Derivative Korean anime "Sky Blue" is visually spectacular

After one of the coolest opening sequences of any anime in recent years, the South Korean "Sky Blue" settles into a dystopian vision that's so derivative of a dozen other films that you wonder when a "Blade Runner" spinner-car will float down into the scenery. This stylistically impressive anime is devoid of original ideas.

That shouldn't stop anime fans, since it's obvious that Korean anime has arrived as a potentially impressive alternative to the Japanese anime that gluts the international market. It feels interchangeable, with its futuristic emphasis on eco-disaster, class struggle and dominant technologies, but some of director Moon Sang Kim's visual ingenuity is fresh enough to earn its own identity.

The year is 2142. Warfare and eco-disaster have left humanity on the brink of extinction. A small, elite class has risen in the technologically advanced city of Ecoban, at the expense of an oppressed underclass of laborers forced to struggle in the surrounding wasteland. In keeping with the film's mock-operatic ambitions, narrator Jay (voice of Catherine Cavadini) is an Ecoban security trooper whose loyalties are tested when she reunites with childhood sweetheart Shua (Marc Worden), an underground freedom fighter who's been targeted by Cade (Kirk Thornton), Jay's boyfriend and commander of Ecoban's security forces.

If any film could use Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" as a tongue-in-cheek theme song, this is it: Cloud cover and perpetual rainfall cast a pall over the lifeless landscape, and the mythical island of Gibraltar is a destination for dreamers, where blue sky and sunshine are symbols of hope. It's also a threat to Locke (David Naughton), an Ecoban villain who's plotting a hostile takeover.

Using an all-digital combination of live-action miniatures and "atmospheric elements" along with CGI backgrounds and traditional 2-D animation, "Sky Blue" is filled with spectacular detail. But that's also part of the problem: Kim (a 20-year veteran of Korean animation) is so enamored of surfaces, vehicles and structures that he's left his stock characters at a serious disadvantage. They're so shallowly familiar that their climactic showdown turns into an over-the-top parody of a Wagnerian tragedy. "Sky Blue" is great to look at, but it's more silly than profound.

Jeff Shannon:

Movie review 2.5 stars

"Sky Blue," with the voices of David Naughton, Catherine Cavadini, Marc Worden, Kirk Thornton. Directed by Moon Sang Kim (Korean version) and Sunmin Park (English version); English-language screenplay by Park, Howard Rabinowitz and Jeffrey Winter. 86 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains graphic animated violence, mild profanity). Dubbed in English. Varsity.