It’s been 20 years since a nuclear meltdown ravaged the city of Tokyo, and even its name has been lost to the atomic. Known now as the Old Capitol, the streets are green with a queasy haze and the tenacious plant life pokes through the concrete and ensnares the broken buildings. Despite the inhospitable conditions, refugees are scattered among the wastes. Instead of investing in better hazmats, the Japan Ground Self-Defence Force turns instead to genetic engineering. The end result is Coppelion - three high school girls impervious to the ravages of radioactivity, charged with finding and rescuing survivors. Quite why you’d make high school girls for the task remains a mystery, but you can’t fault their results.
What’s perhaps most striking about Coppelion, other than the allusions to the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, is the handsome animation conjuring Origin: Spirits of the Past. Both are examples of a ravaged future that doesn’t lose sight of wonder and beauty. Within each are lingering tales of survival and family, that aren’t mired in the doom and gloom of others in the genre. But in Coppelion’s case, what you see is what you get, and the black and white approach leaves the viewer with unfulfilled expectations.
If the backdrops are an arty accomplishment, then the characters disrupt the illusion. With their thick black outlines, each looks misplaced against the almost photorealistic settings. Factoring in the erratic musical accompaniment and often clunky CG additions, it makes for a vexing watch.
20 years might be too short a time for the level of dilapidation and natural reclamation seen, but Coppelion’s Old Capitol setting is its strongest asset. Despite the lack of depth to the characters beyond their given archetypes, there’s still something alluring on offer. Maybe it’s the sense of loss and loneliness mirroring real events, or perhaps it’s just the enduring story of Pinocchio, of these genetically made ‘living dolls’ looking for humanity in a nuclear waste.
COPPELION: COMPLETE SERIES COLLECTION / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: HIROMITSU KANAZAWA, SUSUMU KUDO, SHINGO SUZUKI / SCREENPLAY: TOMONORI INOUE / STARRING: ERICA LINDBECK, SHELBY LINDLEY, CASANDRA MORRIS, JOE THOMAS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW