This particular post isn’t really going to focus in on this week’s episodes, because the atmospheres created by From the New World and Space Brothers have been in my mind for a while now. While the two series may not seem to have that much in common, both are trying to bring unfamiliar settings to life for the audience, and both are produced by A-1 Pictures.
From the New World
The titular “new world” is actually Earth 1000 years in the future. Rather than being dominated by technology, the world has been shaped by Power (a versatile force residing within select humans that can warp existence in many different ways). It’s a world of wilderness, folktales and demons, and in such a world, an evocative atmosphere can make all the difference.
A-1 Pictures uses a bright palette with clearly defined foreground colours. Sometimes, particularly when describing a folk story or past event through unusual imagery, the effect is striking and powerful (although they can overdo it). When showing the real world to the audience, though, I found the style less successful. The characters have similar looks and expressions, with hair, build and voice being the only real ways of telling them apart. Much of the past few episodes has been spent in snow and sometimes blizzards, but it doesn’t look cold or treacherous. Everything looks too smooth, too separate and distant from the characters.
I have to wonder if A-1 Pictures’s artistic style was a good fit for this anime, especially considering all the time the characters spend out in the wild. Nothing about the environment affects anything unless it absolutely has to for the sake of the story, possibly because the studio likes their vivid and distinct foreground elements so much that they don’t want the background to mess with them. There is also evidence to suggest that it could be down to laziness or a tight budget – episode 13 was particularly poor for not having their characters leave ski tracks at times (even though they were pursuing Mamoru by following his unnaturally fresh ski tracks!).
There’s some deft creative flair on exhibit in From the New World, but at the end of the day, the atmosphere fails to be truly immersive. So how did A-1 Pictures do in their other anime?
Space Brothers also takes place in the future, but only a decade or two away. The reason that the setting is unfamiliar is not because of the time, but because of the place. You see, the last few episodes have primarily taken place on the moon.
It’s obvious that A-1 Pictures put more work into the visuals here. The palette is still bright, but the foreground doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb, and there are nice details like regolith being shifted by the buggy that I miss in From the New World. Perhaps the studio expected this series to be a bigger seller, so they devoted more resources to it? Whatever the case, little things like that make a big difference to me, especially when it’s sharing an experience that I’m not likely to witness in my lifetime. Potential problems and procedures for situations on the moon seem to have been researched too, though this is likely down to the author of the original manga more than anything.
There’s one thing that the author couldn’t have influenced here, though, and it’s impossible to judge from any screenshot. The use of sound. Hibito shouldn’t hear any sound beyond his own internal thoughts and his breathing, because there’s no atmosphere on the moon. But you hear every footstep, every button press… everything you’d be able to hear on Earth. I can’t wrap my head around why A-1 Pictures did this, especially considering the situation Hibito and Damian are in. Both are close to death, and their problems both stem from the fact that they’re on the freaking moon. When I hear something I shouldn’t hear, I don’t feel the danger as intensely. It would have been easy to cut out all that sound, and just have Hibito’s breathing. Since this series is quite slow-paced, they could even have put quiet music over this for the less intense segments so that the impact hits harder when the music is taken away. The Artist, last year’s Best Picture winner at the Oscars, did something similar to great effect. But Hibito’s situation just feels too familiar. Not paying attention to the lack of an atmosphere ruins the atmosphere. How ironic.
Both shows have fascinating tales to tell, and their atmospheres can be great… in places. It only takes a single element to destroy the atmosphere and ruin the illusion, taking the viewer out of the show and plonking them back on their seat, and unfortunately, that’s what both of these shows have done. Their stories are absorbing enough to keep watching, but with a little more care, these stories could really have been enhanced by the power of animation. Which anime wins this battle? Neither.