Is this the future of anime?
That may be a lofty question, but it’s what runs through my mind after watching Shelter. This could be the first mark of Western influence affecting what anime is made, and how anime is produced. It shouldn’t come to anyone’s surprise that over the years Japan has started to pay attention to overseas markets and audiences more than they have for a long time (or perhaps ever). The days of mass simulcast streaming are here, and us non-Japanese anime viewers have a growing affect on the industry. Now, we’ve got this passion project from the mind of Porter Robinson, a DJ and electronic music producer from North Carolina, and all I can think about is how this could be an important step in the future on anime. This collaboration between Porter, Madeon, A-1 Pictures, and Crunchyroll is an exciting thing in of itself, but it sure helps that the final product is pretty great.
When I heard about Shelter’s existence on Twitter a few days ago, I didn’t know what to expect. I know Porter Robinson’s name for having co-written Zedd’s Clarity, and being the brother of Nick Robinson, who I just so happen to follow on Vine, but the name that stood out to me was Madeon. I’ve followed the French DJ who I discovered back in 2012/2013 just as he was making waves online; I’d consider myself a fan of his music, and then it hit me that he released a song titled “Shelter” a few months ago. So when I started up this 6-minute video moments after its release, and that new yet familiar song came on, it all clicked and made sense. It’s a wonder than everyone involved in the making of this project have been silent for so long, because it’s a pretty big secret to be keeping.
Knowing this wasn’t going to be a full series or even the length of a TV anime episode, I didn’t expect to be blown away by the story, and just accept the pretty visuals and awesome song for what they are. But then I was once again surprised by how much was packed in those six minutes. It wasn’t the most groundbreaking premise, but the execution and overall design of Shelter meant it kept on giving more than what you’d expect right until the last second. Porter Robinson’s dedication for this original idea apparently resonated with the big shots at A-1 Pictures who hadn’t seen such fiery for so long. I kind of wish I was there to witness that sales pitch that inspired the studio to do its best to match the original concept – the story of Rin, a 17-year old girl who lives a lonely far-future life in a simulated reality that she has complete control of; it’s basically God’s versions of Sims 4, and it looks pretty fantastic. The first half sets up that sense of demise before presenting us with a fluffy bedroom, beautiful scenic shots, and a nice variety of colour palettes. Things only start to come together when Rin sees herself when she was a little girl, as her father worked on making that simulation for her to live on forever after the inevitable end of the world. The shift in the second half is sudden, crammed to the brim, but shockingly powerful given what little time we have with these characters. This could have been astounding if it were double, or triple the length, but we got the absolute most out of these six minutes, and for that I give everyone involved major credit where it’s due.
One behind-the-scenes name worth mentioning for bringing out the magic of this short film is Megumi Kouno, the once Gainax animator who is known for her dynamic sense of flow, and for being the best hair animator in the business. She’s worked on many projects, from Panty & Stocking to Kill la Kill to Love Lab, but her claim to fame is the work she put into the The iDOLM@STER anime series, which still makes sakuga fans cream their shorts to this day. She provides the character designs and all the key animation for Shelter, and the liveliness she brings to Rin in both her moments of joy and depression are a large part of what makes this so easy to watch. She’s one element of what makes this project a success, and a hope for what lies ahead for anime, as Western audiences are getting more involved in the anime production process. Opinions on whether that will lead to success are varied, but I think we can all agree that Japanese animation can’t go on the way it has for the past few years. The industry is going to self-implode if it doesn’t get itself on a more sustainable path, and even though Shelter is one little film in the midst of it all, I hope it’s a sign of exciting things to come.