So, here’s your dilemma:
The successful food company you work for has just celebrated a milestone in its already lengthy tenure as the nation’s premiere supplier of boil-in-the-box noodle snacks. You sell an ENORMOUS number of units of noodles every day, and it may just be time to give something back to the public. So… what would be the best gesture you could make to a supportive public? Why! You’ll commission a 7 part anime OVA series, naturally!
This is the turn of events, circa 2006, that leads us to ‘Freedom’, a short series produced by Sunrise in conjunction with the Nissin Food Corp as part of a larger promotional project for the company.
Now, the more cynical among you could be forgiven for rolling your eyes, wondering how good this could possibly be and wandering away elsewhere in Cyberspace to look at something more interesting. But wait, stick around – really – because the end product is actually a thing of surprising quality.
Indeed, just look at the names attached. We’ve got a series arc partly handled by Dai Sato, whose name has become synonymous with quality (in my mind at least) as well as character and mechanical designs by ‘Mr. Akira’ himself, Katsuhiro Otomo. Quite a coup!
The story itself is, given the somewhat off-the-wall origins of the project, pleasingly heavyweight fare. It concerns Takeru, an adolescent boy living on the moon. He and his friends are a part of what appears to be the remainder of humanity after a catastrophic disaster on Earth. Believing their homeworld to be bereft of life, the citizens of the moon colony lead meticulously controlled lives, knowing nothing different. Until, that is, Takeru finds the contents of a rocket from Earth – a proverbial message in a bottle which suggests that Mother Earth is not as dead as the government of the colony might have everybody believe. Thus, Takeru and his friends set out to find out for themselves exactly what’s going on.
Aesthetically, the show promises much off the bat with a truly eye-popping intro sequence – one of the most memorable I’ve ever seen, in fact – coupled with a stunning intro theme, ‘This Is Love’, by Utada Hikaru – a tune that will certainly stick in your mind.
However, the show’s rather unique visual style doesn’t quite work once we get past those gorgeous opening sequences. While the extensive CG is used in an interesting way, trying to ape the appearance of regular animation cels, there’s a certain off-ness to it that prevents it from being truly convincing. There are moments where some wonderful expression is captured, making it feel markedly different to cel animation, true. But this is spoilt by a distinct air of stiffness and artificiality that pervades the entire show. There’s also some noticeable pixellation and judder during panning shots, which is a real disappointment.
Also, it should be noted that the show contains possibly THE most overt product placement I’ve ever seen in anime. Remember, this show was commissioned by the Nissin Food Corp, and they are NOT letting anyone forget about it. Just check out how often – and where – those cup noodles crop up!
BUT – these bugbears can be forgiven, because they don’t detract too badly from the show’s greatest strength – which is, happily, a really strong storyline. We’re literally taken from the moon to Earth and back as we follow the fortunes of Takeru and his friends, and the overall story concept, which deals with the time-honoured science fiction conceit of mankind presuming to know how best he should govern himself and failing, is undeniably strong.
Admittedly, there are a few wonky moments. You’ll have to crank up the ol’ suspension of disbelief at times. At one point, we’re asked to accept that a couple of disaffected teens know intuitively how to pilot a space rocket, and later on, one of Takeru’s loyal friends metamorphoses much too conveniently into an intractable idiot. But, thank goodness, the momentum of the story is mostly enough to overcome these issues. Provided you’re happy to just go with it, that is.
The short OVA series format serves the story remarkably well, and tight planning by Sato and Katsuhiko Chiba means we get a story that’s coherent and perfectly paced. It’s maybe not quite compelling enough for it to qualify as a classic, but it’s certainly a great deal of fun.
With just the right blend of humour, drama and action – and even a nod to my favourite rock band – Freedom comes highly recommended.
Just remember to bring your cup noodles. Schlurrp!