Exaella – An Experimental Cyberpunk OVA
Exaella was supposed to be this week’s anime review. It’s a 4 episodes OVA co-produced by Russain director Andrew Oudot and Japanese director Isakawa Denisu. Exaella uses Japanese voice actors and one of the directors is of Japanese origin, but after watching it I can confirm it doesn’t exactly fall under the (strict) definition of anime. To its defense I should say that Andrew Oudot registered the domain cyberpunk-anime-shop.com specifically for selling this title. However Exaella differs somewhat from what makes modern anime series what they are. The animation is the first point which separates Exaella from what you would call anime. As discriminating as it might sound Exaella was animated by a Russian animation studio so it cannot be categories as anime. This OVA was also never officially released in Japan in any way. So it doesn’t adhere to the creation and distribution standards most people (as well as websites like anidb) expect from an anime. So when I refer to Exealla as an OVA I mean Original Video Animation (and not Original Video Anime as one might expect). But not being able to post an OVA in the Anime Reviews section doesn’t mean I can’t review it here. Exaella is, after all, an interesting experiment.
After completely exhausting the resources of their own planet millions of people were forced to enter a deep sleep, frozen inside automated underground complexes. These complexes are operated by advanced AI systems and in each of them resided a supreme operator – a human being capabale of mind-controlling the machinery around them both in the virtual world and the real world. One such underground complex was called Xonasu. One day an unexpected meteor shower hits Xonasu and causes severe malfunctions in the electronic machinery. The humans that were awake escaped the malfunctioning city but in its attempts to stop the damage from spreading further the Xonasu AI froze the time inside the Xonasu complex. Ten years later Exaella – the Xonasu supreme operator – wakes up to find the system broken beyond repair and the frozen humans dying one by one from insufficient care. Together with a mysterious little girl named Piku and a soldier called Ken she tries to free the sleeping people and escape the complex before its imminent collapse.
An obscure execution
As the OVA starts everything is still clouded in mystery. When Exaella wakes up she doesn’t understand where she is or why, and the first two episodes pass without us knowing anything about what is truly happening. The OVA uses a peculiar mix of computer generated graphics and very slow (almost stop motion like) traditionally drawn animation clips. The use of CG has become common in anime, but its use in this OVA is very different from what you have been accustomed to seeing in anime. The animation is very crude and inconsistent. It looks dated, almost archaic. When the action occurs the animation is just too slow to accommodate it, making some scenes seem like standstill frames rolling in one by one.
Exaella’s Opening Theme. Andrew Oudot created the soundtrack, wrote the script and co-directed this short OVA.
The third and fourth episodes are where things start to shape up. Most of the information regarding the cause and effects of the AI malfunctions are revealed here. As a result these two episodes feel more satisfying. But to be honest, even after watching the OVA I understood very little about what happened before or during this short story. Most of the summary I wrote here is based on the information written in the DVDs’ “events” submenu, and not on my actual viewing experience. I couldn’t appreciate much of what was happening on the screen because so little information is given and the action doesn’t speak for itself. Another entity called Manta supposedly had an important role in the story, but its role/nature is barely mentioned. Everything is obscure in Exaella – its art style, its story, even the background on the production itself is obscure.
Encapsulating the cyperpunk anime of the 90s
This doesn’t mean that Exaella is without its merits though. Its environment and characters resemble those found in Ergo Proxy (Piku is obviously a homage to Pino). It has that exotic factor that anime series and movies from the 90s had. And let’s face it, how many old style Cyberpunk series/OVAs/movies are we getting nowadays?
I also enjoyed the Japanese voice acting quite a bit. All four main characters (including the voice of the AI) are distinct and a pleasure to listen to. The DVDs (two discs with two episodes on each one) come with English and Russian subtitles. The English subtitles are a bit amateurish but most of the time they do the job. Interestingly the OVA also has English and Russian voice-overs. For those who are unfamiliar with the term it means that when you watch the OVA and a character says something in Japanese an English/Russian voice actress repeats the sentence in the voice-over language. You can still hear the Japanese and all the characters are voiced-over by the same actress. It’s the type of thing you occasionally see in an old foreign soap opera.
Exaella doesn’t really hold up to the standards of a proffesionally crafted animated series or a Japanese anime. I’d like to think of it as an experiment – an ambitious art project of sort. Its ambiguous story and ambiguous art style aren’t the most impressive out there, but it did manage to encapsulate that exotic 90s anime cyberpunk feel. If nothing else this OVA arouses nostalgia for a bygone era.