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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Welcome to the Space Show


Starring (voice): Tomoyo Kurosawa, Tamaki Matsumoto and Keiji Fujiwara
Manga Entertainment
RRP: £24.99
Certificate: PG
Available 02 July 2012

Five young school friends, set to spend a week together at summer camp avoiding the hassles of parental supervision, unexpectedly find themselves on a truly out-of-this-world adventure when their class rabbit goes missing. Searching for their pet, the kids find and rescue what they believe to be an injured dog. As it turns out, the creature is actually a stranded alien named Pochi, who rewards their kindness with the offer of a trip to the moon! However, this simple sightseeing excursion to view the lunar landscape up close spins out of control and leads to a thrilling chase across the galaxy, with the five friends and their extra-terrestrial companion on the run from evil aliens intent on ruling the universe...

Welcome to the Space Show, a 2010 feature-length animation from director Koji Masunari and writer Hideyuki Kurata and production studio A-1 Pictures, opens with a bravura sequence in which two endearingly grotesque creatures flee in terror from a vengeful fiery pursuer across the phantasmagorical landscape of a moonlit rural Japanese night. With the chase ending in a dramatic escape, the scene quickly shifts to the resolutely ordinary daytime life of local girl Natsuki and her young friends, whose isolated childhood life - it's established that their school has only four students - is interrupted by the appearance of the injured pursuer, a doglike alien lawman named Pochi. Under cover of a scheduled camping trip, Pochi repays the kids' help with a jaunt to the surprisingly-populous far side of the moon, only for them to quickly become embroiled in a galaxy-spanning threat.

The movie is gorgeous throughout, with colours that seem to glow and endlessly inventive set and character design - every scene is full of life and motion, and Masunari and Kurata (co-creators of the Read Or Die series) have assembled a superb array of talent: a glance at the animators' credits reveals some of the most revered names in contemporary anime, including Masaaki Yuasa (The Tatami Galaxy), Mitsuo Iso (Dennou Coil) and Norio Matsumoto (A-1's own Birdy The Mighty: Decode, which this movie, with its anthropomorphic aliens, oddly recalls).

While never less than spectacular visually, the story and characterisation feel a little thin in comparison, and the plot struggles to fill the movie's two-hours-plus length. The makers' debt to the films of Hayao Miyazaki also shows too evidently for comfort at times, and while the unrivalled creativity of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli casts such a shadow over all Japanese animation that it's understandable, it's a little dispiriting that even the best and brightest in the field, such as these creators and Summer Wars' Mamoru Hosoda, struggle to come up with anything truly distinctive.

None of this makes Welcome to the Space Show a bad film, of course - it's frequently beautiful and funny, and the younger viewers at whom it's aimed are sure to be dazzled with the spectacle and fun on display. Full-length animated features are seldom seen from Japan nowadays with most of the industry focused on the more lucrative TV market, and a bona fide family movie like this one seeing an English-language release is something to celebrate. Pick up the Blu-Ray edition and give yourself a visual treat.


Richard Hunt

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