Yet another anime original piece that has an interesting concept but fails at the execution.

Garakowa Screenshot 1

Title: Garakowa -Restore the World- (Glass no Hana to Kowasu Sekai)
Genre: Science Fiction
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Director: Masashi Ishihama
Script: Fumihiko Shimo
Music: Masaru Yokoyama
Release Date: Streaming on Crunchyroll as of January 16, 2016

Coming from Masashi Ishihama, the director of Shinsekai Yori, and Toshie Kawamura as chief animation director (who has worked on multiple entries in the Precure franchise), Garakowa is a frequently visually stunning sci-fi/magical girl mashup of a movie. It makes nods to popular tropes within the genre while still trying to create something unique in its own right, and it almost succeeds.

Garakowa is a movie running a little over an hour long that follows the story of two personified anti-virus programs. These programs — named Dorothy and Dual — are charged with protecting the computer space they live in, referred to as the Box of Wisdom, from corrupted files and the viruses that grow out of them, transforming into magical girls to do so. One day, they rescue a girl named Remo from the viruses, who only remembers that she needs to “return to the flower garden.” Dorothy and Dual decide to take in Remo while they try to figure out what kind of program she is, and find out more about their world in the process.

There are many tiny details that make it clear that the scriptwriters thought through the premise (for instance, the anti-virus programs “sleep” in order to receive updates), but what they chose to focus on during the limited runtime is baffling. Instead of fleshing out character details — like the anti-viruses’s increasingly human reactions to the files that they have to destroy — the movie spends its runtime avoiding discussing the pieces that make its plot interesting and unique, opting for something that wouldn’t be out of place in a slice-of-life TV anime instead.

This is easy to forgive at the beginning of the movie since the worlds inside the files and the Box of Wisdom itself provide breathtaking environments for the characters to interact in. Much of the initial draw of the movie is the contrast between the “real world” recorded inside the files and the fantasy-techo hybrid world of the Box of Wisdom, as well as the battle sequences. But even those moments make strange choices — there are random fade-to-black cuts in the middle of action scenes that cut to the exact same shot, and scenes contain washed-out colors on an inconsistent basis, making the detailed moments stand out all the more for the wrong reasons. However, the problems with the visuals are minimal when compared to the story the movie tries to tell.

Garakowa Screenshot 2

Once the shine on the animation wears off, the strange priorities in the writing become clear. Certain characters and concepts that were dealt with for about a minute are then treated as super-important plot points by the end of the movie, which begs the question of why they weren’t developed when they first came up. It is easy say that this is because the movie didn’t have enough time to do so, but since it felt that it had enough time to have not one, but two insert song montages near the halfway point that add nothing to the plot aside from the girls in various different outfits, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Garakowa seems to think that a few shocking images is all that it needs in order to invoke tragedy. For instance, at one point during the montage sequence, the girls are shown images of war and their reactions are near-identical shocked faces that are flashed between images of destroyed buildings. Then the movie immediately returns to happier scenes of their idyllic life playing over J-Pop. This moment seems to be representative of how the movie expects the viewers to react, like it’s saying, “Wow, isn’t that sad? Now feel sad! …Ok, did we have our five seconds of sadness? Now back to cute anime girls!”

Garakowa Screenshot 3

Because of this, Garakowa can be a very frustrating movie to watch since all it needed to do was spend just a little more time establishing the emotional effect that deleting files has on the girls in order to make its sadder side feel authentic. It also doesn’t explain why the events of the movie are even happening — without getting into spoilers, I have to say that I have no clue what the motivations were for the main villain, nor what their actions were trying to accomplish. Its plot twist is set up with hints that focus on a very specific part of what is going on and not the entire scope, which results in an infodump at the very end of the movie. It’s hard to leave an emotional impact when what should be a moving scene ends up having a character explain exactly what is happening as it is happening.

There are worse ways to spend an hour, but in the end Garakowa ranges from average to just plain disappointing, becoming yet another anime with an interesting premise that lacked the writing skill to flesh it out into something more than a pretty distraction.