“Reality is often disappointing. That is, it was. Now…reality can be whatever I want.” –Thanos, The Avengers: Infinity War
Naomi Katagaki is a high school student with a fondness for books and an indecisive disposition. While returning home from school one day, a crow snatches a book clean from his hands, and he gives chase. The crow brings him to Fushimi Inari-taisha, where he encounters a mysterious man who claims to be from the future. It turns out this man is none other than Naomi from ten years later; the Japanese government had been working on a massive archival project to preserve the past by means of drones and store them into the Alltale, a special machine with unlimited storage capacity. The older Naomi explains that his objective is to alter the recorded past and save one Ruri Ichigyō, Naomi’s classmate. As it turns out, Naomi had fallen in love with her, but before they began their relationship, she was struck by lightning during a thunderstorm. Because his current avatar has no physical presence, the older Naomi also gives his younger self a special glove with the power to alter reality and create simple materials at will, tasking Naomi with altering the course of his future. Guided by the older Naomi, Naomi sets in motion the events that lead him to fall in love with Ruri. On the night Ruri was to be hit by lightning, Naomi manages to save her, but his older self whisks Ruri away. His actions cause Alltale’s internal system to react: thousands of guards begin appearing to remove the disturbance and restore stability. Back in the real world, Naomi attempts to revive Ruri, but when the guards show up, he realises that he’s in a nested simulation. Naomi’s younger self appears and saves them; they must return Ruri to her original world. The guards begin aggregating as a massive being intent on destroying Naomi as the Alltale enters an error state, and while Ruri manages to enter a portal that sends her back, Naomi’s older self is grievously injured in the process. He reveals a desire to have seen Ruri smile one last time before dying, and the technicians operating Alltale finally manage to reboot the system. Naomi and Ruri return to a restored version of their world, and in the real world, Naomi awakens: as it turns out, his actions allowed him to save Ruri but also left him in a coma. Ruri end up using the same method to save him, and the two tearfully embrace. This is Hello World, a film with a runtime of a hundred minutes that released in September of last year.
For software developers and programmers alike, “Hello, world!” is the first program that every student writes when picking up a new language. Usage of this program as the most basic example was first recorded in a textbook on the C programming language in 1978, although some textbooks suggest that the first instance of “Hello, world!” being written in a program dates back to BCPL in 1967. The phrase, an integral part of software engineer, computer science and programming, is immediately familiar to those involved with technology, and despite its simplicity, is a gateway into worlds of infinite possibility and complexity. This is what gives Hello World its name, and it is therefore unsurprising that the film places such an emphasis on the possibility, but also limitations, of technology and software. In Hello World, the Alltale is presented as a fantastical piece of technology with an unlimited storage capacity achieved through unknown means, and given this power, the government has decided to embark on an ambitious project to archive Kyoto in its entirety, right down to the memories that people have. Such a tool would be immeasurably valuable for historians and anthropologists, but protagonist Naomi has a much more personal and sentimental use of the Alltale’s capabilities: to retrieve the data representing the memories that his love had and transfer it back into her body, intending on picking up where they’d left off. While a romantic gesture, Naomi also introduces instability into the Alltale system, rendering his mission a fool’s errand. It isn’t so simple to enter even a simulated world to alter it, and the world rejects his actions. Through his experiences, the older Naomi realises that a smile was enough, and ultimately “sacrifices” himself to ensure his younger self’s path to the future. Through Hello World, it is therefore suggested that even with technology as evolved as the Alltale, the past is indelible and immutable: some things just cannot be fixed regardless of how powerful the technology is for it. However, Hello World does not end on such a pessimistic note: in its ending, the film also seems to suggest that while advancing technologies do not offer an immediate solution at a given time, there is also merit in patience. Problems that cannot be addressed with current technology might be trivially solved as said technology evolves and improves.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Hello World‘s been on my list of things to watch since September last year, and if memory serves, the BDs came out back in April, when things were a little hectic for me. I’ve finally had the chance to watch it now, and right out of the gates, I was blown away by the visuals: the movie is produced by Graphinica, whom I know best for their 2014 film, Expelled from Paradise. Set in Kyoto, Hello World gives Kyoto Animation a run for their money when it comes to the quality of their artwork and their portrayal of Kyoto: stills of the city in Hello World look life-like.
