The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Shelter: Reflections On A Collaborative Music Video Between Porter Robinson and A-1 Pictures

“Collaboration is important not just because it’s a better way to learn. The spirit of collaboration is penetrating every institution and all of our lives. So learning to collaborate is part of equipping yourself for effectiveness, problem solving, innovation and life-long learning in an ever-changing networked economy.” —Don Tapscott

Shelter is a six-minute short that illustrates a small section of seventeen year-old Rin’s life in a simulated reality. Although her life is one of infinite tranquility, it is also an immensely lonely experience. As she creates worlds through a tablet, the simulator gradually exposes Rin’s own memories: she was seven when a moon-sized celestial body is discovered to be on a collision course with Earth. Her father, Shigeru, constructs a spacecraft to preserve Rin’s life, while making the most of their remaining time on Earth together. Despite its short length, Shelter is quite haunting: this effect is a consequence of the stunning visuals in the short. As Bill Watterson had done with his Calvin and Hobbes comics, Shelter is able to tell a succinct story in the absence of dialogue. An entire world and its story is conceived and explored in the space of six minutes — in fact, the possibilities of such a world have resulted in some viewers yearning for a longer feature that more completely describes Rin and her experiences. Through the visuals alone, Rin is infinitely creative and inquisitive, crafting the wonders of the world to explore as she passes her solitary days. Whether it be vast fields of verdant grass as far as the eye can see or an Aurora Borealis filling the skies, Rin counters her loneliness through creativity. This would be the theme that lies at the heart of Shelter: individuals can create highly compelling works when they are alone, and this act gives them hope, allowing them to find fulfillment in an alternate avenue.

While Rin’s situation seems to be one of melancholy, a bit of reasoned speculation, coupled with Porter Robinson’s upbeat performance, suggests that Shelter is not meant to depict Rin as the last human alive. The music’s lyrics, speaking of how people can be together even if they’re not physically together, plus the overall tone the song conveys, is meant to be a positive one. Consequently, it yields an optimistic tone that permits discussion to wander in a direction that suggests Rin’s loneliness is not infinite. Such a perspective is further augmented by scientific elements: the music video plainly depicts a moon-sized object on the verge of impact with Earth. There are presently few objects of that size in the solar system (the largest object is the dwarf planet, Ceres, which has a diameter of 945 kilometers), and as such, any object with a collision course with Earth would be readily spotted. This in turn allows Earth’s inhabitants a substantial window to prepare, and in a science fiction setting, it is very unlikely that a population would idly allow their species to go extinct, knowing that such an object exists. Barring the more outlandish course of action (i.e. destroying the object), humanity could construct spacecraft and organise a mass exodus from the planet prior to its destruction. Assuming this to hold, there are likely other survivors in this universe, and so, the possibility that Rin is found would be non-zero.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • One of my friends remarks that the possibility for missing out on examples of superb animations is a botheration, although I’ve remarked to him that it’s more about chancing upon the good ones that make things worthwhile. For this talk on Shelter, I’ve got the usual twenty screenshots, and that comes out to around 3.3̅… screenshots per minute, which isn’t quite as high compared to something like Utopia or Cross Road.

  • One of the questions that were fielded by other views is whether or not Shelter could have worked if the individual in the simulation were male rather than female. The answer is “yes”, since the concepts about creativity and loneliness, as well as parental love, transcend gender. These are universal values people share, so whether or not the protagonist is male or female wouldn’t change the fact that Shelter would have solid animation and music that brings out the moods.

  • One of the reasons I’ve grown fond of anime is because of the fact that landscapes and worlds are so vividly created: through the course of the six minutes, a range of locations, both abstract and extraordinary, are shown. These worlds, created through Rin’s tablet, are fluidly created: the control that she has over these worlds is akin to playing an ultra-high fidelity version of Minecraft or similar.

  • With technology’s pacing, I would not be particularly surprised if virtual and augmented reality technologies capable of creating images that the mind do not reject become commonplace within the next decade. The release of increasingly powerful graphics hardware, coupled with decreasing power costs and efficient algorithms for rendering and shading means that there could be a future where phones and wearable headsets carry GPUs surpassing even the modern-generation GTX Titans in performance while allowing for extended periods of wireless usage.

  • I watched Shelter about a week ago, but things have been rather busy: I was able to do my weekly discussion for Brave Witches owing to a fortuitous break in my schedule, and then on Friday, I attended a stand-up comedy evening with my coworkers, enjoying both the smoked ribs and fries dinner as well as the show itself. I spent most of yesterday playing through Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and finished the Golem City story mission before visiting a local Chinese restaurant for dinner (beef short ribs in a pepper sauce, Peking-style pork chops and crispy chicken, among other dishes). As such, yesterday saw limited motivation to write.

