Space Fantasia 2001 Nights

Hard science fiction film is almost non-existant these days. The world of science fiction literature is brimming with it, but most science fiction films simply use it as a setting for lots of explosions and human opera, as you will. Hard sci-fi is difficult because it is usually epic in nature and highly cerebral. Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyessy is the most popular hard sci-fi film of all time, but it's also dull and pretentious, even those of us who like to think of ourselves as reasonably intellectual.

As such, it's no surprise that 1987's Space Fantasia 2001 Nights has never appeared on the collective otaku radar in the States. It contains one explosion and tons of exposition. It creates unsubtle biblical parallels that seem vaguely Mormon (if you know anything of their eschatological theology). It has a non-linear storyline that will confuse the mecha-addicted crowd, and the cheese factor occasionally heads into limburger territory. But it's also smart, thoughtful, and engaging. It's a show that deserved more of an audience, and it far exceeds most of the mediocre OVAs released in the US in the 1990s.

In the near future, overpopulation and pollution limit the potential of the earth to sustain human life. The one great hope is space exploration -- finding a home where our species can make a new start. That hope is pinned on the Robinson family, whose seed will become wayfarers. These children will be created on board a vessel that will take several hundred years to find a suitable planet for life. While the Robinsons are justifiably concerned about how their children will survive and thrive on the voyage, they agree to become parents of a new humanity. The ship carrying their future children heads on its way, but soon those on Earth lose track of its path. Part of the reason why is because spaceflight becomes much less complicated very quickly, within mere decades. Where once long distance journeys would take millenia, now faster-than-light travel makes time much less of an issue. The issue is no longer sending one family out into the void, but terraforming the universe so that the march of entropy might slow every so slightly.

What I've laid before you is a generalized concept of what you'll see in 2001 Nights. It's hard to describe without spoiling some surprises. But my description captures the heady concepts that you'll find in this anime. Concepts are really what this show is all about.  There's virtually no violence, no battles or mecha, and the lone material that's potentially objectionable is a few frames of the Robinsons naked, representing Adam and Eve. It should by all accounts be boring, but it's not. In fact, it's fascinating. For those of us who read science fiction growing up, stories by H.G. Wells and Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke and Orson Scott Card, this is really a treat. Surprisingly enough, for being hard sci-fi, it is quite moving if you let the show take you where it wants to go. With solid animation, good character designs, and a whole ream of intelligence, the world deserves more anime like this.

Well, at least if it weren't for the cheese factor. 2001 Nights is earnest. Now I have no problem with being earnest. Deep sincerity is a good thing. I want my auto mechanic to be sincerely honest when he hands me an estimate. I think pastors and lawyers and professionals should be earnest. But in a film, the line between earnestness and silliness is thin, and this movie crosses it. Most of the time, it's because they pan the camera.  A lot. I mean, A LOT. Panning over a still frame of a happy family or a new world teeming with life once or twice?  I can deal with it. Panning every few minutes to underline the serious, epic nature of a show? Too much. There were a couple of times I wanted to yell at the screen, "You're serious!  I get it!  Move on!" A few other issues push the cheese barrier, including the whole play on "Robinson Crusoe" and "Swiss Family Robinson." It's enough to keep the show from an A grade...and, frankly, serious enough to keep this from ever having a US release. Most anime fans these days would just laugh at it.

But that said, I really liked Space Fantastia 2001 Nights. While its execution is not perfect, by any stretch, what it attempts is special. It's worth the bandwidth to download, especially if you like old-school anime. Too many anime these days aim no higher than "average." They may hit their target, but is it worth hitting?  The truth is, I was solidly entertained by this OVA for an hour, and that's all I can ask.

Space Fantasia 2001 Nights -- brief nudity -- B+