Good evening, weary traveler. Welcome to my planet, and hopefully your first stop on a journey through the cosmos. I’ll be your friendly navigator for the Space is the Place expedition and help you find out where to go. First, you’re probably wondering how I got in this situation…. how does one go from a movie theater to a remote planet? Well, I heard about this international space collaboration and said “hey sounds cool”. They accepted my application and said “you go first”. Shouldn’t someone a little more competent be taking the lead is what I thought but they explained to me “you know how to get to space you have to go up, well if we start with you then we’ll have nowhere else to go but up”. Oh yeah, makes sense….hey. [this is joke, these people are really nice and wouldn’t say such things… at least to my face]. So now I’m here on the border of space helping anyone passing by finding where they need to go. But I mean look it’s not too bad here.
I mean it ain’t so bad, sure the dream maker’s going to make you mad, and the spaceman always like “everybody look down, it’s all in your mind” but there’s still fun to be had here. Sometimes I use the hologram lighthouse to project some movies on a nearby dwarf planet, especially some Kubrick. No not that one, Lolita. Speaking of Lolita if you have some time before I elaborate on the Space is the Place tour I just finished a review of quite a fitting space journey, Rakuen Tsuiho: Expelled from Paradise.
Expelled from Paradise is a standard buddy cop film under rather extraordinary circumstances. Angela (I wanted to be the first reviewer mature enough to not comment on how her last name is pretty much ball sack but well that ain’t me tehe) Balzac is an officer of DEVA and lives in the cyberspace world of VR Chat. After learning of the threat of a hacker named Frontier Setter, Angela goes “undercover” as a real human girl and teams up with a “detective” whose familiarity with the case and the location make them a dynamic and often dysfunctional team to protect the order of the virtual world. You’ve seen this one before.
That’s not inherently a bad thing, Zootopia is also this similar plot line but they use it to make an interesting allegory and statement on discrimination in society. What is Expelled from Paradise about? Is it:
- About what constitutes humanity, and separates us from machine?
- There is no real substitute for life in its purest form and that the tiniest things that make us human and makes it the world we live in hold more significance than we often perceive?
- The importance of taking a stand for what you believe in and having the courage to go against the ills of authority?
- No group of people or place is inherently better, while immigration might seem desirable there are things such as culture and sense of belonging that can make any home a worthy home?
- Doing things to obtain wealth, power, and status is trivial and is not as rewarding as complying with your moral code?
- A government or body that acts out of fear will fail to find adequate compassion or reasoning?
- The REAL paradise was inside us all along? The REAL Paradise was the friends we made along the way?
I don’t know. Yes? What’s frustrating about Expelled from Paradise is that it does have all these complex queries for you, but it rarely feels like it elaborates or offers a solution to them. It’s more so a bunch of commentary rather than having thematic cohesion. It shows that there is certainly some depth if you want to explore it but not enough to feel like a takeaway over the rather simple story and pleasurable action and animation.
ACTION AND ANIMATION
You got a lot of give and take with this one that I’m sure many would write- off as “bad”, but I think it’s fairer to consider it heavy trade-offs. Expelled from Paradise is one of those films that seems that you must appreciate as a technical demonstration, even if it looks a little iffy at times. A CG animated film that tries to imitate it’s 2-D counterpart and the result feels very comparable to the works by ImageMovers (The Polar Express, Monster House, Mars Needs Moms). In that they are decent alternatives while also feeling cheap and uncanny valley because the tech just ain’t there yet.
Chopped frame rates and somewhat stiff character models it can at times feel more fair to liken it to a Fire Emblem or Persona cutscene than other anime or animation films. Now, I’m sure someone is bound to think… why wasn’t this just 2-D animated, this would look “so much better” and I disagree. While the CG aesthetic is limiting they do use it to their advantage. CG is better for busy frames or frames filled with multiple assets that would be a pain to draw. We see Angela go through these different modes or tubes of transport and they are filled with such wild and chaotic “stuff” that it does feel visually stimulating.
Thinking about the “camera” in the sense of the perspective we get to view the action, this film does use CG to have fluid movement and tracking during high action scenes. Watching Angela’s Mech zip around is incredible and the thrill of it comes with how we can follow it in the action. The camera also creates some other angles and interesting shots that you couldn’t achieve in live action so it can have a neat composition at times. However, it can also feel off because if you think of a practical camera filming these scenes… just don’t. I look at this film and part of me just sees the backgrounds are 90% sky and start thinking about the 3-foot-tall camera man capturing all these up tilt camera angles. I don’t think you have to obey traditional shot composition but when the character movements are a little stiff it’s just compounding the problem when shots feel they’re out on weird tilts and unnatural angles.
I dare someone to tell me I’m wrong. Both in design and personality it’s really hard to describe Angela Balzac with defining traits outside of just being a hybrid of Mythra and Haruhi Suzumiya. This is especially true if you watch the English Dub which features the talented work of Wendee Lee who is Haruhi’s voice actress. If you’re fond of one of the other characters you might enjoy Angela for feeling reminiscent to them but overall, I felt the enjoyment and the likability of the character was a little too superficial. Angela’s smugness is both understandable and supportive narratively with her background of coming from this matrix like utopia and being a fish out of water story of coming to the surface world and having to get accustomed to what it means to be human. However, they rely heavily on those factors and don’t really develop them into something interesting or something we haven’t seen before. We have a dystopia future earth and for trials and tribulations to throw at a character who feels they’re above it all and they encounter are generic bug aliens and random street thugs. You have a character that doesn’t understand the vulnerability of the human body or understand basic “earth” culture and again it’s probably the most cliched answer… learn the necessity of sleep and food and the human character teaches them MUSIC.
