With theatrical films proving to be a lucrative avenue for animation producers over the past couple of years, we're seeing more and more efforts in Japan to bring anime to the big screen - not just in terms of spin-off movies from existing, popular franchises, but also via entirely new outings that would otherwise have probably enjoyed life as a standard twelve or thirteen episode TV anime series.
This brings us to Towa no Quon, a series of six short films from Studio BONES that very much falls into the latter category as an original outing that finds itself with the opportunity to enjoy the additional sheen afforded a theatrical release, while also proving to be rather poignant as the final project undertaken by director Umanosuke Iida before his tragic death from lung cancer in late November last year. Thanks to this year's Scotland Loves Anime, we've been able to enjoy the first of these six films to get a feel for what it has to offer.
This opening instalment of Towa no Quon wastes no time in getting down to business as we see a major military operation, run from a decidedly NERV-esque looking headquarters, swinging into action - an operation that seems targeted at a mere young boy. Of course, all is not what it seems here, and before we know it this distraught child is morphing into something entirely more dangerous, while the attempts to engage and capture him is put paid to by the appearance of some super-powered individuals who ensure that all present make good their escape in spectacular fashion.
As the film progresses, we're introduced properly to "Attractors", as they're known - individuals whose feelings and emotions manifest themselves as powers of various kinds. Needless to say, this is a terrifying and sudden development for those involved, and it's also one fraught with danger thanks to the aforementioned military-esque faction who look to capture and subdue these individuals using the myriad powers at their disposal, including a number of advanced, emotionless cyborgs known as WTOC.
The only real protection for these Attractors as they're "born" is the film's titular character Quon - himself an Attractor with his own set of powers who, alongside a number of colleagues, hides himself within the surroundings of an attraction named Fantasium Garden by day whilst running an operation to help those in need no matter the personal consequences. During the course of this first film, Quon finds himself with two newly-emerged Attractors to concern himself with - a real problem when his opponents launch a bid to capture them both at once...
Thanks to its rapid, no nonsense opening scenes, Towa no Quon's first movie immediately exhibits many of its best features - a well-realised futuristic setting, nice character designs and some sensational break-neck action sequences that evoke thoughts of both seasons of Darker Than Black when it was at its best. Indeed, aspects of Towa no Quon as a whole bear some similarity to said series, with Attracters and their individual powers bringing to mind a cross between Darker Than Black and X-Men, which isn't a bad thing I'm sure you'll agree.
Where this opening instalment does struggle a little is with regard to its characters. While one of the film's blossoming Attractors has her story fleshed out quite succinctly, we learn nothing about most of the other characters aside from some heavy-handed hints about Quon's far-reaching past. This leaves us with little investment in many of the characters or little feeling for their circumstances or motivations - given that this is only one instalment of six there's clearly room for plenty more developments along these lines in future films, but there's still enough lacking even at this early stage to leave us feeling a little distant from the action on-screen.
This inability to pin down why to care about the film's scenario and story is the one big criticism that overshadows Towa no Quon as a whole - putting this aside, the film is slickly animated (some moments of clunky CG aside), its action sequences are breath-taking in their execution and its core concept undeniably has plenty of potential. Even the odd flashes of fan service and slightly tiresome character tropes occasionally on show are written tightly into the script, allowing them to pass by without ever becoming frustrating.
Overall then, our thoughts about this first instalment of Towa no Quon is that it undoubtedly has potential. If it fleshes out its characters and setting in future films it has a lot to work with, and as a visual spectacle it's satisfying at worst and stunning when it kicks things up a gear for its action quota. We'll certainly be keeping a close eye on its future film instalments - provided we get to see them here in the UK, of course.
Towa no Quon was screened at the Scotland Loves Anime 2011 event in Edinburgh