Friday, August 17, 2007

Brave Story

On Guard!

Say "Anime" these days, and the brewing spat between the local anime community and the company Odex will spring to mind, with the latter suing illegal downloaders of their licensed anime and allegedly gloating over the internet, leaving a bad aftertaste amongst the online folks. But I'm not into serialized anime (ok, I hear those chants of you-don't-know-what-you're-missing), but frankly, I prefer animated movies, as they're to the point, and nothing beats watching them on the big screen.

I thought Brave Story was going to be quite ordinary (from the trailer), but I was glad I was so wrong. It had an interesting premise, and built up nicely to a satisfying conclusion. It played on one of the questions I used to ask myself - what if one day you find everything going just wrong for you, and you're presented an opportunity to make them all right again, albeit with heavy personal sacrifice. Will you leave things as they are, or take the risk and go for it, with zero guarantees everything will come out just fine?

Based on a novel by Miyuki Miyabe, Brave Story has its protagonist, a young boy named Wataru, who seemed to be living the good life, until his world comes crashing down and he sees for himself his dad walking out on the family, and his mum succumbing to illness and is hospitalized. With a tip from the new boy in school, Mitsuru, he decides to try his luck at changing his destiny by passing through a magical gateway, which transports him to the World of Vision, a fantasy land where he has to look for the Tower of Fortune, where the Goddess of Fortune resides in and will grant a single wish. For Wataru, the choice is simple - to get his mother well again.

Fans of medieval fantasies like Dungeons and Dragons (not the movie incarnation) and games like Might and Magic, will have plenty of reasons to like Brave Story. It's like being the gamemaster, and observing your gamer wander around the make believe land recruiting followers, strike alliances, and battle foes, with some sword and sorcery thrown in. The world of Vision that Wataru journeys to, feels like Disneyland with its many worlds partitioned separately for exploration, and adventure. And it strikes the chord right in the beginning, offering some masterful strokes of comedy, and bestowing our protagonist not with great power, but starting him off right at the bottom, as a "hero apprentice", thereby holding your attention as you wait patiently for him to gain some experience.

What made Brave Story work, is clearly the character of Wataru. He's not all powerful, and through his earnestly unwitting and bumbling ways, serve to appeal to you as time goes by. For the young, he's sort of an ideal role model, at times too ideal (hey, I got no qualms with Jin Yong's goody-two-shoes Guo Jing character too) but then you realize that sometimes, these are the kind of boy scout heroes who are lacking screen appearances, and for a change, refreshing. They are plenty of situations where Wataru has to make critical decisions on sacrifice and morals, and in doing so however, stunted the story with predictable outcomes.

But Brave Story more than makes up for it with a host of supporting casts like the Lizard humanoid Kee-Keema, feline Meena, a pet baby dragon, and The Highlanders. The antagonist Mitsuru though, provides ample tussle and the clash of values with Wataru, and he's primarily the "villain", although a sympathetic one, to make our hero look good, and play off against, providing strong messages on friendship - sometimes your values are different, but if you're the friends forever type, you surely know who to count on when the going gets rough.

The animation might not be cutting edge, but it presents the material squarely, and occasionally had the wow-factor, especially in its grander depiction of the finale battles towards the end. Watch this in a proper theatre, and you'd appreciate the job the folks at Skywalker Sound has done. Brave Story might not have a lot of bells and whistles, but its buildup to the story, and its powerful ending, more than makes up for any potential flaws. Animes don't make it to our local screens very often, so supporting a good film like this, will pave the way to more good material coming our way.

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