A less-talked-about trend in 2016, from the industry’s side, was the inclusion of tie-in animations to help further boost or otherwise promote the presence of a particular IP. Whether they be side-stories which helped flesh out particular characters à la Overwatch‘s animated shorts or prequel tales — of which, arguably, hindered the importance of certain elements in the main game — with Final Fantasy XV, video games (let alone video game releases) are branching further and further from out their once primordial base of presentation into a more expansive and wider variety of visual mediums. Japan might very well be way ahead of the curve on this one with not just Final Fantasy, but fellow RPG giants in the Tales series getting its own anime — albeit one retelling the events of its previous video game incarnation — to add to the many, like Persona, who have seen their stature only grow by way of broadening out to the now ¥60-70 billion valued industry that is anime.
While Gravity Rush might not have the same collective scale as other respected (and far older) Japanese IP’s, the original game — now also a PS4 title by way of this year’s remaster — still holds respect among those with or without a Vita. To help promote the sequel’s arrival next month, Gravity Rush: Overture aims to bridge the gap between the events of the first and second game by giving us insight into the further, gravity-manipulating adventures of lead protagonist Kat — a modestly upbeat, wholly heroic and quite food-savvy protag whose never outside the confines of a gravity-based fight for too long. And outside, in this accompany piece especially, the misgivings of figurative animating short-cuts it has to be said. Though to be fair, from two episodes alone — which combined don’t even last the length of an average anime series episode; entries here having a duration of around eight minutes, credits included — it’s hard not to be partially reserved on not just what’s been offered up here, but potentially just how much of a tale Overture intends to portray when the sequel is but mere week away.
What Overture feels like instead is a modestly light-hearted look into the daily foray of Kat’s life both in and out of Hekseville and of the new locale she now finds herself in as this series’ early proceedings allude to and eventually reveal as the basis for Gravity Rush 2. That said, there’s plentiful amounts, on the visual and directive front, to look at here and one of the least conspicuous aspects is indeed its animation and aesthetic direction here. There’s little doubt as to the intention to replicate the main game’s cel-shaded art-style and its rather borderless division of light, pastoral colors — which themselves contrast rather well with the more vibrant, pseudo-supernatural shades that come by way of Kat’s manipulation of gravity — and from that angle, Overture from the off does a nice job at creating a warm, somber yet spacious atmosphere to hit home the steampunk-lite, industrial tinge to its setting.
So it’s a shame then that both the World and indeed its characters’ soft blemishes of color and gentler drawn outlines are tainted by some rather lazy animation work at points. Kat as well as some secondary character additions merely floating between still backdrops, or even out of shot at points, you’d almost think you were watching some faux-humorous YouTube “critic” analysis on the very thing (and I definitely mean that disdain towards YouTube with all my heart and soul; it’s certainly not a compliment). And this is long before any sign of lip syncing, even if carefully and more subtlety tucked away amidst higher-paced line delivery, being jarringly off-kilter from the actual movement of a character’s mouth.
Another frown-inducer is the slightly-erratic shake-up of environments the characters themselves shift to in order to lead the early plot onwards. One minute we’re in a town square, the next we’re up in the baseless skies, now we’re at the big-bad’s fortress for that inevitable confrontation. Perhaps this is intended as a reference to Gravity Rush‘s overall astrologically-defiant setting and the fact the greater Gravity-verse is a multi-mish-mash of conflicting physical and natural properties. Nevertheless, it still comes off a little forced and dare I say it lazy in transitioning to a new scene to meet the plot’s pacing. A little more considered transitioning and perhaps I can get onboard with the physical mythos on display.
Even so, time constraints aside — and perhaps the argument that an overfond love for food is skirting the boundary between tolerant and downright annoying from Kat’s perspective — it’s good to see how firm yet absolute this animated short sets in stone Kat’s relationship with fellow gravity manipulator Raven. Two girls, despite their conflicting levels of frontal emotion, getting along rather well, working well in fact when met with one another’s presence — showcased prominently during the second episode’s main confrontation between two similarly in-tandem foes. The antagonists too sharing that same lighter palette of tone and shading if a little more psychedelic dare I say, in hue. And when all this selective use of shading flows together — the slightly-less saturated backdrops, against the spectral glow of gravity manipulation — it helps make the action-orientated set-pieces feel a little less hollow than what many may be used to seeing in modern-day “stylish” deliveries.
How far the sequel will go in addressing any potential fork in Kat & Raven’s relationship remains to be seen, but the foundation is certainly there to make or otherwise break the two heroines’ friendly camaraderie. Even if Kat’s persona does at times fall a little too comfortably into that “naively innocent/ditzy” compartment here, it’s not that dominant against what is an equally-placed seriousness when locked in combat. Questions do remain as to whether Overture is a hint or much less accompanied delve into a deeper exposition behind Kat’s amnesia-induced past or the ill-fate of her former home. It doesn’t help that my personal curiosity is aimed more so as to why buildings here are drawn with such oddly stretched perspectives (see the header image above).
Furthermore, why on Earth does the end credits — as far as visuals go — come off like some 80s “aesthetics” trip into VHS-scape, vaporwave-like neon necessity? Depriving us of any and all softer (successful) limitation on color. Anime endings are often visually oblique to that of the main animation and while they may offer a momentary glance at some accompanying concept art or hand-drawn sketches of particular characters, the ending crawl here just feels…well…abstractedly odd. Given Kat’s predicament during the close of the second episode is not in some bizarro VHS Universe, that is. Nevertheless, the World [tower] of Gravity Rush is one I wouldn’t mind getting a jolly expansion of and Overture has the artistic merit, not to mention the restraint, to help elaborate if not successful reflect that promise. But if there’s one thing I want from the sequel, it’s for Kat to stop going on about how much she likes food. Enough of that please, thanks.