There is much to be desired from the sophomore effort of Tomohiko Ito.
October 30, 2019
Animation, Romance, Sci-Fi
Japanese animation continues to explore the science-fiction romance genre. Hello World, the latest from Tomohiko Ito, is a coming-of-age time travel tale of love and acceptance set in a not-so-distant future. Despite the polished animation, the film suffers from an anemic story and underdeveloped characters.
Katagaki Naomi, a timid 16-year-old high school student, goes around the school reading instructional books on self-confidence. Forget asking out a girl, he could not even manage to grab his preferred snack in the cafeteria. One fateful day, he encounters a man who claims to be his future self. The man reveals the Kyoto he is living in is a giant computer simulation, preserved for future generations to study. But the purpose of Future Naomi is to get his younger computer-simulated self a girlfriend and correct something in the past before it happens again. The girl in question happens to be Ichigyo Ruri, the caustic classmate and complete opposite of Naomi.
The eternal city of Kyoto comes alive with every detailed anime landscape. From the subways to the parks, the central business district area to the ancient temples, Ito and his team captured the timeless beauty of the ancient capital. Ito cut his animation teeth as assistant director to Mamoru Hosoda and some of his influence seep through his film. The comparison ends there. Hosoda, one of the modern masters of Japanese animation, is an exceptional storyteller. Hello World suffers from a weak story. The bulk of the film revolves around Future Naomi assisting his younger self to find a girlfriend and, at the same time, training him to wield the power of the God’s Hand. The story took the opposites attract route to chronicle the romance of Naomi and Ruri. But their relationship evolved too quickly before the audience could invest enough understanding of the characters.
Unsurprisingly, the relationship between Naomi and his future self resonates more. The characters spend more time together as he learns about and manipulate the simulation program. Speaking of the program, one commendable effort in its worldbuilding process is the incorporation of Japanese folklore elements. The three-legged crow advising Naomi recalls Yatagarasu, the crow god associated with guidance and divine intervention. The anti-corruption program takes the form of creatures with fox masks, a reference to the kitsune – a mythical creature with the ability to ward off evil. One of the perils of worldbuilding though is overthinking. That the fundamentals, story and character development, are sacrificed in its altar. The human imagination is persistent, but one must not fall into the trap.
There is much to be desired from the sophomore effort of Tomohiko Ito. Unfair but it will invite comparisons with Your Name. Going into details will not be productive but it pays to remember, the superior film has a recognizable structure, a solid story, and better character development.