“Have you ever had a dream…that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?” —Morpheus, The Matrix
Released back in December 2014, Expelled from Paradise (Rakuen Tsuihou) is a science fiction anime with a screenplay written by Gen Urobuchi, animation provided by Graphinica and jointly developed by Toei Animation and Nitroplus. It follows Angela Balzac, an agent who works for the DEVA virtual reality system, and her task to discover the whereabouts of the hacker “Frontier Setter”, who had infilitrated DEVA to communicate about his cause. Meeting up with Dingo, an asset on Earth, she finds the truth behind Frontier Setter’s existence, and soon finds herself opposing DEVA’s directives. With Dingo, she helps the AI “Frontier Setter” with his goals of finishing a space colonisation programme. Over its 104-minute long runtime, Expelled From Paradise makes use of a minimalist cast set within a speculated future for Earth to illustrate several themes: this is a story involving Gen Urobuchi, so this should not be too surprising. However, instead of nihilistic themes outlined in his previous works, Expelled from Paradise deals predominantly with what constitutes as being human, and throughout the film, these aspects are discussed time and time again. Angela becomes the vessel for a post-human, initially being unfamiliar with human necessities and traits. As such, she finds Dingo’s mannerisms unusual, constantly wondering about the necessity of enjoying a good meal, resting well to avoid illness or even the point of music. Frontier Setter, on the other hand, is an AI that gained human attributes as a result of machine learning; as such, he is quite capable of communicating and even articulating how human emotions might be expressed by a computerised construct. Longing to fulfil his purpose, and sharing Dingo’s love for music, Angela and Fronteir Setter represent a juxtaposition in that the former is a human being who’s lost understanding of what being human means, and the latter is an AI that’s gained an appreciation of the positive sides of human nature. In the end, as DEVA’s security agents move in to destroy Frontier Setter’s central processor, Angela finally appreciates what goodwill is, when Frontier Setter saves her. She resolves to help him carry out his directive in return, and with her access to DEVA revoked, chooses to stay with Dingo to better understand Earth.
Owing to the emphasis on human nature, Expelled from Paradise is probably better considered as speculative fiction that deals with the implications of the growing advances in computer technology and virtual reality. At some point in their past, a molecular nanotechnology disaster (known more widely as the grey-goo apocalypse scenario) damaged much of earth, forcing humanity into space. Thus, DEVA was established to provide a new home for humans, who live in a VR environment. In this world, humans work towards benefits such as additional memory and network access, having long given up the need for food and shelter. However, DEVA is also shown to be ruled under a council’s iron fist. Thus, DEVA might be seen as a hell as much as it is a paradise, as Angela alludes to John Milton’s Paradise Lost, where Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden of Eden. However, Angela realises that there is a vast world even on Earth to explore, and with Dingo as her guide, she accepts her exile from Deva to live as a physical being. Through Dingo, Urobuchi suggests that the pace at which technology advances will eventually lead humanity to forget the sort of things that make life worth living, whether it be the taste of a well-grilled meat, or the sound of music, as people focus more and more on virtual environments (consider that even in the present day, most people are glued to their smart phones). As such, Expelled from Paradise aims to, through Dingo and Frontier Setter, illustrate that there is so much in the real world that merits exploration that the audience, as people should not be so haste in disregarding or even discarding reality for their gadgets.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Admittedly, it is quite refreshing to see Gen Urobuchi behind the wheel of an anime that considers human nature in a positive fashion: for inexplicable reasons, there seems to be quite the demand for dark, edgy shows that try to emphasise the futility of existence, and consequently, the only viable world view is that of Nihilism.
- Because Nihilism stems from pessimism and skepticism, it leads to the idea that nothing has any value, and therefore, should not be worth doing. As it stands, this is an immensely irresponsible world view, as it precludes the possibility and necessity of progress. Here, Angela Balzac is transferred into a physical body for an operation on Earth, although owing to constraints, the physical body is only sixteen in age.
