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Enjoyable Eye-Candy, Even If You're Not Drawn to Anime

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 4, 2005; Page C05

Fans of the exquisite if recondite Japanese art form known as anime will probably be amused by the Korean entree into the field, "Sky Blue."

It's clearly an acolyte work, by people who adore anime, have seen oceans of it, have invested money, effort, talent and brains on it, but somehow can't quite find the core. So where the great Japanese anime, like the two "Ghost in the Shell" extravaganzas or the stunning "Samurai X," have soul and mystery and the buzz of mythic resonances, "Sky Blue" has drop-dead technique and not a buzz, a soul or a mystery in its pretty head.

Moon Sang Kim creates a post-apocalyptic world of haves (Ecoban) and have-nots (Diggers). (Maxmedia/endgame)

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It's a handsome thing, familiar and new at once, thoroughly entertaining if hardly memorable. Too typically, it's one of those future-world dystopian fantasies in which handsome teenagers save us from ourselves while killing dozens of anonymous soldiers with really cool automatic weapons and muttering romantic banalities about puppy love.

As the director Moon Sang Kim envisions the Earth in 2042, an eco-catastrophe has clouded over the sky and wasted the planet. There are enough resources for only one city, a metropolis -- after Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" -- called Ecoban, where the elite enjoy decadent comfort, while outside, in the wasteland, the proles (called Diggers) live and die in squalor and misery, working on the gigantic, dangerous machinery that (somehow) refines pollution into energy to keep Ecoban's lights lit.

Our heroes are all of the Ecoban aristocracy: Jay, a redheaded young security cop of the female persuasion, her boss and lover Cade, and Shua, Jay's childhood boyfriend who has been exiled to the wasteland with the Diggers and there, led by the visionary Prof. Noah, plots to destroy Ecoban's machinery so that Diggers and Ecobanites can live in equality.

The animation fuses cel techniques -- that is, drawing -- for character and movement, and computer graphics for background and machinery while it tells a pretty basic story. Yes, there's a triangle -- both Cade and Shua love Jay -- and yes, Jay cannot forget Shua, who was exiled owing to the machinations of the jealous Cade. Yes, there are a couple of cute kids. Yes, everybody has really big eyes. Yes, nobody looks particularly Asian -- or Anglo for that matter -- but simply of some post-racial future breed, handsome and generic and lean.

And yes, the director Kim loves machines: The favored mode of transportation seems to be motorcycles sheathed in bullet-shaped armor, or weird sky craft, part kite, part lighter-than-air, part skiff. And yes, the wasteland is bleak and barren and the city looks like downtown Alphaville as reimagined by a design team from Lego.

And yes, you'll enjoy every second, proving that predictability has at least one virtue: It's predictable.

Sky Blue (86 minutes, at Landmark's E Street) is rated PG-13 for mild, essentially bloodless violence.

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