Billed as Japan’s first CGI feature film, “A.Li.Ce” is more than likely to make you wonder where you placed your Playstation or XBox controller, getting ready for the moment where the character interaction stops and the first-person shooter part begins. At times, it almost threatens to indicate the beginning for “Player 1”, but stays snugly within the story of Alice Hayashi (voice of Kaori Shimizu), a Japanese teen idol who’s become the winner of the Lunar Tour Sweepstakes and in turn, the youngest astronaut ever.
“A.Li.Ce” actually starts in 2030, in the midst of a snow-speeder chase between Alice and what we learn later to be a robotic waitress from the shuttle, later dubbed “Maria” (Mariko Kokufuda). As almost standard as it is, Maria displays human tendencies, while sticking close by what she was programmed to do, to serve (though there’s none of the waitress capability in her anymore) and protect. The chase is like any other chase, with guns ablazing, and bad guys after both of them for whatever reason, and it is quite a reason for Alice who only expected to still be in her time after the crash.
She encounters Yuan (Chihiro Suzuki), who takes her to his home. After she recovers somewhat from the shock of it all, she reveals where she came from and to her, he reveals his past as well as the disappearance of his parents and friends from what is called Lapland, or rather the North Pole in our terms. It seems that a dictator named Nero took a stranglehold on the world, utilizing a supercomputer called SS10X to grab hold of all the other computers on the planet, and sending out his Stealth Troopers to take over every part of the world, the ones whom Alice encountered early on.
There’s no explanation as to why the title of the film is shown as such with periods in between and in the case of the title being displayed without all capital letters, that way too. Perhaps it’s there to represent a suddenly split life for Alice, but even that becomes extremely troublesome in a scene where it is explained (as almost everything else is explained) that somehow, Alice gave birth to dictator Nero. She may have dropped into 2030, but it seems that she was somehow still around in 2000, enough to give birth to the kid, and be struck down by a coma which led to Nero’s years in an orphanage. Nero also exhibited an immense skill in computers which led him to pursue the environmentally-driven themes inherent in this movie. In fact, it’s those moments with ruminations on the state of the environment where the film becomes far too preachy.
Yuan, her sidekick for nearly 85 minutes along with Maria, has the typical street-smart, can’t-be-bothered-by-your-naivety attitude common of guys who come upon girls in the aftermath of a fierce chase. And as expected, he eventually warms up to her, but we’re spared the usual romantic overtones, opting instead to allow Alice to complete the final leg of her mission. Even worse than clichéd characterizations, is a seemingly good character that comes into play as part of the Liberation Forces. He’s willing to help, but for some inexplicable reason, has that “ulterior motive” that doesn’t make sense at all. While the animation is exciting at times here, it doesn’t have a strong story and in order to make animation work, it can’t only exist on its drawings or computer images. “A.Li.Ce” does try though, but it’s not an entirely pleasant experience, especially in being more frustrating than entertaining.
On the DVD, courtesy of Artsmagic, the first main attraction is an interview with director Kenichi Maejima, who explains the hardships of CGI, his work before becoming director of “A.Li.Ce”, and the DLP system which was used by George Lucas in theaters for his Star Wars movies. “A.Li.Ce” was not only the first CGI feature in Japan, but it was also the first movie to use that projection system, which wasn’t available without physical technical support standing by. The other attraction is a seminar from London Sci-Fi 2003, which focused on the history of CGI animation or more specifically, how it came about in Japan. Steven Lisberger, the director of “Tron” happened to be a major influence on some anime directors, and it’s one of many interesting points Jonathan Clements, the co-author of The Anime Encyclopedia, puts out for mental absorption. Clements clearly knows his material and doesn’t merely throw out names to impress, but puts deep context behind him, while also exhibiting a real appreciation for anime, something I admittedly cannot embrace. The rest of the DVD is filled with an image gallery, production notes for “A.Li.Ce” and “Blue Remains”, and brief profiles of the main crew members.
Even with the story failures in “A.Li.Ce”, some of the visuals make up for that, and Artsmagic’s DVD is a satisfactory release.