- Ever fond of books, Naomi is rarely seen without one in hand. This is a rarity, especially in 2027: Hello World suggests that seven years from now, the world is still largely as we know it, although subtle improvements in technology will have inevitably occurred. Even in the present, there are far fewer people reading books, and I especially lament the fact that my local branch library has a weak selection of books. All of the books worth getting are found at the central branch library, and it’s a bit out of the way for me.
- The first sign that Naomi’s world is not what it seems is when red aurora appear in the skies, and a crow suddenly appears, stealing a book right out of Naomi’s hands and leading him to Fushimi Inari-taisha. The original description for Hello World was a vague “a man travels back in time to relive his time as a high school decision and rectify a past mistake”, but having now seen the whole of the movie, I feel this description to be an inaccurate description of the movie.
- For one, Naomi is not “time travelling” in a traditional sense, but rather, he’s entered a simulated environment at a very specific time with the goal of guiding his simulated self towards a particular outcome with the intent of altering it. Here at Fushimi Inari-taisha, Naomi finally recovers his book, and comes face-to-face with a mysterious figure. Fushimi Inari-taisha is a famous shrine located in Kyoto, and while I never had the chance to visit during 2017, it is regarded as one of the most famous destinations in Japan to visit.
- As it turns out, Naomi’s older self cannot interact with the simulated world, and so, he has the younger Naomi acting as his agent of sorts. Initially, the younger Naomi is reluctant to place trust in his older self, counting him a nuisance for interrupting his free time. At this point in Hello World, Naomi is very much an introvert who prefers books to company, and even when his classmates invite him out to an event, he declines. Naomi’s seen reading a book on how to be more decisive; by comparison, his older self is more confident and self-assured.
- Both Naomi swing by the Kamo River’s Turtle Stepping stones, a local attraction in Kyoto that became quite famous when K-On! portrays Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi here during the first season’s opening sequence. To demonstrate that he really possesses knowledge of the future, Naomi forecasts that his younger self will be struck by a drone here, but this leads to the question of whether or not Naomi’s younger self is struck because the older Naomi brought him here. In the closed loop model of time travel, it is suggested that what happens in the present occurs because of an action in the past that resulted in the outcomes of the future.
- In this regard, Hello World can offer the same kind of conversation about time travel that works as varied as Iroduku: The World in Colours and The Avengers: Endgame lend themselves to, although Hello World also has one other key component in its story: the older Naomi reveals that his reason for returning is to ostensibly help his younger self get a girlfriend. In exploring a more familiar topic, the movie also is able to present some humourous moments to lighten things up and also present yet another angle on what impact a first love can have.
- Initially, Naomi finds it difficult to believe that Ruri could be his girlfriend: cold, unsociable and decisive, he feels that getting closer to Ruri could result in him getting physically hurt and believes that another classmate, Misuzu Kadenokōji, would be more along the lines of someone he’s interested in. Of course, relationships progress in unforeseeable ways, and one of the more enjoyable aspects of Hello World is watching how Naomi does, in time, come to appreciate Ruri.
- The composition of this moment brings to mind the aesthetic seen in Angel Beats!, where sunsets were often used to frame more introspective or melancholy moments. Naomi’s older self explains that he’d fallen for Ruri and had intended to pursue a relationship with her, but an unfortunate incident meant that Naomi and Ruri would never get around to properly dating. When the older Naomi sees Ruri in the library for the first time, it probably marks the first time he’s seen her in any reality, and his eyes fill with tears at being able to see a sight he’d figured was otherwise not possible.
