I know they’re out there, but U.S. anime distributors don’t tend to pick up a lot of titles for kids if they’re not fighting series, so Funimation’s “Oblivion Island: Haurka and the Magic Mirror” is a real treat.
Brightly colored and sweetly told, “Oblivion Island” is a story about memories of childhood and how important pieces of our past can be to our future.
It opens with a Japanese folk tale about a man who neglects a gift from his grandmother, and it goes missing. He leaves eggs as an offering at the local shrine and asks for its return. A fox spirit brings it back, and soon all the villagers are leaving offerings for their vanished items. But unbeknownst to them, the fox spirits were the ones who took the neglected objects in the first place because they had been forgotten and left behind.
The animation of this sequence reminds of the lovely brushstrokes in the video game “Okami.”
Then we switch to regular CGI as 16-year-old Haruka, whose relationship with her father has soured since the death of her mother when she was a child, goes looking for a hand mirror her mother had given her before she died. When Haruka sees what looks like a fox spirit at the local shrine, she follows it and winds up sucked into a magical world where creatures collect and horde items neglected and forgotten by humans.
It’s ruled by the nasty Baron, who has a thing for mirrors. Haruka’s, especially, holds special power. He’s the one who originally took it, but it was then stolen from him, and he keeps tabs on Haruka as she searches, with the help of her new creature friend, Teo.
Scared of being caught with a human, Teo is a reluctant helper at first. But they warm to each other as Haruka helps him realize his dreams, and he becomes an indispensable ally.
It’s a largely rousing adventure through a colorful world that gives Pixar a run for its money in inventiveness, from the premise itself to the character designs to the Rube Goldberg contraptions.
It does have a couple slow moments, and characters chasing Teo and Haruka for no other reason than they dislike Teo don’t really need to be there, but overall, it moves at a decent clip and certainly shouldn’t bore viewers young or old. The climactic fight against the Baron is a thrill a minute.
But if you don’t get engrossed by the story, lose yourself in the backgrounds. In the human world, they have a touch of hand-drawn animation, which gives them an interesting contrast. But the Island world is a colorful, dizzying hodgepodge of objects taken from the human world. Open books become seats on the bus; surfboards make neon shingles. And I don’t want to know what that goose thing is.
“Oblivion Island” is a delightful introduction to anime — and a great movie for kids when they’ve watched those Miyazaki videos dozens of times.