With my time being as limited as it is and my certification training now officially over, a short
3 day break is exactly what I need before going back to class. Of course, while studying has been at the head of the list, catching up on and revisiting anime I left in my queue for review is, too. One of those titles that was in the queue was HAL, a movie that I watched 4 months ago and now officially coming as a home release September 2, 2014. Just one day shy of writing this (although it is published on the 9th). Having an early copy of the home release, it is as much as an emotional catharsis as it was those 4 months ago, but also an underwhelming one to boot.
Studio: Wit Studio
Runtime: 1 hr
The story takes place in a technologically advanced society in which robots can be programmed to behave like a complete human. A robot is asked to replace “Hal”, who died in an accident, to help Kurumi, Hal’s girlfriend, move on with her life.
The basic modus operandi of any respectable tale (by my standards anyway) is two-fold: 1.) Give the audience a compelling narrative to draw them in and 2.) Have it satisfactory, sensible, and bring a feeling of closure. Hal, for the greater part of two-thirds of its run-time, manages to abide by the first rule without issue. Taking place in the near future where robots are used for therapy, Kurumi is in need of it after the apparent death of her boyfriend, Hal. She is sent a curious robot that looks like her beloved, but where this is a journey to overcome grief for Kurumi, it is also one for Hal to find out what being alive means. Unfortunately, the latter operandi is where the film stumbles as the story unravels itself into later half to make sense, but not exactly satisfactory by stretch of the word. Although, just like the Rubik Cube that is one the main motifs in the story, HAL is a puzzle. Depending on how you interpret the individual pieces in relation to the whole is the kind of experience you can expect to reap from it. In my case, I believe I must be looking at it with a too discerning eye to fully enjoy it.
There is a simple problem that the movie presents. However, the problem doesn’t lie in Kurumi’s grieving process or “Hal’s (the “robot”) understanding of the concept of life. Most of these details are acceptably woven into the film’s tapestry as things progress. The primary issue is “Hal” making sense of the real Hal’s memories that are just muddled as they are presented to the viewer. Over the course of the film we do see who the real Hal really is as “Hal” solves many of the Rubik Cubes transcribed by Kurumi with wishes and memories the latter shared together. His financial woes and life choices (leading the film’s denouement), his indiscretions that upset Kurumi, and someone who takes life in stride. Hal isn’t a perfect human being or boyfriend and tries to make things right, but for all his imperfections and idiosyncrasies he is missed by Kurumi. Even with Hal’s more unsavory past memories surfacing, the story for that two-third duration is very engaging and as much sympathy that you can feel for Kurumi you can equally apply it to Hal. While I would say the writing leads much be desired, it does at least get the job done and keeps the story grounded. Sadly, with the film being as short-lived as it is, the 60 minute length doesn’t seem to do in any favors in terms of storytelling – even though it works out. Besides information we are given and can infer, the awkward pacing really cause the film to flouder on some finer details, especially during the second half. Wish I could give a more specific example without giving the story away, but best to be seen than explained.
Of course, where the story is about healing from loss and the power of memories, it does lend itself to how loss can be deceptive or used a defense mechanism – again, something that is articulated well in context, but executed poorly overall as a storytelling device. Without going into the idea too much, things aren’t exactly what they seem for both Kurumi and Hal as the lines between coming to acceptance with grief and living in denial start to blur. Not to make the directors or writers sound too incompetent, but I do wonder if that was their intent for both the very beginning and ending of the film, since way the story proceeds, it is seems like meant to pull the wool over the eyes for inattentiveness rather than anything that selective. Regardless, looking at the ending, it is just way too trite and cheesy than uplifting and bringing a sense of solace.
Animation and artwork wise, the series does look very appealing thanks to the collaboration between Wit Studio and it’s sibling producer Production I.G . Aside from working on series like Hōzuki no Reitetsu and Attack on Titan, the overall animation choices look different from its past work. With the series taking place in small town-like venue the semblance of nature and town seems more like country type setting accented with a lot of deep warm colors and palates. If your familiar with Production I.G and their past work like Psycho-Pass, the character design choices bear some similarities with regards to Hal and Kurumi – minus the corporate look and threatening jet-black, oblong guns. The soundtrack is just as good featuring many soothing piano and small orchestral pieces that are reminiscent of Sora no Woto and MahouTsukai Tai scores. Although, since Michiru Oshima is composer both series as well as this one it should be no surprise either.
If HAL was just a movie about grieving and overcoming it – that would be fine, but it’s not exactly just that. At best, is a narrative about two lovers, the memories they share, and the bond that persist to keep those memories alive even through death. As cliche and programmatic as it sounds, it does work in the film’s favor to setup an interesting narrative, but at the same time just feels like one big painful cliche just watching how it all falls into place. There is no mistaking that HAL is flawed, but still might be worth watching – even if I personally do suggest it as rental rather than buying for your anime library collection. If you do, maybe you can decipher and interpret the metaphorical puzzle much better than I did. At any rate, Hal is a puzzle that I have already sold, seen, and just too disappointing to revisit again.
Pros: Interesting concept, strong characterization, beautiful artwork/animation, great musical soundtrack
Cons: run-time too short, poorly executed idea, weak second half,