  • However, I’m back in full force today, and so, this review will be done before I forget about it. Back in Shelter, in a beautiful field stretching as far as the eye can see, Rin recreates a single tree with a swing on it, then vaguely recalls getting hurt on a swing. Her old memories start manifesting as she begins recalling memories of a distant past, and hints that her reality is not what it seems begin appearing via flashbacks.

  • For the most part, reception to Shelter has been positive, and I am in the camp that believes that Shelter is worthwhile. I’ve come across a particularly asinine review from “Zergneedsfood” that purports Shelter to be “utterly trite” for “undermining” the viewers with its supposed lack of “emotional resonance”. From a personal perspective, that was never the point of Shelter to begin with, so the review becomes rather disingenuous for trying to academically critique something for a theme it does not intentionally portray. Compare the chap who wonders why he cannot fulfill the role of a counter-sniper with a shotgun.

  • How does one differentiate an honest review from one that is psuedo-intellectual in nature? The answer is surprisingly straightforwards: a psuedo-intellectual review is excessively critical, with a propensity for sesquipedalian loquaciousness. In short, a psuedo-intellectual author believes that a complex vocabulary somehow elevates their argument’s value. When writing, one should not require a dictionary every five words because the author had multiple tabs to Thesaurus.com or were using Microsoft Office’s built-in thesaurus to replace terms in their prose. These individuals hide behind a veneer of sophistication, forcibly enforcing their own narrow world-view upon others with the intent of impressing or intimidating other readers.

  • Whenever such nonsensical reviews are encountered, I make it a point to remind readers that the opinions of someone with a blog or an uncommonly diverse vocabulary do not confer any additional weight towards their argument. This probably is the reason why this blog gets the same traffic in a day as theirs does over a month. This goes both ways: if I say something that does not align with your own views, that’s perfectly fine. Back in Shelter, Rin strolls through an abstract field of trees adorned with emissive cube ornaments.

  • I’ve often joked that I could be quite happy with any size of home provided I’ve got a stable power supply and powerful internet connection, since when I’m at home, I tend to be hanging out on a computer of sorts. On pleasant days, I take to the parks nearby for a stroll, preferring to enjoy the sunshine and blue skies (or minimally, a lack of temperature extremities or precipitation). One of the strongest features of my city is the relatively large number of pathways and parks.

  • Admittedly, for me, the music in Shelter was sometimes eclipsed by the visuals: I’m very much a visual person, having a fondness for figures, diagrams and charts. I learn fastest when a procedure is illustrated step-wise as a diagram, and as such, when it comes to most entertainment, I also keep my eyes on the visuals. Smooth and well-done, the animations in Shelter were produced by A-1 Pictures, who also did work on Garakowa: Restore The World (accounting for the similarities in style and atmosphere).

  • While the first half of Shelter is illustrating Rin’s everyday life as she passes the time creating new worlds to explore, the second half arises after old memories begin manifesting: she recalls events that happened in her childhood as the simulation taps into her mind. I recall reading a text about the limitations of human intelligence, and one postulate put forth the idea that humans do not universally have eidetic memories is because that such a capacity would allow one to recall highly painful memories with ease.

  • This could be detrimental, and I count myself as thankful that I cannot recall with a high precision all of the negative things I’ve experienced (usually, just the lessons associated with them). This is merely a theory, and from an evolutionary perspective, the practical reasons why humans cannot be more intelligent (assuming a common definition of intelligence to exist, of course) is that a larger mind would make passing through the birth canal more difficult: infants are born with their heads very nearly at adult sizes.

  • Rin receives a stuffed bear from her father as a gift during Christmas. It strikes me that, after the Remembrance Day long weekend and my convocation, I will need to begin Christmas shopping. I glance at the calendar and remark that already, a week of November has very nearly elapsed. Daylight Savings ended yesterday evening, requiring that clocks be rolled back an hour, and I got an extra hour’s worth of sleep. The skies are noticeably darker now than they were a week ago, and winter will nearly be upon us.

  • Rin traversing her old memories brings to mind how the Pensieve in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter operates. An apparatus for storing memories, such a device could be quite useful for recalling different memories and giving the brain additional storage. While initially a curiosity, Pensieves become a major element within the novels, as Harry utilises them to understand Voldemort, as well as Snape.

