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Friday, March 23, 2018

Rebirth Moon Divergence: Or, as O~3 Entertainment Would Have Used, Reverse Moon Diva Gents...

From 1998 to 2004, Idea Factory more or less made its own anime productions, both for anime & the occasional game sequence. While there were "actual" animation studios involved, they tended to either only assist or work alongside IF as co-producers. The only exception at this point was 2001 TV anime Mamimume Mogacho, a claymation/CG mix that was based on an Idea Factory game, but was co-animated by Sega & Swimmers Animation Studio, though IF's staff were still directing & producing. Starting in 2005, though, Idea Factory decided to stop making animation in-house & simply hire an animation studio to handle that workload. The studio of choice was Wao World, which was established in 2000 as a subsidiary of educational company Wao Corporation, and at this point had only operated as an assistance studio on anime like Wind -a breath of heart- & Zoids: Fuzors. Wao's sole primary production by 2005 was the historical movie Nitaboh, the Shamisen Master the year prior, but has since been the main studio for series like Showa Monogatari, Time Travel Girl, & Anime-Gataris, as well as other historical films directed by Akio Nishizawa, head of Wao Corporation.

Yeah, those are French fansub credits... They're the best I could work with.

Wao World's involvement with Idea Factory wouldn't last too long, as after 2006 IF moved on to simply using still character portraits for things like intro sequences, with the final game to feature actual animation throughout being Spectral Force 3: Innocent Rage on the Xbox 360. Not just that, but Wao World didn't really make all that much for IF, with only four games actually bearing any fruit. Aside from the aforementioned 360 game, there were three PS2 games that saw Wao do both in-game cutscenes & OVA prologues. The most infamous was IFMate dating sim Mars of Destruction, which was the second Wao/IF production, but the other two had a curious subtitle for their respective OVAs. Both early-2005's Spectral Force Chronicle & late-2005's Rebirth Moon were strategy RPGs, and both of their OVAs were given the word "Divergence" in their titles. Anyway, while I've been unable to get a hold of the former's OVA in any way, shape, or form (at least for a decent price), there is a French fansub out there for the latter that I can at least worm my way through. Rebirth Moon was the first (& only) game in the IF Type-0 label, which was meant to be for more experimental forms of gameplay. In the end, though, the only thing that came out of the game was that its radial-based combat system would be carried over to Chaos Wars & IF Neverland spin-off game Spectral Gene. The game would also be given an enhanced HD port on the 360 under the name Diario: Rebirth Moon Legend in 2007. So let's see how Idea Factory ended its foray into anime with Rebirth Moon Divergence, which came out alongside the PS2 game.

Six years ago, a man named Reglight comes across a boy who seemingly crash landed in the forest, leaving a giant crater in the ground. He decided to raise the boy, named Ires Lufard, and the two become a surrogate father-son pair of peddlers. On their way to the town of Gramnoah, they come across Juan Millworth, a magic user called a Tempest who mistakes them for bandits & fights them. Reglight manages to keep him at bay using his Sougu, a weapon created by his very thoughts, but after extended use, he realizes he has no time left. After fighting back Juan, Reglight is swallowed up by a black light, with his last words to Ires being, "Visit Oldman in Gramnoah." This would only mark the start of Ires' adventure, which will uncover the mystery of a black cube also left to him by Reglight, and how it relates to the Cube energy that people have managed to utilize to create Sougu.

No matter how bad any of these Idea Factory anime have come out, I could at least always give the game company credit for simply not taking the easy way out. Being that IF's primary focus was on video games, one could assume that any of these OVAs would have simply ripped the cutscenes from its respective game, slapped them together with a basic framing device, and called it a day. But no, Idea Factory always took the higher ground, actually creating original footage just for the OVAs; sure, most of them were ineptly produced to varying extents, but effort was still there. Unfortunately, that is not the case with Rebirth Moon Divergence. After roughly eight years of "making anime", Idea Factory ended things by taking the easy way out.

That's right... This OVA is nothing more than the anime cutscenes from the PS2 video game, spliced together with a basic framing device. I, I don't even know where to start...

Okay, so it should go without saying in specific detail that the way this OVA operates means that it's next to impossible to properly understand the plot. For example, at the start we go from Reglight finding Ires to the encounter with Juan (pronounced like "Yuan") in a forest, and then the following scene is Ires & Juan fighting each other in a town, only to be interrupted by Raika Yuzurugi, who winds up journeying with Ires & eventually becomes his love interest. Now, yes, the basic framing device to link each scene is there throughout this OVA, but it's nothing more than a narrator stating the on-screen text that's shown on screen, with a computer of some sort shown in the background. Sure, it does technically explain how the story moves from one scene to another, but it completely betrays the concept of "Show, Don't Tell" in every way possible. Not just that, but it's not like these scenes really say much on their own.

