There was a brief moment in Birth! A War of Two Worlds that caught my eye, in the beginning. A blue… blob, that appeared early on, had a skull chain dangling from it’s hip. For a second, I had flashbacks to Yoko’s skull from TTGL. My guess is that its just a coincidence, not some weird story about how the character designers for TTGL saw Birth and played homage to it, but was instead just the fact that skull chains aren't exactly the rarest thing in the world.
Then some women came along in a red jumpsuit, and I started to realize that, hey this isn’t TTGL, this is some western cartoon of sorts. Seriously. If you had given this to me and I had no clue what it was or where it came from, and told me to watch the first minute or so, I'd tell you the thing was animated in the US. It just looks that way, from top to bottom. Maybe that's just the 80s style of pre-moe showing up, but I thought for a second that I was watching some bastard child of the Looney Tunes or something, some rare episode that aired somewhere between “wabbit season” and Roadrunner.
Maybe it was just me seeing similarities in things that weren’t actually similarities, but I swear, I saw glimpses of Nausicaa, Star Trek, chocobo, and others. Obviously, Birth cam before some of these, and after some of these, but t was like déjà vu all over again. Anyways, I digress…
The influential Yoshinori Kanada did have his career spurred on by Birth; Birth being an anime many animation insiders consider to be one of his most representative works. Kanada would later be key animator for works such as My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, and the video game Final Fantasy XIII. Hideaki Anno also had a significant role in the animation of Birth. He would later on co-found Gainax and create some anime called Neon Genesis Evangelion, which is kind of a big deal.
Birth introduces us, early on, to a woman in a very, very, very, very tight fitting red jumpsuit, Rasa, and her slime… thing, Monga, as she windsurfs along a rocky, deserted landscape, only to be chased down by a giant ball. This is about as weird as it gets, luckily for us, but unfortunately, it’s not weird in a good way.
After that for a pre-intro, we cut to a spaceship piloted by a human male, Kim (yes, Kim), and some bipedal dog-thing, Bao, chasing after SHADE, a glowing sword, that just happens to be flying along in space. At this point, I can at least tell it's an anime, as we get some facial emotes that Japan seems to have a trademark on.
Before we know it, the sword lands on Aqualoid, the planet occupied by that red jumpsuit girl, is picked up by a young man, Nam, and we're whisked on an adventure as the bad guy Inorganics (I have no clue why that is their name, and yes, that is the name used by the Japanese speakers) seek to claim the sword for themselves.
Early on, I noticed that the action scenes lack. Something. A certain legitimacy, a certain… pizazz. I can't place my finger on it; it’s not the animation, which, while the characters are all basic, moves very well. Maybe it's the lack of vested interest in the characters combined with the voice acting that leaves a lot left to be desired (I watched the Japanese dub with English subs). I am not sure. But there was really never any intensity from any action early on, and none of the scenes were convincing or gripping.
There's a certain charm about the simplistic character designs (although their animation is not up to today's standards, as they look different from scene to scene at times) and occasional matter-of-fact humor, “hey, let’s go faster than the speed of sound” exclaims one Inorganic on a motorbike. But a lot of the humor also falls flat and is dragged on for too long. Much of it is very basic humor lacking subtlety or originality.
The biggest problem, really, is that none of this makes any sense. I mean, it makes sense; we can tell what’s happening easily enough, but there's no cohesiveness, no motivation. Hell, we don't even get to see much wrongdoing by the Inorganics, besides the fact that they are fighting the characters who are obviously good. The early chase scene that involves all of them goes on for too long, and we don’t get to know any of the characters. And it’s weird how it’s done that way; we have Rasa, the young woman, Nam, the young man, and the two space goers originally after SHADE, and we don’t really know anything about any of them for the longest time. There's also a weird narrative subplot involving a very old couple (grandparents) reminiscing around a cooking fire, but it never reveals anything about the plot, and it's never funny, either.
They way a lot of the fight/chase scenes end is pretty laughable, too, and not in a good way. It's like really, really bad slapstick humor at times.
Eventually, though, we are given some backstory and motivation. But before we know it, it's time for another fight, this time with a giant Inorganic that yells out fruits and vegetable names as it attacks. By now, I was losing interest and losing optimism in this being a redeeming work. It feels like a bunch of animators first big time production, and it was, in fairness, but it shows, unfortunately for the viewer. Everything is just slapped together with no thought to whether or not it actually makes a decent story.
Infact, I am going to be honest here; this is just a bad work. It's very formulaic, in a sense, as the 3rd action scene simply involves another encounter with an even larger Inorganic, and all the action comes one right after another, but because they don't feel compelling, it become an exercise in frustration. I was personally hoping for a sort of retro, zany action movie, but none of that is here. The vast majority of the humor misses the mark, the action feels incredibly uninspired, and the voice acting leaves a lot left to be desired. I even have to zing it for the lip-synching, which, with the Japanese dub, is terribly ill-timed. Mouths start moving well before dialogue is said, on many an occasion.
I'd like to talk more about Birth, and it's later deus ex machina moments, among other things, but at this point, it would probably degenerate into rant territory. The whole thing is just dull, tepid, and haphazard. Even those wanting to brush up on 80s anime history can probably find works every bit as significant that are at least more enjoyable to watch. Frankly, I don't ever want to have to sit through this mess again. In all honesty, it took my three sessions to get through this mere 85 minute work, I don't think I could once more.