  • As this moon-sized object draws closer, its interactions with the Earth’s atmosphere would cause the surface to heat up considerably well before it contacts the planet, accounting for why it looks more like a gas giant than a rocky object. An object of such size would hit with enough force to displace the whole of the lithosphere and generate enough heat to create a world-wide firestorm. Volcanic activity would increase on the surface, and once the debris settles, the entire planet would be seen as one large lava field from orbit.

  • To ensure that his daughter survives, the scientist creates a specialised spacecraft, to send her off. It’s a tearful farewell. Owing to the scope of Shelter, nothing else is shown, but this premise has been mentioned to be an excellent starting point for an OVA or even a full-fledged movie. Like countless viewers before me, it would definitely be worth checking out if a full length narrative was to be created, although similar to Star Wars Madness and Cross Road, I imagine that this probably won’t be the case.

  • This image shows the object colliding with the Earth’s surface, and the results are consistent with those seen in an animation portraying the effects of a hypothetical body of 500 kilometers in diameter impacting the Earth. While such scenarios are often used in science fiction, that there is intelligent life on Earth is the surest sign that such objects are rare in the Solar System: in the Earth’s early history, impacts would have been very common, but as the planets coalesced, the number of smaller objects decreased in number as they were absorbed into larger entities.

  • The end of the music video is viewed by some to be on the pessimistic side, since the final shot is that of Rin tearing up while in the spacecraft. It may have been more fitting to conclude with search lights shining upon her in the pod, which could have lessened or even eliminated the ambiguity, but other than that, this was a rather fun music video.

  • I’ll be resuming regular programming shortly after: ahead of time, I’ll be doing a talk on Mankind Divided now that I’ve finished talking with Talos Rucker. There will be some special post coming out later this week related to Remembrance Day, as well as a short reflection on my convocation from graduate school, in addition to the scheduled post for Brave Witches.

Fluidly animated and remarkably well-produced, Shelter is a visual treat to behold: Robinson’s performance complements the visual components, although there are points where the visuals seem to even eclipse the song. This collaborative project was a remarkably enjoyable watch despite its short length, and as remarked by countless others, its biggest shortcoming seems to be its short length, wondering whether or not there could be a more substantial story that carries on the narrative in the future to either show more of Rin’s backstory or her future experiences. It’s not very often I do standalone talks for music videos, but Shelter‘s execution is quite remarkable. As a collaboration between Eastern and Western artists, some audience members have remarked that Shelter could be an exciting beginning for international works. In light of some articles, such as one at Anime News Network discussing whether or not Japan’s projected population decline, these individuals feel that cooperation is very much welcomed to both bolster creativity and address the unsustainable aspects of the Japanese animation industry. Both components are quite important, and I very much welcome prospects of increased collaboration.

5 responses to “Shelter: Reflections On A Collaborative Music Video Between Porter Robinson and A-1 Pictures

  1. medievalotaku November 6, 2016 at 19:06

    Reblogged this on Medieval Otaku and commented:
    A nice and detailed review of Shelter. This very short anime is worth watching if only for the beauty of the animation, but it has a tragic beauty as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Flower November 7, 2016 at 11:23

    Am so glad you did a post covering Shelter!

    Well done shorts series or OVAs or ONAs get relatively little attention, and it is good to have someone give them the introspection and musings they deserve.🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • infinitezenith November 7, 2016 at 21:17

      This was a pleasant music video all around, but surprisingly, it was also a bit of a challenge to write for it, since there was a plethora of topics that are relevant to Shelter. I eventually wound up picking one that I’m more familiar in talking about and ran with it, and I’m sure that there could be interesting conversations to be had about the application of simulated reality and suspended animation for prolonged space travel, the implications of long periods of being alone on the human psyche, et cetera. Were there any aspects of Shelter you enjoyed most?

      Like

  3. cloudst12 November 7, 2016 at 20:06

    Exams are over so, guess I’ve got a bit more free time to leave a comment.

    I watched Shelter around the time it came out (In the heat of exams). Can’t really remember how I found it. Probably through reddit.

    Speaking of which, there’s a translation of the letter that Rin pulls open from her father:

    Now, the letter isn’t really complete and it’s left to the audience to figure out the meaning behind Rin’s tears at the end. But I think, it’s probably something simple..

    I saw that comment by “Zergneedsfood”before you mentioned it and I have to agree that it’s probably overly critical for the sake of it. If it’s any consolation, visit the poor chap’s myanimelist, the comments run forever but somehow, I get the feeling that he’s getting the last laugh. I am aware of some of the anime community being overly critical for the sake of it and I guess life sometimes is a bit too hard to enjoy the flowers. I’ve acquiesced to the fact that there will be people who complain even for the littlest of things.