- Having spent most of her time in DEVA, a vast virtual reality system, Angela takes some time to become accustomed to having a physical body. The artwork in Expelled from Paradise is nice, and although Earth is depicted to have become a vast desert following a major disaster involving self-replicating nano machines, it is nonetheless depicted with a vast blue sky that brings to mind the landscapes from Break Blade.
- Having come from a virtual reality environment, all Angela knows is high technology and that it is the most efficient means of solving problems. After watching Dingo chased by sand-worms, she makes use of her mobile suit to quickly wipe them out. It turns out that Dingo was luring them into a trap so the sand-worms’ meat could be harvested.
- Angela is intended to represent the humanity that is totally dependent on technology and is unable to appreciate some of the more subtle things about being human, such as preparing food so it can be enjoyed, or the sort of emotions that can be conveyed by music. During the present, I find that society’s become excessively dependent on things like social media, and are willing to go to great lengths (even endangering themselves or others) to record something for the sole sake of a few likes or re-tweets.
- Though social media is a powerful tool for propagating information, humanity at present lacks the intrinsic capacity to deal with all of this information and discern value from drivel. This forms the basis for an addiction to social media, and the desire to blindly follow popular individuals for the sake of acceptance. Back in Expelled from Paradise, Angela spends a good third of the movie with a scowl on her face, after Dingo disables her mobile suit on the grounds that DEVA will be tracking her.
- While Dingo’s speaking with a contact, Angela gets into a fight with some ruffians, and is bailed out by Dingo. Angela is voiced by Rie Kugimiya, Dingo is voiced by Shinichiro Miki and Frontier Setter is voiced by Hiroshi Kamiya. As Gundam 00‘s Nena Trinity, Lockon Stratos and Tieria Erde, respectively, the choice of voice actors was probably a result of the fact that Seiji Mizushima was the director: he had worked previously on Gundam 00, and it was quite nice to see some of Gundam 00‘s voice actors together again.
- Angela catches a cold and wonders why her systems did not notify her about it, until recalling that without DEVA, she’s unable to have electronic monitoring. As she spends more time with Dingo, she learns about what it means to be human, to care for both one another and themselves so that everyone can survive and work towards a better tomorrow. On a completely unrelated note, DEVA is an acronym of VEDA, the quantum computer in Gundam 00.
- Dingo offers Angela some spice for her noodles while they discuss Frontier Setter’s motives, and while Angela is predisposed towards the worst case, Dingo believes that Frontier Setter’s goals are simpler, and that his motivations are more important. Their conversation also notes that people living in reality have to rely on their senses more, reflecting on what could happen with humans as augmented reality technologies become increasingly common.
- As he has acrophobia, Dingo leaves the placement of a remote camera to Angela as they stake out a rocket fuel shipment that Frontier Setter has requested. Like Lockon Stratos, Dingo is quite skilled with a sniper rifle, although I can’t readily place the type of rifle he uses: it’s probably an M40A5 bolt-action rifle, which was first introduced during the Vietnam War in response to a request for a standardised sniper rifle.
- I’ll leave readers with an interesting image (the camera angles in Expelled from Paradise loves Angela’s posterior, it seems) as I discuss Intel’s push towards the 7nm architecture for its processors by 2018, a level where transistors will need to be manipulated atom by atom. Beyond this, limitations in the properties of silicon will restrict their speeds, and researchers are looking at Indium Gallium Arsenide processors; their manufacture is quite expensive at present, although their performance is impressive, and could allow for computing problems to be performed that seem inconceivable by present standards.
- Transitors composed of Indium Gallium Arsenide (InGaAs) semiconductors have been shown to be far more powerful than silicon-based transistors at low voltages by a study at MIT in 2012, and although this could mean thousand-GHz processors, the manufacturing process is prohibitively expensive. InGaAs processors will likely take off once Intel reaches the atomic level, and within ten years of this, consumer-affordable InGaAs processors could hit the market, revolutionising computing again. Back in Expelled From Paradise, Angela and Dingo converse with Frontier Setter, whose mannerisms are that of a human’s, and whose programming has evolved to the point where he feels compelled to complete a directive (namely, finishing the space colonisation program).
