Wednesday 31 March 2021

Movie REVIEW: Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion the Movie: The Swiftly ALFA-X that came from the Future

Henkei Robo Shinkalion the Movie: The Swiftly ALFA-X that came from the Future

Japan loves trains, and Japan loves giant robots. So it’s not really a surprise to hear that Japan LOVED Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion, the 2018 anime series that combined the two in one glorious love-letter for Japan’s railroad system. Touches like adding Vocaloid megastar Hatsune Miku as a supporting character and having a Neon Genesis Evangelion tribute episode only furthered attention toward the show. After the 76-episode series concluded it was announced that it would be continuing on in a feature length movie, and at the end of 2019 Shinkanesen Henkei Robo Shinkalion the Movie: The Swiftly ALFA-X that came from the Future (“Mirai Kara Kita Shinsoku no ALFA-X”) was released in Japanese cinemas.

Discovery of the ALFA-XThe Valhallan

The battle against the Kitoralsus is over, with the survivors of the prehistoric race now living in peace alongside humanity. However a new fight against new enemies from outer space begins, triggered by the discovery the brand new Shinkalion ALFA-X. While the Ultra Evolution Institute had been working on this new robot in secret, how has a completed version also suddenly appeared in the same time period?

Meanwhile whilst on holiday in Hokkaido with his family, Hayato and his father come face to face with Japan’s most legendary monster! Awakening from the fight sometime after, Hayato is shocked to discover his father has been replaced in time by his nine-year-old self. As team Shinkalion band together once again to battle the threat of the Valhallan, Hayato must help the younger Hokuto step into the role of ALFA-X’s driver as well as eventually return to his own time and place.

Young HokutoThe ALFA-X

The Shinkalion series was an advert for a lot of things. First and foremost there were the toys - the series itself was designed as an expansion of TakaraTomy’s PlaRail toyline and with Shinkalion they replicated the success they’d recently had with both Zoids and Tomica Rescue Heroes. Secondly the show was made in partnership with the Japan Railways Group, not only giving its wide breadth of railway trivia a certain credibility but also making it an incredibly deep dive of its history - referencing campaigns and even adverts of years gone by. None of these things have changed here, but on top of that Shinkalion the Movie might just be one of the biggest advertisements for “Otaku Japan” that has ever graced that’s ever graced anime. The film features numerous named appearances by Godzilla (complete with iconic roar and Akira Ikufube’s orchestral theme), Hatsune Miku vs Godzilla, a Snow Miku concert sequence and a further appearance by both the show’s Evangelion alternate universe and all three of its main characters. That’s a lot to take in, especially since it all takes place in the first 20 minutes of a 80-minute film!

Of course much like the show did, each of these moments are treated with the utmost love and respect. The King of the Monsters is depicted as an unstoppable force, immediately striking fear into all who lay eyes on him. Despite the popularity of 2016’s Shin Godzilla (as well as the Hideaki Anno-link it shares with Evangelion here), Shinkalion keeps a very classic Heisei era look to its version of the legendary kaiju - instantly recognisable to anyone with even a passing interest in Godzilla. Elsewhere it’s surprising that it took Shinkalion this long to utilise Miku as an idol but the movie was definitely the right place to do it. The show didn’t take the low-hanging fruit straight away, but waiting and did in a place where it would have the best impact. The sequence is your typical CGI idol anime musical number, but boasts colourful visuals and feels reminiscent of a proper Vocaloid concert. The use of Snow Miku as opposed to her regular design was also a nice touch, working both with the snowy setting and as a nod to the Vocaloid fans in the audience. Finally the Evangelion sequence isn’t that long nor is it much different to what came before in the show itself, but the additional context it gets through the main plot later on helps tie into nicely into the main Shinkalion universe.

Godzilla vs MikuSnow Miku

These other franchise cameos were a great way to drum up interest in the movie and definitely leave a lasting impression, but there is a sense that much of it could be better attached to the actual narrative. As previously said the explanation for the Evangelion universe is nice, but it isn’t anything that couldn’t have been done based on Hayato’s experiences from the series. Both Shinji and the Unit 01 Shinkalion only briefly appear in the sequence too, so it feels like more of a tease than anything of substance. But it’s Godzilla’s appearance that comes off as the strangest of all, as there’s no real sense of why Godzilla is here outside of being very effective fan service. With the main villain piloting a kaiju-like mecha you’d expect there to be some connection, but the two are completely unrelated.

With the first quarter of the film most concerned with all of this too, it leaves considerably less time for the main plot to sink in properly. Shinkalion the Movie follows the fairly stock anime plot about time travel and the cast meeting a younger version of another character, and this element it handles relatively well. Young Hokuto is a great addition to the cast and plays off well with Hayato, who’s caught between desperately wanting his father back and doing what’s best for the Hokuto that’s in front of him. Hayato grew a lot over the course of the series and his actions and leadership skills in the movie show just how far he’s come as a character. Hokuto on the other hand has always been a prominent character (he’s the only Shinkalion-piloting human adult after all) but hasn’t necessarily been developed in the same way, and this “backstory” of sorts is a fun way to do it with a slightly different spin.

Rei and AsukaThe Shinkalion Cast

Unfortunately there simply isn’t enough time for the rest of the characters to share the spotlight, which means a lot of the crew just falls into the background. Everyone is there and they all get at least one moment and/or memorable moment to shine, but it is a case of mainly seeing them boiled down to their most notable quirk or catchphrase. Likewise it’s nice to see what the Kitoralsus are up to now that the fighting’s over, but the story leaves you wanting to see more from them. Other than Hayato it’s only really Seiryu that has anything significant to work with, although Miku’s increased screen time (at least compared to the others) is good as she fell the wayside more often than the others in the show itself.

But every character not getting ample development in a single movie is to be expected, and not the most glaring problem here. Rather it’s that the villains, despite having a really interesting backstory, are actually rather one-note and quite forgettable overall. Again you’re never going to get the quality of character and development the Kitoralsus had from an 80-minute movie, but there’s plenty of good material that could have been drawn out here. The Valhallan are Kitoralsus that fared out into space rather than hiding underground, instantly giving them a dynamic with both humanity and the Kitoralsus that have now opted for peace. Shinkalion the Movie only really scratches the surface with this, so the Valhallan feel more like your generic villains you see in any long-running show’s movie outing. Which might not be a bad thing since that’s exactly what Shinkalion the Movie is, but it’s a sad waste of potential nonetheless.

What the movie lacks in story though, it certainly makes up for when it comes to visuals. While there isn’t really a technical upgrade in the CGI compared to the series itself, the movie budget instead goes toward providing an ample about of transforming train goodness. Stock transformation sequences remain but feels streamlined enough to not pull away from the action, and the film culminates in an epic battle featuring every Shinkalion robot in action against the Valhallans’ mechanical beast Valdor. Like any good toy-centric production it features a new robot to salivate over in the form of the ALFA-X, as well as new combinations that will hopefully convince you to expand (or even begin) your toy collection.

ValdorAll Shinkalion into action!

Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion the Movie: The Swiftly ALFA-X that came from the Future is a wild ride that’s definitely going to convince more people to check out the series, and that’s certainly not a bad thing as the show deserves all the love it gets. However it’s a shame that it’s allure (as well as what it’ll likely be remembered for) lies in being “that film where Hatsune Miku fights Godzilla and Evangelion is there too”, rather than the quality story telling that made the series work so well. Then again - if the role of a series’ movie is to provide spectacle, then Shinkalion the Movie certainly serves its purpose. And for (hopefully) a repeat of the show’s top notch storytelling, sequel series Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion Z is starting up at the beginning of April 2021.

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