Welcome to the Space Show!

Rating: 3.5

I really liked this movie while I was watching it. It's got likable characters, adventure, wonder, friendship, aliens, monsters. It relies on tried and safe tropes, with just that bit of originality needed to avoid being boring. The target audience is quite probably a bit below "14 years old", but the movie is still pleasantly watchable by adults. Unless, that is, you actually start thinking about what's going on. And, unfortunately, I tend to think about it :)

Let's start with the story: in a village in the middle of the Japanese countryside, five young children, aged between 7 and 12, are having their summer camp in the empty school building: they're alone for a week, they've got food, homework, sleeping bags, and woods to play in. What they don't have is the pet rabbit that Natsuki lost in the woods weeks (days?) before. Amane is pretty angry about this, so they go back into the woods to search for the rabbit. What they find, instead, is a injured dog. They bring it to the school, clean and bandage it. They get a big surprise when the dog starts talking, revealing he's an alien called Pochi,, thanks them for saving his life, and offers them a trip to the Moon. And not only the visible side, but the far side, where a thriving spaceport awaits them. This "short" trip sees the group deal with a blockade of Earth-bound traffic, interstellar smuggler, aliens of all shapes and sizes, police operations, and the Space Show, the most popular broadcast entertainment across several galaxies.

Of course there's a happy ending, nobody gets seriously hurt, and the movie closes with uplifting thoughts for the children's future. What's not to like? The animation is beautiful; the aliens are well varied, not all of them are humanoid; the architecture and technology are just unusual enough to feel extra-terrestrial but still be recognisable; the human children have their nice story arcs, they grow while maintaining their personalities. The good guys get rewarded, the bad guys get arrested.

And yet, and yet. There are several problematic aspects to this movie. (Spoilers ahead! Stop reading now if you don't want to know details of the story!)

Let's start with the depiction of the aliens: good guys look nice, bad guys look ugly. This trope has been around since ancient Greek tragedies, but it's particularly jarring when you can shape your characters any way you want, and still choose to play it "safe". Oh, and why, while the males "space dogs" look exactly like dogs (Natsuki even checks under Pochi's tail!), their females are taller, never walk on four legs, and have human-style breasts??

Then, Pochi. He seems to be a researcher of some kind, but he also has an energy armour and works for some kind of law enforcement. He's also a University professor in Archaeology. He's got more connections and tricks up his sleeves than Indiana Jones (who, now that I think about it, did get his name from a dog…). He's a standard larger-than-life good guy, whose motivations are never very clear, but after all it does not matter much because he's fighting the good fight. So, even accepting that he's the least well rounded of the main characters, I can't wrap my head around the scene near the end, when he essentially confesses that he's in love with Amane. Now, keep in mind that Pochi, although young, can't be much younger than a human-equivalent late twenties: University professor, field researcher, et cetera. Amane is 7. I can understand her point of view: he's a nice doggy. But what is he thinking??

Finally, although all the children, as I wrote above, gain experience and grow, there is a striking difference between the boys (Kouji wants to become an astronaut, or at least an astronomer, Kiyoshi wants to become a doctor) and the girls (Natsuki is more sure of herself, and will treat Amane better). Even if Natsuki is responsible for most of the positive outcomes of their adventures, and one of the main "villains" is a (dog) woman, the whole story seems to paint the boys in a better light.

To give credit where it's due, the movie has a lot of nice little touches: the immigration controls, with age-dependent questioning; the "passports" which provide universal translation and also seem to instruct the artificial gravity generators to provide the correct amount of force; the scientifically sound doubts of the space enthusiast Kouji ("How can you broadcast live across interstellar distances?") not being brushed aside, but answered in a way that implies "yes, you're right, but it works; it would take too long to explain it properly, but rest assured that there is a sensible explanation".

All in all, a very well executed average story, with some problematic and contradictory aspects that, nonetheless, don't detract too much from the enjoyment.

DatesCreated: 2012-09-23 19:40:04 Last modification: 2023-02-10 12:45:24