- Deciding that Frontier Setter does not represent any threat to DEVA, Angela leaves her physical body and returns into the mainframe to report, but her superiors deem her actions as incomplete, since they see a potential liability as sufficient for action, and order her to destroy Frontier Setter’s main processor. Angela refuses and is arrested for treason, stripped of her post and archived. Out of concern and empathy, Frontier Setter hacks back into DEVA and helps her escape. It is here that Angela mentions the film’s title, likening herself to Adam and Eve of Paradise Lost.
- Angela’s Minecraft incarnation was particularly charming: through her time on Earth, and interactions with both Dingo and Frontier Setter, Angela learns the worth of human nature, hence her refusal to destroy Frontier Setter. DEVA seems to be a paradise, but their authoritarian system suggests that it is a utopia built upon dystopian concepts. This is a frequent theme in literature, where a seemingly perfect paradise is in actuality a hell, and more often than not, is a hell for its treatment of individuals who threaten to destabilise said paradise.
- With Frontier Setter’s assistance, Angela’s consciousness is transferred into a more powerful mobile suit, and to support her capacity to defend Frontier Setter’s launch, he also drops a large number of supply containers containing munitions and weapons. From orbit, Earth looks largely as it does presently, suggesting that the nano-machine disaster’s effects damaged the biosphere, but not the lithosphere.
- Upon realising their systems are overtaken, DEVA deploys several fighters in an attempt to stop Angela, setting the stage for the final battle to buy Frontier Setter enough time to launch his rocket and initialise the final stages of his operation. While he had been trying to recruit humans to his cause, ultimately, he consents to explore the universe alone, since Dingo’s acrophobia and Angela’s wish to explore Earth set their decisions to stay behind.
- The other agents who had been deployed to hunt for Frontier Setter make an appearance for the first time, and are presented as series individuals who possess Angela’s drive to get the mission done. They converge on the derelict city and prepare to eliminate Angela, as well as Frontier Setter, in a single stroke.
- Dingo carries Angela’s physical body up to where she’s landed, loading her consciousness back into her body as per their promise earlier. From what I’ve been reading, plenty of discussions out there praise the fact that, despite being rendered in CG, the anime feels and handles distinctly like it was hand-drawn. Besides impressing those who are more familiar with these techniques, it also shows that CG technology and techniques are improving, and as time wears on, this trend will likely continue.
- Despite lacking a mobile suit, Dingo manages to give the other DEVA agents a bit of trouble with his rifle and explosives, making use of the environment and his knowledge of the DEVA mobile suits to disable a few. Knowing the odds, it’s decided that the objective is not to completely eliminate the DEVA agents, but rather, to buy Frontier Setter enough time to launch into orbit and activate his probe.
- The mobile suits in Expelled From Paradise feature bike-style seating, similar to the Vox (Rinne no Lagrange) or Knightmare Frames (Code Geass), while Gundams, Gardes (Knights of Sidoia) and Kataphrakt (Aldnoah.Zero) feature more traditional seating. The former are presumably designed for transformable, high-velocity machines to allow pilots to maneuver their system using their bodies, while the latter rely on control systems found in aircraft to direct the vehicle’s movement. The latter is more practical, and more often than not, the former is more conducive towards camera angles such as these.
- The combat sequences in Expelled from Paradise captialise fully on the CGI to capture the pace and intensity of the combat. Despite piloting a superior mobile suit, the other agents have the advantage of numbers. Judging from the relative scales, it would appear that these mobile suits are similar to the Titans in terms of size, although their performance and design would paint them as being more advanced.
