'Inochi no Chikyuu: Dioxin no Natsu' or 'The Summer of Dioxin', is an anime movie with a target audience of teens/pre-teens, produced by Magic Bus, directed by Dezaki Satoshi. From the title we can already guess how this anime will differ from yet another rehashed Doraemon movie.
Apparently based on real events, Summer of Dioxin portrays a chemical fallout on an Italian town and the effects on the occupants, especially following a group of children. There is nothing fair or good about this fallout, and realistic consequences are shown. This anime is, in a word, cruel.
We find that the conception of Summer of Dioxin follows
an entirely different route than normal. Since the earliest days of anime movies for kids by Toei Douga, a intrinsic nature of attempting to indoctrinate behaviours and gift essential knowledge with educational content has been virtually absolute. This would be done by giving characters strict morals and/or 'wrong' things to fight against, axiomatic conduct, and featuring a narrative ingrained with (usually Japanese specific) foreshortened historical content and/or cultural practices.
While Summer of Dioxin attempts to interleave these same properties that would make a kids movie 'wholesome', the approach is shockingly different. Whereas a normal anime kids movie would have kids who knew what was happening, who could make a difference, independent and strong in mind, there is absolutely none of this in Summer of Dioxin. Rather, each depicted kid is shown more realistically. Weak, innocent, capable of malice and reprehensible actions, unsure of the events encompassing them and ignorant of the wider and adult world.
Not only are the kids in Summer of Dioxin portrayed like this, the events outlined are simply cruel in inequity and tragic results. Rather than fight against something, or work towards a goal, or achieve teamwork, any of these regular moralistic motifs in a anime kids movie, the children in Summer of Dioxin are shown simply surviving. All they want to do is live their lives, just like any other real life kid. It is in this realistic depiction of childrens' lives that the morals, the respect of others and humanity, is communicated in Summer of Dioxin.
This approach taken by Dezaki and Magic Bus is in some ways the reaction against the mainstream kids movies that consistently sell well in Japan. The movie has very low production values and was probably created on a shoestring budget. Dezaki's approach in Summer of Dioxin could be described as idiosyncratic- the feeling one attains watching is that the moral lessons taught are part of his own personal ideology that he wishes to convey to children on a wider scale. Summer of Dioxin was released in 2001, and was the second of this type of film by Magic Bus and Dezaki. The others in this series of what could simply be called 'cruel' anime kids movies, are 'Happy Birthday Inochi Kagayaku Toki' in 1999, 'Momoko, Kaeru no Uta ga Kikoeru yo' in 2003, 'Glass no Usagi' in 2005, 'Hurdle' in 2005. These films portray physical and mental disability, extreme hardship, and bullying respectively.
As much as Dezaki and Magic Bus' approach to the genre of kids anime movies is charismatic and fairly unique, unfortunately the sub-par assets of Summer of Dioxin in relation to its production equates to a film which is hard to watch, as while it may have an interesting narrative and ideology to its content (at times unintentionally hilarious), it is simply not at all a very beauteous or majestic anime.
The most visible disappointment is that of the backdrops used through the film. There is very little authentic development of the setting, rather each is simplistic and many appear as collages of reused compositions. The palette of the anime is overly-bright, which is a common aspect of kids anime, but does absolutely no merit to what should be a memorable depiction of an Italian countryside. A similar malaise is cast upon the domestic scenes, which make up the propensity of the duration, and the mise-en-scene is laughable. Cultural customs have been eschewed in place of Japanese ethnocentrism, perhaps the only exception the (very much incorrect) portrayal of Italian food. Another pitfall is the over-reliance on key animation and static frames, that only further hamper the viewing enjoyment.
Thankfully, the soundtrack is passable, though nothing at all spectacular, again likely there was little time invested into sound directing. The voice acting was a pleasant surprise- some quite authentic acting on behalf of some adults was enjoyable, this is probably a result of Dezaki's approach at trying to make Summer of Dioxin a more human and realistic tale. The children however, are all fairly standard, and some minor playing-to-stereotypes is abused, though the falsettos are grating enough.
So while Summer of Dioxin may be a surprising, somewhat anti-mainstream kids anime movie, that attempts to deliver a more realistic tale for kids to truly appreciate and change their understanding of life, it is simply ugly. Furthermore, once acquainted to Dezaki's approach, the repetition of this 'life is as life is' becomes either entirely too cruel and sad, or hilarious because of the pure melodrama of such a film. Summer of Dioxin may not have drawn a tear from me, but it did draw me in like a moth to a flame with its bold and daring narrative basis.