Film / Reviews

'The Relative Worlds': A rough ride across two universes

by Matt Schley

Contributing Writer

The concept of parallel universes is a fascinating one. What if there was another you out there, making the big bucks, fighting in a war or writing bad poetry? And what would happen if you and your alternate self were ever to meet up?

That’s the premise behind “The Relative Worlds,” the new CG anime film written and directed by Yuhei Sakuragi. Unfortunately, though, while the idea is a great one, the execution is a universe away.

The story begins with main character Shin (Yuki Kaji) as a young child. He is taking a walk with his mother when she suddenly collapses on the street, dead. Fast-forward a few years, and Shin is an (understandably) moody high school student in modern-day Tokyo where the kind of sudden unexplained deaths that killed his mother are on the rise.

The Relative Worlds (Ashita Sekai ga Owaruto Shitemo)
Rating
Run Time 93 mins.
Language JAPANESE
Opens Jan. 25

Morose as he may be, Shin has a love interest, his childhood friend Kotori (Maaya Uchida). He finally works up the courage to ask her out, but their first date is interrupted by the news that Shin’s father has suffered the same cruel fate as his mother.

Not long after, a host of mysterious characters appear in town, including a pair of sentient robots and a teenager named Jin (Yoshiki Nakajima) who looks exactly like Shin. Jin and company hail from a parallel Japan, a war-torn empire where, as it just so happens, Kotori’s equivalent has just ordered the execution of Jin’s father. The two universes are connected, Jin explains, such that when you die in one, you die in the other — hence the rash of unexplained deaths here in our Japan. Jin has come to our universe to kill Kotori and take revenge for the actions of her parallel self.

If you’re a sci-fi fan, the story so far may have you intrigued. But in actually telling that story, “The Relative Worlds” leaves a lot to be desired.

For one, the script is loaded with anime cliches, including moody boys and ditzy girls, and bizarre tonal shifts — in one scene, characters go from discussing mass murder to happily eating ice cream without missing a beat. And the film seriously underestimates its audience, explaining the parallel universe concept with a narration-based information dump long after we’ve figured out what’s going on.

Visually, it’s a mixed bag. Its parallel universe Japan features breathtaking designs that combine Shinto with “Star Wars,” but things look a lot less impressive in motion. Much of the film was reportedly animated with automated deep-learning technology — and its frequently choppy, awkward motion is proof that when it comes to animation, humans still have the upper hand. It even features multiple scenes animated (or not animated, to be more accurate) with Ken Burns-style pans over still images. Usually the sign of an anime that’s gone over budget or deadline, it is not a great look for a theatrical film.

What would it be like to meet a parallel universe version of yourself? “The Relative Worlds” largely pushes this philosophical question aside in favor of fight scenes and cliched teen romance. Had a few filmmaking decisions gone another way, it could have been a seriously compelling film. But hey, that means there’s a great version out there in a parallel universe somewhere.

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