By the way, why am I so sure that these are nothing more than the game's anime cutscenes? It's because some of these scenes are literally nothing more than 10 seconds long, with at least one even being less than that; an ideal length to set up something for a game's set piece, but not for standalone storytelling. Because of this, we don't get to really have any understanding of who these characters are, and I'm sure there are important characters that aren't even showcased here. For example, the beginning of the OP sequence does a quick roll call for Ires, Juan, Raika, & a woman named Reel Valder, yet Reel isn't seen in a single, solitary scene after the OP! Not just that, but the credits listing the voice actors makes it impossible to try to identify who the other shown characters are, because the OVA simply copies wholesale the entire end credits of the video game, right down to who voices multiple characters. When combined with the fact that multiple characters get shown without ever being named, this results in the viewer not really being able to care about anything that happens.

In fact, there's a flashback scene about who I'm guessing is Oldman, if only because he's an old man, that shows how his experiments in trying to help someone, likely his wife, only resulted in her evaporating into nothingness. If I had any real idea on who this guy was, and what exactly was going on here, I'd likely feel something for him. Once again, though, this isn't helped by the fact that the last bit of this scene transitions from (maybe) Oldman to a completely different guy in the same location, so I have no idea who Oldman really is, in the end. This especially applies to Rujail, a long-haired man who seems to the main villain & is named only through the narration bits, but you know absolutely nothing about him, yet they show his final fate at the end. It kind of sucks, too, because the character designs by Idea Factory's Tatsunori Nakamura are all really nice & varied, and I feel like I could possibly get to enjoy these characters, if the OVA actually tried to establish them in any way.

I'm sorry, madam, I have no idea who you are, but I feel like I could
have found you to be a very enjoyable character. If only the OVA bothered
to even just identify you by your name...

All that being said, though, I can say that there is a single shining light throughout all of this: The animation. While Mars of Destruction was also animated by Wao World, it still did feel a bit cheap & lifeless all throughout. Rebirth Moon's animation, on the other hand, is actually rather good, enough so that you could have easily imagined these cutscenes here being from an actual anime series. It's also such a sharp contrast from Idea Factory's own prior output, as it's nothing more than "traditional animation", with absolutely no CG to be found, whatsoever. This is backed up by the fact that this was all handled by experienced people from the anime industry, with storyboards by Masakatsu Iijima (Pokémon), animation direction by Mio Araki (Reborn!, Show By Rock!#), & Naotaka Hayashi (Morita-san wa Mukuchi, Girl Friend Beta) leading the entire production as director.

Likewise, Kenji Kaneko's music is a sharp improvement compared to something like Skelter+Heaven, but you wind up hearing so little of it, since most of the scenes are too short to really let the music properly establish a scene, if it's even used at all in some scenes. Interestingly enough, this Divergence OVA doesn't use the game's actual OP theme, "Megaphone" by Harenchi Punch (a.k.a. 80_pan), instead relying on a hard rock instrumental from Kaneko's soundtrack; to be honest, I prefer the game's OP theme. Oppositely, though, the ED theme in this OVA is the same soft instrumental ballad by Kaneko that the game uses, so at least this song, titled "Gone", is properly credited, unlike the replaced OP. To be fair, though, the whole "replacing the game's theme songs" thing isn't new, as the versions of the first two Generation of Chaos OVAs that came with their respective games' special editions also did the same exact thing; the game OPs for those OVAs were only on the standalone retail DVDs. As for the cast, I can't really say much about it, simply because characters like Ires (voiced by Junko Minagawa) & Raika (by Rie Tanaka) barely say much of anything in this OVA, especially Ires, surprisingly enough.

ANN's Mike Toole once recalled in 2013 about speaking with ADV's Matt Greenfield years ago, & how he admitted that he felt that the Spectral Force OVA was nothing more but the anime cutscenes from the "unfinished game". Greenfield was wrong on that account, but he unknowingly foretold the future, because Idea Factory would actually do such a thing just two years later with Rebirth Moon Divergence. I never thought I'd actually have to say this in regards to an anime that Idea Factory produced itself, but this OVA actually makes me disappointed in how the company effectively just gave up at the end. As I said earlier on, while most of Idea Factory's output wasn't really "good" by most means, with a couple of notable exceptions that were enjoyable, I wound up at least having some modicum of respect for the fact that Shingo Kuwana & Yoshiteru Sato had an idea to make anime to go with their video games... And they actually did so. They embodied the Ed Wood spirit of having a dream of "making movies" & making it reality, regardless of how untalented they really were at it. That being said, though, Wood's career in film did end with him doing pornographic movies, a sign that he may have lost some of the old drive he once had (not helped by his deepening depression, either). Similarly, one could guess that, by the release of Rebirth Moon, Kuwana & Sato had more or less gotten tried of trying to make anime, so they just tried slapping the pre-existing work made for the game onto a DVD; I wonder if this is also the case for Spectral Force Chronicle Divergence. This is not outside of reason, either, as Spectral Force 3 never received an OVA of any sort, and after that game Idea Factory simply stopped utilizing anime completely; all anime adaptations since then simply feature IF in a general production role, but nothing direct.

So come back next week, as to end off this month's return to the Idea Factory anime well, we'll go back to the early days one last time, back when Idea Factory was willing to try as hard as its staff possibly could. Therefore, I ask you this: What would have happened if Ed Wood had actually made an entire TV series?

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