Welcome to the Space Show

UK Distributor:  Manga Entertainment

BBFC Certificate:  PG

Suggested Retail Price (SRP):  £19.99 (DVD) £24.99 (BR)

Running Time:  136mins (approx.)

Audio Options:  English, Japanese

Subtitles:  English

Release Date:  2nd July 2012

Reviewer:  Rich (Webmaster)

Manga have put out an excellent selection of films over the years, but family films have not featured that prominently in their catalogue.  It seems that sci-fi action is still largely the order of the day even now in the UK, but Manga are always capable of pulling something unexpected out of the bag, and they've done so now.

Initially set in rural Japan, Welcome to the Space Show follows five children on a summer camp they'll never forget.  The group, consisting of the responsible sixth-grader Kiyoshi, energetic Natsuki, timid but fashion-conscious Noriko, enthusiastic bookworm Koji and Natsuki's younger cousin Amane, are staying on their own at a school building in the mountains.  However, their trip takes a turn for the unexpected when they go searching for their pet rabbit, whom Natsuki had accidentally allowed to escape.  Whilst searching they come across a crop circle and an injured dog, but after tending the dog's wounds the children are taken aback when it talks to them!  The dog is actually an alien botanist called Pochi who was injured whilst trying to stop poachers stealing rare plant species from Earth, and as a thankyou to the children he offers to take them on a trip into outer space!  The children embark on the adventure of a lifetime as Pochi takes them to a vast space port hidden on the dark side of the moon, but Pochi soon runs into trouble when his report into the poachers leads to travel to Earth being suspended.  The children are stranded unless they can find another way back home, but that isn't their only problem.  The plant the poachers were after was a mysterious root known as Zughan, which was thought to be extinct until Pochi's research has located a plant that could be it on Earth.  The plant is insanely valuable and has special properties that the poachers and their mysterious masters covet, and the children are their best link to it - especially when it becomes apparent that Natsuki is inadvertently carrying some!  Can Pochi get them home before the poachers find them?  And who is manipulating things from the shadows?

It's not often that a great family anime comes along that doesn't have the words 'Studio Ghibli' on it, but Welcome to the Space Show is one of those rare films.  There's certainly a Ghibli-esque air to the opening scenes in the spectacular Japanese countryside and the characters, and there are plenty of nods to the films of Hayao Miyazaki with Catbus-like alien train creatures and the Satsuki and Mei style central pairing of Natsuki and Amane.  But whilst this film wears its influences on its sleeve at times (for example the Moon station

landing bays which look remarkably like the Star Wars Imperial Senate) it also has plenty of character of its own.  The film is primarily a fantasy adventure, and it offers pure, unadulterated escapism from start to finish.  The characters are all believable and well acted, particularly in the Japanese dub where they were played by child actors, and the story moves along at a good pace with a good mix of action, emotion and sheer wonder throughout.  Everything about the moon base and alien worlds the children visit is bright and colourful, mixing stunning city vistas with huge space craft and a smattering of retro-sci-fi rockets, flying saucers and creatures which are more reminiscent of Futurama than anything I've seen in anime before.

One thing that must be mentioned is how endlessly inventive this film is.  The space scenes are spectacular not just because of their scale but also their detail, no two aliens are alike and thousands of background elements provide a real sense of depth and scale to the moon station and alien worlds.  Space has all the robots and hi-tech gadgets you'd expect, but the film doesn't gloss over the mundane aspects of space society with the children encountering crèches, doctor's surgeries and freight warehouses, they even get delayed on public transport.  The film succeeds in giving the impression that you are seeing a living and breathing world rather than just a setting for the children to have an adventure in, and you share in their sense of wonder as they discover new things.  I get the impression watching this film that I would spot new things on every subsequent viewing, and best of all the spectacular visuals and sense of fun and adventure makes repeated viewings all the more likely.  Story-wise the film is pretty good too, with elements of a caper movie as the bumbling poachers try to get the Zughan and a past connection between Pochi and the mastermind pulling their strings. 

 My only real issue with the film came towards the end, where the villain's true goal is revealed and things get a little bit convoluted.  The importance of the Zughan root and the villain's megalomaniacal dream of playing god is a bit heavy going when compared to the often light-hearted action and adventure that preceded it, and it becomes hard to follow what's going on at first viewing.  This nearly unbalances the film at its climax, but despite the huge spectacle the story stays resolutely focused on the characters.  This is its greatest

aspect, the film is not so much about stopping an intergalactic threat but about children finding the resolve and courage to face their fears and overcome obstacles together.  Whether Kiyoshi's guilt at leading them into danger or Natsuki's self doubt when presented with the chance to be the hero she's always wanted to be, each of the children faces their own challenge and has to make the right choice in order to help their friends.  The film keeps the children right at the centre of its story, and gets some wonderfully inspirational messages in for those viewing to take to heart.

I loved Welcome to the Space Show.  Whilst it got a little confusing in places towards the end it is bold, colourful and hugely enjoyable throughout, with a real sense of adventure and a huge scope.  It's like a bizarre but brilliant mash-up of Futurama and My Neighbour Totoro, contrasting the spectacular, eclectic and occasionally retro-themed mix of aliens and space technology with the warming pastoral scenes of rural Japan.  The characters are likeable and grow emotionally over the course of the film, whilst the story takes them to the far reaches of space without losing sight of their importance.  The visuals are gorgeous, particularly on Blu-Ray, and the sheer level of detail is breathtaking.  Everything is so bright and vibrant and there's so much going on in the background that you'll keep spotting new things on repeated viewings.  As a family film it stands on a par with some of Studio Ghibli's output, like many of Ghibli's films it is pretty long but it boasts impressive imagination and a sense of adventure that will keep children enthralled.  Welcome to the Space Show is a perfect film for the summer holidays and it's no exaggeration to say that it is the best family anime of the year.


Surprisingly not too much on offer, just a trailer and a few storyboards.  It's a shame as it would have been interesting to hear some background to the creative process, especially considering the level of detail in the film.


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