- After the younger Naomi understands the terms of what’s being asked of him, he consents to help out: to assist him in being able to interact with the simulated reality, the older Naomi gives the younger Naomi a glove called “God’s Hand”. It manifests as a shape-shifting crow, and the older Naomi sees it as a powerful tool for manipulating the world. Owing to its functions, I prefer calling it the Infinity Gauntlet with only the Reality Stone attached to it.
- This is what lends itself to the page quote, although unlike Thanos, who primarily uses the Reality Stone to create and dispel illusions, the God Hand can be used to alter data in the world to create new materials from nothing. However, even this has limited applicability initially: Naomi’s first step is to get closer to Ruri, and armed with the older Naomi’s knowledge of what happens with a great precision, all he needs to do is follow the instructions given out in a diary that meticulously chronicles Naomi’s experiences.
- The diary supposes that Naomi must first drop the book he’s holding, and then retrieve it. In classic anime style, he finds his face in Ruri’s rear, causing her to slap him the moment they disembark. This occurrence is a cliché in anime and has been done to death in virtually every series: the outcomes are inevitable; in Hello World, it occurs to create the first opportunity for conversation, and after Naomi apologises more formally the day after, Ruri reciprocates, feeling her own reaction to be excessive. Thus, with the ice between Ruri and Naomi broken, things begin accelerating.
- Hello World has a similar feeling to Makoto Shinkai’s movies in that once things pick up, a male pop band begins performing. This is handled by Official Hige Dandism, whose vocals and style bring to mind the likes of Radwimps, who did the music for both Your Name and Weathering with You. The music in Hello World is varied, featuring a range of incidental pieces that range from relaxing to mysterious, capturing emotions surrounding the more tender moments, as well as creating a sense of intrigue surrounding the Alltale system.
- The reason why the older Naomi pushes Naomi to learn how to wield the power of the Infinity Gauntlet and its Reality Stone is so that when the moment calls for it, he can summon something that will save Ruri. Initially, Naomi is unable to conjure anything simpler than a sphere, but with practise, he is able to begin creating iron and gold. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Reality Stone could be used to create illusions on a universal scale. Malekith had intended to shroud the galaxy in darkness in Thor: Dark World, but when Thanos takes the stone, he is able to wield the stone in a way as to create illusions so realistic, people could interact with them.
- It turns out that Ruri’s got a bit of vertigo: she feels faint after realising how high up she is while placing books back on the shelves. Naomi ends up breaking her fall, and the two become even closer in the process. Despite being a consequence of meddling from his future self, Naomi and Ruri’s relationship progresses about as naturally as can be expected, and it was interesting to see how chemistry between the two proceed – while it might be the older Naomi guiding things, the execution is up to the younger Naomi.
- The library interior really shows the level of detail portrayed in Hello World: the shelves are filled with a variety of books, but everything is well-organised. Hello World has an incredible artwork for both interiors and exteriors, although I do not find that the style is similar to Makoto Shinkai’s – Shinkai’s interiors are filled with clutter, and in fact, clean, well-kept interiors are a style more similar with the aesthetics that P.A. Works is known for.
- Admittedly, I’ve not been following P.A. Works’ latest projects: after Iroduku: The World in Colours, their more recent works have not had the same magic, and I’ve long felt that P.A. Works’ best series are either set in the workplace or have a coming-of-age component to them. Back in Hello World, Naomi and the library team begin preparing an exhibit for their school event. Naomi’s become more confident and decisive, contributing more actively in activities than he had previously.
- I think Hello World is probably one of the fastest instances where I watched a movie and then proceeded to write about it: I’d finished the movie on Canada Day, a time of year that I traditionally spend out in the nearby National Parks. Last year, I was in the province over, taking a stroll along a lavender field by one of the most well-known lakes of the area. However, with the global health crisis, it felt more prudent to take the day and rest at home. I started the movie in the morning and finished after lunch (crispy noodles with seafood, yin yang fried rice, beef chow fun and Chinese-style fried chicken wings).
