published in Empire No.70, Sydney
Origin – Spirits of the Past may appear familiar on initial viewing. Like most eco-aware fantasy anime, parts echo scenes from Miyazaki’s landmark explorations in Nausicaa, Laputa and Princess Mononoke. However Spirits mixes original story threads, vivid characterization and scintillating visuals into a richly orchestrated narrative. The result resonates with Miyazaki while uncovering new thematic ground.
Set a few centuries in the future, Spirits pictures the Earth’s eco-system ruined and transformed into an almost-unimaginable wasteland, territorially divided between humans and a new plant-human species. Nestled between the human’s pollution-choked realm and the fertile but deadly Forest is the small mountainous village of Neutral City. Zooming in from this global scale, the story is centred on a chance relationship between two teenagers trapped in Earth’s alternative domains. Feisty Agito from Neutral City releases the ingénue Toola from a mysterious capsule buried in an underground cavern. She has been time-frozen from the epoch before Earth’s current devastation. Enchanted by her haunting beauty, Agito finds his fate and Toola’s livelihood deeply entwined, and their future paths determined by large scale near-apocalyptic events.
Spirits breathlessly details their roller-coaster journey. Following Toola’s departure to aid the humans in fighting the encroaching Forest, Agito resolves to reclaim her, but to do so he undergoes a monumental transformation in order to battle an alternative set of mystical hyper-forces which Toola has the power to unleash.
The originality of Spirits lies in its alignment of a love melodrama with a symbolic struggle between two meta-energies – that of the Earth’s natural capabilities, versus its new mutated powers. Toola and Agito are inheritors of the Earth’s conflicted powers, and their extended battle finale is one of magisterial cosmic might. Appropriately, large-scale cinematic spectacularism fuels many sequences in Spirits with stunning hybrid animation techniques.