The film is based on the novel Harmony (2010) by the Japanese science-fiction writer Project Itoh. This was the pseudonym of Satoshi Ito who died in 2009 at the age of 34. At the time, Itoh had only released two novels but left behind two others that were posthumously published, as well three collections of short stories and two of movie reviews collected from his website. His work received a number of awards, including the prestigious Philip K. Dick Award upon being published in English. Itoh has also proven popular in terms of film adaptations. There had been the previous The Empire of Corpses (2012) from a different animation studio, a Steampunk work set in an alternate Victorian England involving Frankenstein-like experiments. There is also the upcoming adaptation of Genocidal Organ (2016), which was supposed to come out before this but suffered delays due to the financial collapse of its studio, necessitating that the release of Harmony be speeded up.
Michael Arias has made a concerted effort to move away from the Cyberpunk and dark future design schemes that have dominated science-fiction animes look for the past two decades. Rather than a dense technologically-overwhelmed world, we have a world designed in gracefully sweeping curves where the technology has seamlessly slipped in to be absorbed. Pointedly also, the film moves away from the action and mass destruction that fuels most anime apart from a pursuit/shootout with a plane at the start and places the emphasis on story and dialogue. The other intriguing choice is the style of animation. While most theatrically-released anime these days has made a move towards photorealistic detail, Arias goes the other way and readily adopts the simplistic, angular character lines of anime of the 1970s through to the 1990s. For some reason, the film is also designed in an overwhelmingly pink visual scheme.
Michael Arias apparently made all effort to be as faithful to the Project Itoh novel as possible. This results in a strong character-driven story. It is also a film that sets up and deals with a complex portrait of the future I was reminded quite often of Gattaca (1997) and a story that definitely requires you to pay attention. What we eventually get is a quasi-Utopian future the theme of a eugenically engineered or cyber-monitored utopias where the push towards conformity and homogeneity masks troubles beneath the calm surface is one we have started to see in a number of other anime works such as Appleseed (2004) and Psycho Pass (2012-4). Harmony pushes that to an extreme where beneath the homogenous disquiet lurks the potential to erase any concept of free will.
(Screening Courtesy of Sparks Animation Festival)