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Anime Reviews: On Your Mark
More than just a mere music video, On Your Mark tells an uplifting and beautiful story without needing even a single line of dialogue.
Title: On Your Mark
Production: Studio Ghibli
Film Length: 7 minutes
Air Dates: 8/8/1995
Age Rating: 7+ (some mild implied violence)
Summary: In a futuristic city, the police move in to subdue a strange religious cult that has amassed great power in the city. The firefight is a fierce one, leaving none of the cultists alive and reducing everything inside to rubble. Amidst the ruins, two members of the police force happen upon an unconscious woman with the wings of an angel. The two men rescue her, but she is soon taken away by specialists wearing radiation suits. Feeling guilty about simply letting her be carried off to some laboratory somewhere, the two pull an all-nighter to hatch a plan--a plan to rescue the girl once again.
The Good: Beautifully engaging and wondrous to look at; great song
The Bad: If you don't like the song, you probably won't like the video
The Ugly: Implicitly suggests Coca-Cola is a means of torture (maybe?)
The Short Review: It's Hayao Miyazaki. It's less than 7 minutes long. And you can probably find it somewhere on the internet in a matter of seconds. What are you waiting for?!
The Long Review: Yet again, this is a title I've only ever known about because of Anime Academy. That seems to happen a lot. But hey, I'm not complaining--after all, many of my favorite anime were those I've discovered thanks to that site--because without that review, I would've never discovered this tiny little gem hidden among Hayao Miyazaki's mighty pantheon.
Now obviously, I shouldn't have to explain too deeply, but On Your Mark is a wonderfully-animated little video. I mean, of course it is; it's Studio Ghibli! Because that much should already be obvious, it would be more productive to talk about the art direction and settings and designs and stuff. There's a lot of pulpy 1950s sci-fi designs with the police helicopters and the scientist uniforms and army vehicles, and I could just keep going. Miyazaki has always been a fan of those old sci-fi stories, and that certainly shines through here. The lighting and the shading and the animation and the movements and the designs...there's just so many wonderful things to look at in this short film, and that's part of what makes it so great.
As for the story, it's fairly simple, but as Castle of Cagliostro showed us, simplicity isn't a bad thing. Two policemen become disillusioned with the system and decide to rescue the girl who was taken away; it couldn't be any easier to keep track of, and that's the genius of it. The characters, too, are simple and easy to follow, and you come to like them and root for them, even though there's not one single line of dialogue in the video. That's the kind of magic good directors like Miyazaki can pull: They can create complete, emotionally-rewarding stories with strong relatable characters using only visuals and action. Especially in this case, Miyazaki does more in 7 minutes than most directors can in 2 hours.
But hey, now, this is a music video, right? So how's the music? Well, to establish some context, "On Your Mark" was one of the more popular tunes by pop-rock group Chage&Aska in the mid-90s, and so they gave Studio Ghibli permission to make the official music video for it; the end result became something that did not match the song's lyrics whatsoever, but captured its essence beautifully. As with the video itself, the song is beautifully well-written and emotional, even if you can't understand a lick of Japanese. Great catchy melodic lines, memorable pop hooks, ear-pleasing instrumentation...it all just works. The ending, in particular, is hauntingly beautiful, and always makes me feel wistful and nostalgic--just like the video's ending! It truly is a great song, and it has the privilege of having a great video to go with it.
However, there is a chance that some of you reading this may not like the song. Maybe you just don't care for songs where you can't understand the lyrics, maybe you're not a fan of pop-rock like this, maybe you're not a fan of the vocalist, or maybe you just don't like longer songs (7 minutes is a pretty hefty song length). If that's the case, then I'm afraid that this video may not be your cup of tea. Musical tastes are subjective, and sometimes there's no changing the fact, but it does kinda break my heart that some people will give this movie a pass just because the song doesn't appeal to them.
Though with that said, even if the song doesn't click with you, I urge you to stick with On Your Mark. It's just a perfect example of visual storytelling from one of the modern masters of visual storytelling, and for crying out loud, it's only 7 minutes long! There's just too much high quality here for me not to recommend it, and I'll swear by it up and down for as long as I'll live! Just go watch it! Maybe you'll find yourself loving it as much as I do...which I doubt you ever will, because I love it dearly, but it's a risk worth taking!
Final Score: 10 out of 10 (for me). On Your Mark takes a simple concept and turns it into a visual marvel set to a wonderful song, establishing a fantastical setting and memorable characters on an exciting mission, all without even saying a single word.