published in Empire No.64, Sydney
Contrary to Hollywood’s excessive repetition of supposedly archetypal plot templates, the volume of anime and the rate at which it is produced guarantees competitive innovation. The Place Promised In Our Early Years is a great example of how a startlingly new look is still possible within such a saturated form.
The story in some respects is familiar, but no less engaging for being so. Middle-schoolers Hiroki and Takuya bond in their desire to build a plane that will afford them flight to the mysterious Tower that rises up impossibly high in the distance. Undertaking their clandestine task, they befriend Sayuri who shares their dream, leading all three to promise they will one day take flight. Suddenly, Sayuri disappears, hospitalised in a deep psychic sleep that bears a mysterious connection to the tower. Three years on, Hiroki and Takuya have drifted apart, yet Hiroki remains connected to Sayuri through strange dreams each share unknowingly.
Set against a backdrop of near-future Japan wherein coastal cities and environs are the story’s geographical focus – including allusions to the forced division between North and South Korea. Eventually war breaks out between Japan, the Union (an area controlled by the tower) and the US. Yes, it’s another liminal replay of Japan’s non-aggressive pact in a world increasingly beset by terrorism, but the delicacy with which these connections are handled empower the story’s social referencing greatly.
Indeed ‘background’ is the foremost operational device in The Place. Apart from the afore-mentioned socio-political climate and the memories and dreams shared by the characters’ past, ‘background’ is visually highlighted by outstanding visual backdrops. Clearly based on photographic reference material, these detailed painterly landscapes and interiors incorporate digital processing to simulate cinematographic effects which imbue the visuals with a haunting quasi-realist aura. The result is a strangely distanced world beautifully traversed by the story’s characters.