Amy Harlib · September 12, 2004 | The New York Korean Film Festival 2004 screened a welcome treat for anime fans: the feature Wonderful Days, also known as Sky Blue, part of the exciting fluorescence of this animated art recently emerging from the southern portion of the Asian peninsula. A remarkable first directorial effort by Kim Moon-Saeng, Wonderful Days offers striking visuals blending 2D, 3D CGI and live-action miniatures to tell a science-fictional, after-disaster yarn with some emotional/social/political heft. Stylistically influenced by Japan (the birthplace of anime), this production still possesses an ambience all its own.
In a post environmental-catastrophe 2142 AD, somewhere on the coast of the vast Eurasian continent, a privileged, elite population lives in ECOBAN, an immense ultra-high-tech, self-contained arcology that derives, through the DELOS system, life-sustaining energy from the ubiquitous, world-contaminating pollution (a naff idea of a modus operandi which never gets explained). Outside and alongside this huge enclosure, the Marrians, a low-status community, endure arduous labor maintaining and procuring fuel for the above-mentioned DELOS system.
During an unsuccessful effort to apprehend an intruder attempting to sabotage the DELOS system, Jay, a young, smart, shapely agent of the ECOBAN security force, discovers the escaping perpetrator to be her long-lost childhood heartthrob Shua. Not dead from a long-ago fight (shown in a flashback) seemingly gone horribly wrong with Simon—now Jay's commanding officer and suitor for her affection—handsome, athletic, clever Shua had found a way to the Outside and joined the Marrian rebels. This underground movement dedicates its efforts to shutting down the DELOS system and ending its feeding on and perpetuation of the pollution that always keeps skies cloudy and rainy, the air smoggy and the environs depleted.
Wonderful Days, with its combination of a love triangle story with a proletarian rebellion theme, effectively works to grab the viewer's attention and offers emotional satisfaction and some intellectual substance while beguiling with dazzling visuals. ECOBAN's richly textured and baroquely high-tech interiors and the Outside's equally detailed but bleak landscapes—dotted with industrial detritus and run-down settlements constructed of same—attest to the art director's/creator's extraordinary inventiveness. Too bad the script does not quite match the beauty of the imagery. Besides the unworkable DELOS system concept, the other major flaw in this film occurs at the end, which devolves into a confusing muddle. However, most of Wonderful Days—when it focuses on Jay, Shua and Simon and their unfolding emotional tangle, and when it develops the colorful supporting characters in Shua's Outside milieu—offers riveting entertainment on every level.
Superbly conceived: structures; clothing; gadgets; interiors; exteriors; and vehicles (oh, those snazzy ECOBAN motorcycles and light aircraft); smoothly animated figures amidst complex backgrounds; excellent voice talent—all graced by Jaell Sim's gorgeous, haunting score. Wonderful Days, a wonderful animated feature despite its flaws, heralds a bright future for its director and for Korea's own distinct animation presence in the world.