    I’m in the camp that humanity probably won’t take extinction by “giant space rock” quietly. We’re almost always watching the skies for such a thing. And if so comes a day that a giant rock comes, we’d probably either try to destroy, divert or escape. But it’s humbling to know how small we really are in the grand scheme of things. That anything could come and wipe us out at any time. The picture by voyager “Pale blue dot” comes to mind.

    I hope you’ve watched the behind the scenes video too. I like the reaction of the Japanese side of production (i.e. A1 studios). That they felt that Porter’s take on a creative endeavor is an interesting one. Hopefully, we’ll see more collaborations like this in future.

    Speaking of minecraft, your comment on minecraft reminds of the sonicether’s amazing shaders mod that used to make minecraft look amazing, literally. Kinda random to talk about it, but your comment on how the scenery looks like high-fidelity minecraft reminded me of it.

    On memories, there’s actually a lot we still don’t know about it. The little we know is because some poor soul had an injury to a specific area of the brain that caused some abnormality. I see this field as being a place where a lot of work can be done, especially since my physiology and neuroanatomy textbook like to say “it’s not understood or known” (which is a boon in exams since you don’t have to memorize it). But on what I think about old memories, is that memories tend to become more memorable and less painful (barring PTSD or phobias) the further we are from them.

    Shelter definitely took the anime community by storm. OVAs in general or AMVs even, don’t get much publicity but this one most definitely did. I wonder aloud if we’ll see more of these one-shots in future.

    I’ll be having a 4 month break where it’ll be mostly procrastinating and doing meaningful work/studying. So, I guess you’ll see me more often soon.

    Thanks for the post.

    Catch you around.

    Liked by 1 person

    • infinitezenith November 7, 2016 at 21:44

      On my end, I’m surprising myself that I can find time to to write about stuff: work’s been remarkably busy, although it’s been the good kind of busy. I myself found it via AnimeSuki and proceeded to pick it up very shortly after its launch. My now-legendary talents for procrastination (taking the form of Mankind Divided and Battlefield 1) meant that I found it difficult to make an opening until now. With the preamble out of the way, let’s get started🙂

      First off, thanks for the letter translation, it does add a bit of extra depth to the music video not unlike how stopping to read all of the little snippets and e-books in a game add extra depth into their world. As for the fellow in question, I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder towards those who utilise a pseudo-academic approach in criticising things for little end beyond self-gratification. I am open to reading criticisms, just not those structured as though it were written by someone who finished taking Logic I and was seeking to scare a few readers for kicks. Such individuals, then, are bested by not giving them undue notice; we have the last laugh simply by ignoring him. Alternatively, he wins if he manages to deprive us of time otherwise spent doing things we enjoy.

      The existence of things such as the Near-Earth Object programme is a sure sign that humanity is rather interested in knowing what sort of things are close enough to Earth to cause damage. This is precisely the reason why I am able to claim that Rin can’t be the last person left: even if we are unable to stop the object, given the level of technology shown in Shelter, at least some people would have escaped the planet.

      I’ve seen some impressive modifications to Minecraft that give the game amazing lighting effects: a friend of mine created his own custom server, and while I never had time to play it (I was doing my undergraduate thesis when he was running the server), I did see some screenshots. I’m very much a visual person, and modern games are astonishing with respect to how life-like they can look.

      Regarding memories, your remarks about our knowledge of neuroscience stemming from individauls with disorders or disease brings to mind the dialogues Jay Ingram had about the human brain; we know more about the brain because of people like Auguste Deter, Phineas Gage and Henry Molaison than we do from the brains of the extraordinary. I’ll remember these figures in history because of something called The Giant Walkthrough Brain: in May 2014, I took on the role of being the lead developer in building the Unity scenes that visaulised the brain in conjunction with Ingram’s performance. Jay Ingram and his band would put on several shows in 2014 for the Banff Arts Festival and Beakerhead, as well as in Edmonton during 2015 and Kelowna (a smaller town in British Columbia) in 2016.

      I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes video, and my hope is that such collaborations will be larger in scale; cooperation has allowed humanity to accomplish very impressive feats, so I’ve always been a major proponent of thus🙂 I’m actually not sure what my future looks like, but I’ll try to continue blogging so as long as there is time to do so. Thanks for dropping by!

      Liked by 1 person

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