Kim Moon-saeng’s 2003 animated sci-fi is never sure if it wants to be good, bad, deep, shallow, or entertaining.
“How long has it been raining? Forever. Not forever. A hundred years.”
Imagine you’re a screenwriter, and you have under 90 minutes to set up a post apocalyptic world, make your characters complex and likeable, create a big conflict, and have it all resolved before the credits roll. How hard can it be? This is Wonderful Days (or Sky Blue).
Set in the near future, where the world has been ravaged by pollution, all of humanity (I think) has moved to the large “living” city of Ecoban. In typical Metropolis fashion, however, all is not even. To keep the city running, the lower class masses (called “Diggers”) were put to work in the mines, digging and processing carbonite. They live in slums in the Wasteland, and – as things tend to go – there is a revolution brewing.
Enter Shua, a young man who used to be a member of the guards at Ecoban. He breaks into the mainframe, to steal some of the city’s secrets, save the planet and win the freedom of the Diggers. However, returning to the Ecoban spells trouble as he is faced with the ghosts of his childhood, including love interest Jay and captain of the guards Cade, who was once his rival. Or something like that, anyway. And if this feeling all too familiar, that’s because it is.
The story’s biggest problem comes from its incredibly standard, cookie-cutter characters. There’s an attempt to make Cade something of a complex person but it comes off more as somebody read an article on how Javert was created and tried to imitate it. The heart-of-gold rogue, the stern but kind female lead, the ruthless military villain. It’s the sort of thing you would expect in an early J-RPG. Here it seems lazy, and the movie suffers because we either don’t care about the heroes, or we’re so familiar with the tropes that we know exactly what each person’s next step is. It doesn’t help that Jay, who is the first character introduced, is largely reduced to having no role by the halfway mark.
Which is a shame because Wonderful Days has a lot of good ideas scattered throughout its messy story. The setup to the world is pretty good, and the first few moments – before we really get to know who any of the characters are – really do a good job of drawing you in. One would imagine that this film would be better off in a long-form medium, like TV. An anime set in this world, where they could really spend time examining things like the class structure, could be potentially great. But here, they have to do it all in 80 minutes, and so much of that is dedicated to a love triangle nobody could care less about.
But at least there’s a tonne of atmosphere here. The locations, and the background art is gorgeous and highly evocative. The CG still holds up today, and this is largely due to the mixed media approach the filmmakers took, mixing in models, 2D and 3D animation. The result is a setting that seems genuine, while allowing for a detached surrealness that one would expect. The wastelands and the exteriors tend to be generally more interesting to look at, with the interior of the Ecoban city being a little bit too post-Matrix-y for my taste, with a bunch of greys and dull blues all over the place.
It’s difficult to decide whether I would recommend this or not. On one hand, the stuff that’s bad doesn’t make it unwatchable, and the stuff that’s good is really great. It’s a film that is a bit afraid to go too far in one direction so it meanders in the middle. The action animation is great, but some of the humanoid movements feel a little slow. The set-up has tonnes of potential, which is largely wasted. And so on. It’s not terrible by any means, and it’s quite short for a post-apocalyptic hard sci-fi with so much to explain so at least it doesn’t overstay its welcome. If you’re looking for something fast-paced, with decent action, this is for you. If you’re looking for complexity and moral grey areas, maybe try something else.
Verdict: It might not have the best story or characters, but Wonderful Days boasts some excellent visuals and half-decent animation.
Overall entertainment: 6/10
Philosophy: vague, at best
Lingering questions: What country were we even in?
Watch this instead: Snowpiercer. It’s basically the same film, but on a train.
Wonderful Days (2003)
Also known as: Sky Blue, 원더풀 데이즈(Wondeopul deijeu)
Director: Kim Moon-saeng
Writer: Kim Moon-saeng