What do you get when you take Miyazaki’s not so subtle environmentalism present in Spirited Away and Ponyo, suck out all the cheer and warmth, and set it several years into the future on a barren Earth devoid of all life not sustained through artificial means? Probably something like Pale Cocoon.
If you could sum up what Pale Cocoon is about in a few simple words, they’d probably be ‘What hath humanity wrought upon itself?’ dramatically wailed to the sky on your knees. Accompanied by a backdrop of wistful, sorrowful piano melodies and a never ending supply of falling snow, the denizens of this bleak world spend 22 minutes lying on their backs, staring up at the sky, and questioning mankind’s past.
To say that the visual work put into this is excellent would be an understatement. I have seen almost nothing with this much detail put into animating and perfecting a cold, lifeless world, whose only purpose is to serve as a reminder of what destructive potential mankind has. Yes, that means the color scheme looks incredibly washed out. I don’t mention artwork or animation very often, unless it’s very good or horrendous, so this should give you a good indication of how breathtaking everything was.
There were also a few instances of camera vision (Following the actions of a character from the point of view of the character) that were used to dazzling effect as well, which is hard to accomplish in live action. This makes the fact that it was animated only more spectacular.
To match such miserable, yet beautiful aesthetics, a cautionary tale of remorse and sadness must be created and told with great skill. The OVA does well in this regard, but I wouldn’t call it spectacular. Our story follows Ura, a man obsessed with digging up humanity’s past, regardless of what his coworkers and intuition tell him. He joins in the much appreciated futuristic pastime of lying on his back, while talking to his coworkers about the horrors of the past, and how he still wants to uncover them… even after seeing a disturbing video of a man reading an odd looking book. Or writing in it. I’m honestly not sure, but it creeped me out.
I’m not going to spoil the ending, but needless to say that I didn’t quite understand it… beautiful as it was.
The one thing that really held Pale Cocoon back from being an outright classic was its lack of a strong narrative. While the events were hard to muddle for the most part, it felt a little disjointed in some places. In some ways this added to the overall comatose (But not boring!) feel, but in others it detracted.
In short, Pale Cocoon is an excellent OVA that falls just short of being a masterpiece. It’s a visually haunting 22 minutes that won’t disappoint, even if it will leave one feeling empty inside for a brief time. Come for the masterful aesthetics, stay for the well done, yet slightly disjointed story.