematography I have seen in an anime.
The musical score is phenomenal. With piano piece accompanied with a limited orchestra, the music does an outstanding job of accurately conveying the mood. The insert song is fantastic and played at exactly the right time. Overall it is some of the best music I have heard in a short anime.
The characters, who I don't think we ever learn the names of (I have a poor memory for names), are nicely fleshed out over this short story. The male lead is voiced very well and is very believable. He is very serious about his job and is eager to learn the truth about Earth. The female lead is always a little side-tracked and is beginning to lose interest in the project. She is very interested in a particular, for lack of a better word, shaft. This stairwell has a special place for her...
Overall I really enjoyed Pale Cocoon, and although it was short at just over twenty-two minutes it didn't feel like anything was left out. It comes to a very satisfying conclusion and is a must watch for any anime fan.
This OVA will undoubtedly get much praise from people too quick to let the animation convince them they've witnessed something groundbreaking, when in reality, much like what occurs in the story itself, they've allowed themselves to be bamboozled by what's in front of their faces while ignoring what's behind it all.
Swinging your camera around like a 15 year old who just discovered editing software doesn't really impress. The director's immaturity behind the camera shows itself via his lack of restraint. Animation junkies, the kind of people who prioritize pretty visuals over substance and story wont notice or care.
The story was imaginative and with
a slowly expanding scope that reaches a resounding climax, but this OVA loses points for the use of voice over which is not only one of the laziest devices used in screenwriting but also just irritating to listen to as well. It takes a master to convey a story with only necessary dialogue, it takes a generic director to explain everything through voice over.
So to sum up: an interesting premise populated by nonentities plucked from the Anime 101 playbook and directed by a Makoto Shinkai wannabe trying too hard to impress.
“In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.”
The audience opens their eyes to a set of wrought iron stairs, coiling about a brilliant pillar of golden light. It illuminates the dreary recesses of this world, the rusting iron, the sluggish gait of the excavators leaving their cubicles. This is the fate of mankind, stuffed into the interiors of the planet because the surface has rotted away from overpopulation. At least it’s not global warming that dooms us, Pale Cacoon predicts it’s a lack of protection.
My fascination was pulled into the dank crypt of Ura and Riko, the two leads, as Pale Cocoon toys with many concepts. Environmentalism and population pollution are obvious themes but only scratch the surface. More interestingly, the narrative asks whether the past is on any use when there is no escape from your present? The theme is expanded as the characters are asked to question their reality and prove to themselves the sky of once-upon-a-time is truly gone. It’s ambitious, aiming for annals of philosophical abstraction even with its twenty-three minute scope. It’s grand but it has a humble foundation; Most of the story is driven by the interaction of Ura and Riko and their diverging opinions on the archaeology of history. Their friendship is both unnatural and snug, a love-hate push and pull that’s intriguing and advances the plot. It’s the small nuances of this relationship that make Pale Cocoon a moving experience, and the revelations of the final minutes that make it phenomenal.
Dilapidated never looked so pretty. Seamlessly integrated CGI and artwork come together to form a visual masterpiece. Lines are clear and crisp, serving as frames for the cell shaded images. These set pieces are filled in with an appropriately post-apocalyptic palette. Soiled browns and sooty grays swathed in the pale light of computer screens. Swashes of neon green burn dimly in the underground bunkers as the workers return with their zombie-like strut. It’s a mechanical world that inspires both sadness from its poor condition and awe from the technical beauty the artist took effort in creating.
Both grand and haunting, the soundtrack for Pale Cocoon is exceptional. It draws from different genres, a classical back bone of pianos and violins, layered by electronic horns. It even delves into Pop, a guest appearance by Little Moa, who solos a powerful ballad. The voice acting is just as impressive; Ura’s delivery devoid of most emotion while Kiko’s inflections delivers insight into her sorrow. Like the rest of the film the sound is handled spectacularly.
From such a short film you can’t expect much development, but the two leads Ura and Kiko have surprising depth. Ura is an excavator, swimming through seas of binary code day by day to figure out the world that was. He’s passionate, teetering on the edge of obsession when it comes to the past, tirelessly trudging through the 0s and 1s, saving what he finds interesting. But he is curiously detached from Riko, the analyzer, a friend of his. Riko has stopped showing up to work favoring the bleak company of emptied stairs. She sprawls herself across the grate looking up into the dark retreat, pondering. The anagnorisis of both characters not only speaks volumes about each of them but the world they are living in. In the brief time we see their conceptions of the world change, Ura finally maturing and Kiko gaining a bit of optimism.
Pale Cocoon brings together excellent storytelling and production to create a miniature gem. Its easy to get lost and not realize that the program is over. It deserves a watch by any fan that believes anime should be more than entertainment but art. Pale Cocoon does what most animation doesn’t: provoke my imagination. Just as Riko gazed up into shadows I was left contemplating my dimmed screen.
The OVA has a fairly straightforward message: that Earth and its beauty is irreplaceable, even by the most advanced of technologies. In the dark, gray world the characters live in, the only faint resemblance to earth among all the steel is a color -- green. The characters keep going down the levels of their own world to live closer to a fake green - the "ocean" -, yet all they ever do is lose themselves even more amid all the machinery. In the end, when one of the characters finally gets to see something natural he realizes just how
little he knows about what the world used to be. His very own definition of natural is changed, the last word of the OVA echoing that thought.
Theme-wise it is an interesting OVA, but a good theme alone does not make a great anime. Taking care of our planet and home being irreplaceable are things that have been talked about for decades and using a grim tone to approach the subject seems self-contradictory. Instead of celebrating the life of the celestial body we inhabit, the OVA decides to persist on the idea of human stupidity and irresponsibility. It paints humans as undeserving of the perfect Earth, turning the relationship between them and the environment something almost divine-like in its depiction. The case can be also made that showing human failure and sorrow makes the point more memorable, so how much someone likes or dislikes the OVAs take on the issue it presents will be up to personal preference.
All that being said, whether I agree or not with what the anime presented does not make the way it presented it any less good. Pale Cocoon is very dull and claustrophobic, but that was its purpose all along. The animation does a good job of creating those feelings when the music does just as good of a job undermining the entire work. On the flip side, the same thing which makes it good also makes it bad when we are presented with CG that often times feels to be in all the wrong places (for example, when the screen pans over CG wires laid over a CG desk). Yet, once again, despite the shortcomings of the animation, the music is the only truly awful aspect of it, with a song towards the end of Pale Cocoon serving as the lowest point of a mediocre score that makes itself far too noticeable.
Pale Cocoon is a good watch for the people who don't mind meaning over enjoyment, but unfortunately I'm not one of those people. Although it does feel like almost everything in it serves a purpose, it is one of the least enjoyable things I've watched in a long time, and therefore not worthy of a rewatch, regardless of how well it may explore a theme or how many hidden meanings it may have.