The rest of the cast I have similar relationships with, they’re cool and neat but you never feel you’re getting more than a surface level generic character. Dingo is kinda Han Solo in a Red Dead Redemption Cosplay, the rogue/smuggler type who “knows his way around these parts”. Dingo is… a character I guess. I must admit I appreciate that they gave a typically shallow character archetype and gave him some pretty interesting philosophy and conventional wisdom but at the same type he’s often just “spewing screenplay”. Want to make sure the audience understands the exposition, themes of the narrative, explanation of potential plot holes, or assertions of other characters… just have Dingo say it. Maybe this is oversimplifying of plot caused by the Dub translation but I don’t know he feels a lot to be in service of the plot then the plot being influenced by what kind of character he is (except for the ending).
SPOILER DESCRIPTION OF THE ANTAGONIST FRONTIER SETTER
Honestly, probably the most interesting character, thought they don’t do much with it. I wish the stakes were more established in the beginning so the fact that Frontier Setter is actually just a pacifist AI who wants to explore the cosmos is more of a twist instead of a misdirection. It felt really anticlimactic that the just arrive in front of the place and the little robot is like, “yep that’s me”. Come on this was a good set up to pull like a Yoda or Wizard of Oz situation and use the environment to sort of give the audience an impression of who they might “meet in a place like this” and then have the little robot directing them around and then when they’re wondering when they’re going to meet this mysterious Frontier Setter the little robot just goes pleased to meet you.
Frontier Setter is a great foil to Angela, and I do like that they sort of draw an insecurity out of her (and show it mostly through body language) how this robot is more human and more adjusted to the real world then she is. I think that’s why I really wish this had a longer run time because there’s intriguing implications that that insecurity Angela feels in her own humanity is partially why she learns to trust Dingo’s and Setter’s judgment over her own. We don’t see that internal conflict last long and I almost can’t buy that the events that took place in the film were enough to change Angela’s life views and that puts the whole film into a rough predicament.
Where’s the Space? (SPOILERS SECTION)
Expelled from Paradise is sort of an interesting “space anime” property. With DEVA and the virtual world we are dealing with a sort of cyberspace which visually seems like a futuristic VR chat that I wish we got a little more world building there. Then the virtual world allows for Earth to be sort of the “Alien” planet creating an interesting dynamic where we as the audience inherently understand the culture and people of the “alien” planet but also feel unfamiliar with the new future developments. However, I haven’t talked about space till this point because really space is more an integral part of the ending… and why don’t they go to space?
Expelled from Paradise is all about choices and standing by what you believe in, moral codes right? Dingo won’t join the virtual world because he values authentic human liberty and freedom, Angela learns to put trust in her new perception of humanity and value personal autonomy, and Setter is a robot so he can go die in space alone. It just seems odd that even if there isn’t any future of the franchise, it’s sort of baffling to see Angela choose not to go to space and Frontier Setter to basically fail to convince anyone to go along with him on his space expedition. Narratively, their choices work but arc-wise was it a missed opportunity to have all the characters grow? I really thought they might have worked well doing a sort of home or “paradise” is where the heart is.
While perfect realities seem appealing home is a sense of belonging and feeling of comfort that you can get from an old rock song, choosing what you stand by, and being in the company of those that make you feel that you’ve found paradise. Earth is kind of a dump and I never felt Angela learned or had a montage or anything that pointed towards her acknowledging that life here is pretty great (that must have been one really good meal). Then Dingo grows as a person because he learns to venture out of his comfort zone while still carrying a sense of home with him and Frontier Setter is rewarded for his helpful aide and action towards our protagonists. It seems like such an interesting idea to bring these three characters together and let them journey through space that could set up a potential manga, or visual novel, or spin-off anime series without really jeopardizing the major themes and messages of the film. To me I found the ending to be somewhat of a head-scratching let down but understand what it was going for and seeing these two characters drive off, laughing and having a good time did end up putting a smile on my face.
Space is the Place
There you have it, Expelled from Paradise has it’s moments but I didn’t feel I came across as anything special. “Isn’t your collaboration supposed to celebrate space anime, and your starting us off with a lukewarm review?”. I can’t get people into a movie theater; you think they’re going to care enough to find me all the way out here in space? Well if I left you feeling lukewarm, I am just the appetizer on space menu. I have a map of the galaxy here, click on these links below and they will take you to a map of nearby planets and they will have their own space themed anime reviews, essays, or posts coming out all throughout these couple of weeks so be sure to follow all these blogs so you don’t miss out on some of the astronomical fun floating around the blogosphere.
Also if you for some reason like supporting me (first, follow me) I was honored to have a chance to kind of be the graphic designer for this tour so the map/banner and planets where designed by yours truly so go see my other designs I made for other people and be sure to leave a lot of nice comments on how cool looking those planets are… because I would like that. If you’re old fashioned and didn’t click on my interactive map, then just shout out to all my collaborators on this project. They’re a great bunch and make plenty of incredible anime content so go check them out if you haven’t already:
And Captain Scott over at Mechanical Anime Reviews. Thanks for letting me have fun with this.
And as always thank you weary traveler, for joining me and reading this review. If you ever need to find your way home, I’ll be here shining my lighthouse hoping to help you travel back. I’ll just be chilling here, at the movies.
Images are from Expelled from Paradise [credit: Toei Animation, Graphinica, T-Joy, and Netflix]