I have always considered myself a fan of anime. While I say this, I find it very hard to get emotionally connected to a lot of what the medium has to offer. The routine slog through a seasonal anime chart can leave you burnt out. Desperate for anything that feels new and original. Sure every season you can find at least a few gems hidden in the garbage, but even at the best of times I am left with shows teetering around a 7-8 MyAnimeList score. That all changed last week when we received what I humbly think is one of 2016’s best stories.
I am of course talking about the anime short that set the internet on fire, Shelter.
*Spoilers for both Shelter and The End of Evangelion! You have been warned!*
Shelter is an anime short/music video animated by A-1 pictures and produced by Crunchyroll. The story was written by indie electronic star Porter Robinson, along with the song of the same name, co-produced with Madeon. Right off the bat these names should tell you something, this short was a truly collaborative project from multiple different cultures and view points coming together to create art! damn did it pay off.
Shelter tells the story of Rin, a young girl living in a reality where she can control the world around her via a tablet. With this tablet she draws the spaces around her, building beautiful playgrounds she spends her days exploring. Things are not as simple as they first seem however, as Rin is seemingly alone in this digital paradise, continuously she glances at her message tab on her screen, showing no active conversations in nearly 7 years.
The short changes from here. Rin starts to notice this world is not completely at her control, finding structures that trigger flash backs to her past. These flashbacks tell the real story of Shelter, where Rin witnesses her younger self living with her father in Tokyo, during the last days before the end of the world. A planet is set to crash into Earth, so while Rin lives out her last days in blissful ignorance, her father creates a shuttle to carry her off the planet. To shelter her from the blast. He spoils her with toys and treats during their last few moments, and with a hug and a tear, he launches her into space, before the earth’s destruction. With this knowledge, Rin breaks down crying, only stopping when she receives a message from her father, telling her to stay strong, even if she is alone.
With this the short ends on a dark note, with Rin strapped into the VR world her father has housed her in, drifting through space.
Breaking The Internet
The Internet kind of lost it at this one guys, and I don’t blame them. The success of Shelter rivals the last big short, ME!ME!ME!, yet this time telling a far more simple story, and that is one of the main reasons I love it so much. As you could probably tell by my snarky opening piece, a lot of modern anime feels way too bloated for me. Even in those short 12 episode series. The story of Shelter may be simple, but the scope is huge yet intimate at the same time, wrapping the entire earth’s destruction into a tale of one man’s wish to keep his daughter safe. The tale is told with an elegant effortless, blending both gorgeous animation and superb music together into an experience I personally now hold up as one of the anime greats.
On the topic of music, Shelter does also double as a music video for Porter Robinson‘s song of the same name, matching the tone and subject matter perfectly.
I would like to point out that Porter did write the entire story of Rin and her father, which got me to thinking about one of his biggest hit songs, Sad Machine. The two songs share a narrative that could also share a link. For example, at the end of Shelter, Rin floats alone in space, asleep in a digital reality, while Sad machine is about a girl who slept for a 100 years and has just awakened from some sort of sleep where she felt nothing but a man’s voice. My crazy theory is that there is a connection between the two songs. Rin being the girl who awakens from 100 years of space travel in Sad Machine, with her father’s message as the man’s voice keeping her going.
The similarities are a little too close for me to say the two songs don’t share a connection. While Porter probably will never actually confirm the link, I still think that fact that theories can exist between the two songs prove how nuanced Porter‘s work is.
Playing On Heartstrings
The story of Shelter speaks to me on multiple levels, but the key element that I adore so much about this short is its use of the beautiful apocalypse trope. This is a trope I don’t see used often, but when used properly can create some of my favourite pieces of media. An example of this trope would be the third impact in The End of Evangelion, framing the end of all life on earth as a serene experience rather than horrific.
At its core, Shelter tells a sci-fi story that rivals the best of existential horror, but is packaged in a tone and subject matter that allows it to remain heartfelt and in someways, optimistic. The story of a father who refuses to let the one thing in his life he holds dear, his daughter, die in an event he has no control over is heart wrenching. He must sacrifice himself and his daughter’s free will to keep her safe. By doing so it allows this horrible cataclysmic event have at least some trace of a meaningful human act.
This might be too early to call, but Shelter might be the best anime of the fall 2016 season. Clocking in at only 7 minutes, A-1 pictures and Porter Robinson managed to create one of the most touching and human stories this year in anime. Maybe even in general.
A-1 pictures gets a bad name for their work on Sword Art Online. However that shouldn’t constantly detract from the talent there. Shelter shows this better than any 24 episode show ever could.