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A.li.ce (January 5/04)

A.li.ce marks the second computer-animated anime released by DVD upstart ArtsMagic following Malice@Doll, and there's absolutely no doubt that this is a tremendous improvement over that film. Provided the viewer is able to overlook the far-from-polished computer animation, there's actually a fairly engaging and entertaining story here - something that was sorely lacking in Malice@Doll (it also doesn't hurt that the plot involves time travel, a device that's extremely hard to screw up).

Not surprisingly, the hero of the piece is a young girl named Alice, who - as the film opens - has won a contest to travel to the moon. Something goes awry en route, though, and Alice soon finds herself propelled 30 years into the future. She finds an ally in Yuan, a spunky teen who informs Alice that the Earth is now under the control of an evil supercomputer called SS10X. SS10X is responsible for the deaths of over seven billion people, and as it turns out, Alice is the only person that can stop it.

Released in 1999, A.li.ce was the first anime to be made using computers - something that doesn't come as much of a shock, given the quality of the animation. As a result, the movie has the feel of a video game - particularly the cinematic stuff that appears in between the interactive parts - but despite this seemingly insurmountable obstacle, there's no denying that A.li.ce manages to reel the viewer in early with its admittedly oddball premise.

And though the animation comes off as low-tech if compared with the new standard (ie Pixar), there are a number of genuinely impressive sequences thrown into the mix here (the most obvious and notable example being the inside of the SS10X, which is surprisingly detailed and intricate). The voice acting is also a cut above most video games, and while I can't vouch for the English dubbing (the ArtsMagic DVD comes with the original Japanese in addition to the English track), the performances on the Japanese track effectively inject some life into characters that are, on the surface, emotionless (another casualty of the crude animation).

As for the storyline, the resolution - which explains why the SS10X, controlled by a character named Nero, exterminated most of the Earth's population - makes sense, in a loopy, sci-fi sort of way. It doesn't seem likely that A.li.ce will be remembered as anything other than the first computer-animated anime, but seriously, you could do a lot worse (ahem, Malice@Doll).

out of

About the DVD: ArtsMagic does it again with a superb package, beginning with a crystal-clear letterboxed transfer. In terms of the extras, the disc includes a lengthy lecture on computer animation from the London Sci-Fi Convention. It's quite comprehensive, and certainly a good primer for those interested in the topic. The disc also comes with a 36-minute interview with the director, a stills gallery, filmographies, and a trailer.
© David Nusair