- Motivated in part by the desire to see Frontier Setter succeed in his objectives, and in part by a sort of fury in being rejected by DEVA, Angela brutally disables the DEVA mobile suits who are deployed to destroy her and Frontier Setter. However, now understanding what compassion is, Angela pushes her unit to its limits against the other agents. Expelled from Paradise does a fantastic job of building the world despite a limited number of characters, providing a self-contained story that yields just enough information about their world for the events to occur logically.
- Declining Frontier Setter’s invitation to explore the universe with him, Angela cites that even Earth itself is so diverse that it’d take a lifetime to explore. After dispatching two additional agents who’ve pursued her into the air, her mobile suit finally gives out from the combat, and she falls back to the surface.
- Frontier Setter leaves his physical body behind, and Dingo performs a song as the rocket launches into orbit. Having mentioned that human companions would be nice, he’s okay with exploring space on his own.
- While the fighting continues, Frontier Setter uploads his processes into a computer core and launches into space. The computer core subsequently docks with the exploration craft’s main body, and prepares to leave the solar system. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen a rocket launch in an anime, with the last one being from Five Centimeters per Second‘s “Cosmonaut” chapter, and this launch is no less spectacular.
- The remaining agents extricate themselves from their damaged machines and begin applying first-aid. If their terminals to DEVA were damaged, it’s possible that they’d be stuck on Earth, as well, and that leads to the question of whether or not continuations are a possibility. For the time being, it’s safe to say that Expelled from Paradise is unlikely to get a continuation; while it’s a solid movie, it was intended to be standalone. As such, what happens next is left as an exercise for the viewers.
- The colours in Expelled from Paradise are quite saturated, and the last time I watched an anime with vast deserts and blue skies, it was Break Blade back during 2011. Episode five had just released, and I likened the anime to Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn, although aside from some superficial similarities, the differences in the series are quite large. Despite being more generic with respect to characterisation and themes, the unique premise and an interesting setting drew me in. I’ve still yet to actually review the series properly here, and come summer, I’ll probably outline what the fate of those posts, plus the blog’s eventual fate, will be.
- This spacecraft is part of the Genesis Project, representing the orbital component that was automatically completed. Frontier Setter states that it is lacking in life support systems, and ultimately, sets off alone on his quest to explore the universe.
- One might be forgiven if they thought that the Genesis vessel makes use of laser propulsion from this image alone, but in true laser propulsion, a ground-based laser is directed at a reaction mass in the spacecraft itself, energising it to provide propulsion. Instead, the laser beam here is emitted from within the spacecraft itself and therefore is not considered to be laser propulsion.
- Angela and Dingo share a laugh as the credits roll, suggesting that Angela will adapt to life as a physical being and, no longer an agent of DEVA, is free to explore life beyond a virtual reality. This was a satisfying movie to watch, and despite having come out back in December, I’ve only had time to watch it recently, finishing the episode last Thursday evening while enjoying Korean-style grilled chicken and sweet potatoes for dinner after my tutorial hours ended. Teaching evening sections is quite taxing, although semester’s halfway done now. Coming up next will be a talk on Terror in Resonance, and then, as their finales air, the final reflections for Kantai Collection and Shirobako.
Outside of the kind of thematic discussion that could probably form the basis for an essay in a literature course on speculative fiction (as the allusion to Paradise Lost can attest), Expelled from Paradise is a rather simplistic anime. Bearing a relatively straightforward story, each of Angela, Dingo and Frontier Setter contribute to driving things forward through their dialogue. The story thus rests upon their interactions, and as such, world-building beyond what they say is quite limited. With this being said, the minimalistic plot in Expelled from Paradise nonetheless manages to lead to some interesting discussions, and moreover, as a movie, features solid artwork and animations. All in all, this is a movie that merits watching: it stands worlds apart compared to what Urobuchi is known for, Expelled from Paradise is more optimistic about human nature, which is much welcomed, especially in an age where dark, pessimistic moods are trending. If even this is not a sufficient motivator for watching this movie, then the above screenshots of Angela Balzac can serve as supplementary justification for giving Expelled from Paradise a go.