Review: Welcome to the Space Show

Five ordinary middle school children are about to have the summer of their lives, when looking around the school grounds for their lost rabbit, they stumble upon an injured dog. After bringing it in and nursing it back to health, the dog reveals itself as an alien named Pochi. Pochi explains that he is researching the planet Earth, and looking for a substance that is believed to have been extinct for five billion years, and was injured after fighting off against poachers. In exchange for their help, Pochi agrees to take them to the moon, but after an accident, they end up being taken around the vast areas of space. For Natsuki, Amane, Kiyoshi, Koji and Noriko, this is the largest, weirdest and wildest summer trips of their lives. It’s time to enjoy the Space Show.

Originally titled as The Space Show, the film first came into production on February 2008, after an issue of Newtype announced the reuniting of the production staff behind the anime series R.O.D the TV. It was decided to have child voice actors for the main role, to focus on themes of entertainment and friendship among children. The film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival alongside another anime film Summer Wars, before having a theatrical release on June 26th 2010.

The colour and animations are spectacular. The scenes in space and the character design are very creative and colourful. Some of film is very scenic, allowing the viewer to take in the atmosphere of the environment and the civilizations very well. The animation on the other hand, varies from budget anime series to “runny eggs” quality. While some of it is rather decent, especially considering the amount of individual characters moving in rather crowded scenes, there are times where it gets really choppy, and the character designs go really messy and disproportionate. Asides those, the film’s design of the outer space and alien worlds are very colourful and memorable.

The music is composed by Yoshihiro Ike, who’s mostly known in Japan as a bassist for a couple of bands but has been getting notoriety from composing original music for anime series such as Tiger & Bunny and Sonic X, which in my opinion isn’t very memorable stuff aside from the occasional melodies here and there, and while he has done music for other anime films (such as the previously reviewed Blood: The Last Vampire), the quality is mostly the same. Welcome to the Space Show has the similar kind of melodramatic orchestra, which is disappointing since being Sci-Fi, I assumed there would be music that would get the feeling of being in space, not the generic orchestra that doesn’t do much. There is also some good original songs performed by Sasja Antheunis, along with the song’s ending theme by Susan Boyle, but other than sounding nice, it doesn’t add any sort of atmosphere or emotion to the film.

The Japanese cast is memorable for the most part; the majority of the main cast in particular are kids, and while the main five kids are all voiced by child actors between the ages 8 and 14 with very little past work, they are really good. Of course, they sound authentic because they are the same age, but each of them give a good performance, giving a good range of emotion and personalities, and the latter is despite the fact that they all have pretty stereotypical personalities (the bookish brains, the independent little kid, the adventurous klutz, the popularity seeker and the responsible leader).  The voices for other characters like Pochi are much more generic, since not being human and being out of this world, they’re more diverse in how cartoon they are instead. This is particular in the case of one of the hosts of the Space Show, Neppo, having a high pitched male voice, with an entertainer personality. The English dub also good for the most part, but has a minor inferiority since it lacks the child actors in favour for young adult or female actors, and an Americanised writing, which includes making the characters personalities closer to their stereotypes. Despite that, it’s still a good job with great actors to boot such as Dan Green, Cassandra Lee, Wendee Lee and Mike Pollock.

It’s surprisingly rare to find a child friendly Sci-Fi that’s an adventure through space and see new worlds and new creatures. Most recent Sci-Fi I’ve seen usually involves some intergalactic war, fighting against a hostile alien race, or in the case of anime, another Mecha-Suit kind of series. It makes sense for a teen or adult demographic sci-fi show, since it adds conflict, tension and action to a movie/show, but they leave out too much time for exploration, travel and creativity. It’s why I don’t like Prometheus, and yet I give an equally disappointing sci-fi mega hit Avatar some credit, since while Prometheus plays out like a generic outer space horror on a generic planet with generic creatures that get little detail or development, Avatar has vast planet with a defined geography and alien creatures with a developed background of culture, beliefs, activities and knowledge, the only problem with what they showed was that the world is a vastly overdesigned rainforest and the main alien race is written down like a movie written native American tribe.

The point I’m trying to make is that even for an animated film made for kids, the first hour of this film has a more memorable overall world, with a vast society and great atmosphere, along with a huge variety of different creatures that would be worth exploring than a lot of other sci-fi films that I’ve watched in the past five years or so. In that hour, I got a good understanding of the main five characters, Pochi, the film’s idea of outer space travel and food, as well as jobs and some of the different kind of alien races that live among the galaxy, because the film showed me it, taking it’s time and having others discuss what’s around them. Granted, a main issue still in Sci-Fi is that there can be too much dialogue to make the show Scientific, but it isn’t forced in this case.

That isn’t the only good thing about Space Show, the relationships between the main five children, particularly the sisters Natsuki and Amane. All five of them go through some sort of development through the experience, such as Kiyoshi being tested on his leadership, Natsuki trying to be apologetic towards her constant mess ups, Amane wanting to get along better with her sister and so on. Koji and Noriko seem to be the least developed of the group, so not all of them get a fair share.

The second hour is where most of the film slowly goes downhill. The big difference is the pacing, while the first hour is slow and calm, allowing the viewer to take in the atmosphere, and because the content is engaging, it’s difficult to notice how quick the hour goes by. On the other hand, the second hour has too much, starting slow with a rather sombre moment, but quickly speeding up with a huge and tense action sequence that’s 30 minutes long, and very little of it is that engaging so it the film suddenly goes very slow.

There is one other problem, you remember in the first paragraph of this review about the substance lost for five billion years? The other main story takes main focus in the second hour, and while I don’t want to spoil any film in my reviews, let’s says someone gets kidnapped that the main characters need to rescue, we see who the main villain is, final space battle ensues, all ending off in a climatic ending where all the characters learn something and their conflicts get resolved. Out of all the stuff that is gone into great detail, it’s this part that should’ve gotten more of an explanation. The substance, the relationship between Pochi and the villain and the motivations have barely any time, so it ends up being the most confusing aspect of the film, and some of the times it feels forced. Space Show is a visually exceptional film with a huge world and many characters to see, but the latter half of it feels forced and over the top. It could’ve been made shorter and simpler, and probably been better, but as is, it has everything I like and dislike in a Sci-Fi.

Welcome to the Space Show is available from Aniplex and Manga Entertainment. As of this time there are no other adaptations or additions to the film since its release back in 2010.

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