It’s Guest Review Wednesday and today we have a visit from long-time reader and occasional Guest Reviewer Eric P! Please welcome him as always!
The ambitious Project Itoh trilogy is a trio of anime film adaptations based on the works of award-winning sci-fi author Satoshi Ito, spawned by Noitamina and animated by three different studios. It first began with The Empire of Corpses
, followed closely by the middle story of the anthology, <harmony/>
, (ハーモニー) animated by Studio 4*C and co-directed by Michael Arias, who did Tekkonkinkreet
Set in the future, <harmony/> reveals a world where society has achieved a systematic Utopia. Everyone is connected to the collective WatchMe software program, where health and psychological well-being is constantly monitored and regulated, and “necessary” information is constantly provided so everyone knows the “right” things to do for better living, and everyone knows everybody just by looking at them and are likewise always supportive of each other. The vast majority have apparently become accustomed to and content with this way of life, but two high school friends, Tuan and Miach, recognize it as a imposing, oppressive regime robbing people of their free wills. The enigmatic Miach is the leader of the two, who learned of what the world once was through the books she read. She draws Tuan into her beliefs and actions through physical intimacy and affection (more on that later). They agree to rebel against the world through the ultimate act of selfishness, via suicide. Tuan fails in the attempt, while Miach seemingly left the world and her in it.
Resigned to live since then, the now-adult Tuan works for the World Health Organization, a kind of medical police force, but continues to find society a stifling birdcage as she tries getting by and retaining some personal control. But then chaos disrupts society’s superficial perfection, as minds are being hijacked, spurring mass suicides, followed by growing collective paranoia. The more Tuan looks into it, the more it mirrors the Miach she remembers, with signs pointing to her as the puppet master. The plot is a slide down a rabbit hole as Tuan uncovers Miach’s past and intentions along with additional puzzles and truths, and in the end, determines the fate of society and the world itself.
One of the major criticisms Harmony received was for its animation, with it’s uneven blend of 2D/3D-animation. While some of the CG moments were definitely a little crude and clunky here and there, some other moments I thought were interestingly done. There are some shots of the camera panning around the characters’ heads, which move fast enough to make it look like immersive 2D to me, but the scenes that might look most impressive to other viewers would be the virtual conference calls that Tuan attends. The one sequence that stood out the most to me was a restaurant scene, in which Tuan converses about Miach with a childhood friend from their past, and the camera circles around them within their environment, closing in. Even long before we find out the big reveal later, one already gets a gradual discomforting sense of an evil presence descending upon them before the big shock that takes place, setting the whole story in motion.
The story stays true to its discomforting atmosphere all the way to its end, which involves a final confrontation between Tuan and Miach. However you interpreted their past relationship from the flashbacks – whether or not Miach was just twisted and took advantage of Tuan, or what Tuan herself truly thought of their bond in retrospect after all this time – their true connection ultimately comes to the forefront. Miach makes her final offer, and Tuan responds with making one last free decision, this time out of a personal act of selfishness. The ending is bleak, which that may leave some viewers frustrated. But after watching it twice, I realize the story itself was not a happy one to begin with. And if one were to ask if the characters were likeable, then the answer would be a general “not really.”
But after two Project Itoh movies, it is made apparent to me that a happy plot with likeable characters is not necessarily what one looks for when going into an Itoh story. One instead goes in for the hard sci-fi with the kind of world-building that is his distinctive personal style, and for the philosophical ideas and pondering that relate to the story being told, often generally about consciousness and the nature of the soul. With <harmony/> in particular, the characters mainly serve as vehicles for the viewer’s journey in Itoh’s world, and it can be philosophical to the point where the dialogue is almost pure info-dumping. But that is something I had grown used to after watching every iteration of Ghost in the Shell, and rather than putting me off it merely forces me to pay attention.
All in all, your mileage may well vary with <harmony/>.
I would not call it either great or terrible, but I deem it interesting enough to check out at least once. For that, I give it my usual overall rating of 7.
Erica here: Thank you again Eric, for this review, next time I’m in a mood for dystopian futures (which is almost never, to be honest ^_^,) I know where to look. ^_^