- While the weather had been unexpectedly pleasant, in a move reminiscent of the Canada Day of seven years ago, I ended up spending most of the day gaming. This time around, rather than Vindictus, I began taking on The Division 2‘s Warlords of New York expansion. I will be explaining what led to my decision on that in a future post, when I go through the Episode Three content to The Division 2, and for now, I’ll return the focus to Hello World, where Ruri reveals that her family has a large collection of books.
- Ruri’s got so many books that the pair end up using a large cart to transport them all, and along the way, they break along the riverside. Here, Ruri reveals that she’s a fan of adventure books, where people overcome seemingly-insurmountable odds to achieve their goals, and Naomi admits he’s a fan of science fiction because it gives him hope, that an every-man can achieve great things in fantastical worlds. I believe it is here where Naomi realises he’s in love with Ruri owing to the timing of the wind and use of lighting.
- Like Naomi, I read most everything, from science fiction and high fantasy, to techno-thrillers and mysteries. I have a particular interest in techno-thrillers because of how those books utilise technology to build up a story, going into great details about how things work. In these stories, characters are portrayed as being tightly integrated with the techniques and equipment they use, and as such, are bound to whatever constraints that exist. It creates for situations where the characters must be flexible and creative to overcome their adversity, such as how in The Hunt for Red October, Petty Officer Jones devises a new way to track the Red October using software.
- Besides techno-thrillers, I’m rather fond of science fiction novels. Science fiction is, strictly speaking, a form of speculative fiction that deals specifically with the implications of technology and science on a society and individuals. Seeing authors devise radical new technology to show its impact on people is the main appeal of science fiction, and it’s been interesting to see how science and technology of the real world parallel those of fiction. While some things have proven to be impractical or superceded, others are much more plausible. The use of ubiquitous drones to survey a landscape for preservation and archiving as seen in Hello World is within the realm of possibility, being a scaled-up version of Google Maps and its ability to show a location at different points in time.
- Thanks to the books, Ruri and Naomi’s classmates are pleased with their day’s work, confident that their event will be a success. However, a stray banner placed too closely to the lamp catches fire and reduces the books to ashes. While no one is hurt, the unexpected turn of events jeopordises the probability of Naomi and Ruri getting closer together. Against the older Naomi’s suggestion, Naomi decides to use the power of the Infinity Gauntlet to reconstruct the books: the contained past knowledge allows him to recreate the books that were lost without having read them.
- Owing to the powers of the Alltale system, it becomes clear that information about the state of the entire system can be retained. If I had to guess, the Alltale system might have infinite storage capacity, but to be constantly backing up the world would represent a flow of information that the Alltale cannot keep up with. As a result, my speculation would be that Alltale works similarly to version control, in which the state of an object is stored in chunks, and modifications are made to these chunks over time. Since the books existed at some point with a certain state, it then becomes possible for Naomi to reconstruct lost entities in the simulated world by bringing different revisions together. Thanos does something similar with the Mind Stone using the Time Stone in Infinity War, and I’m betting that the Infinity Stones operate on a similar basis.
- Thanks to Naomi’s efforts, the book fair is a success, and Misuzu pulls Ruri in to help out, as well. While the older Naomi clearly states that Ruri is the love of his life, there are subtle signs that Misuzu herself had also been interested in Naomi: she’s seen spying on Naomi and Ruri in the library with a jealous look on her face at a few points. However, as Ruri and Naomi grow closer, Misuzu appears quite okay with this: she and Ruri have become friends in the time since the movie began, and the fact that Misuzu is able to convince Ruri to don a færietale-like costume speaks volumes to this.
- Naomi had exerted himself to restore the books end ended up missing most of the day’s events. Ruri explains that the event was successful thanks to him, and under the warm light at day’s end, Naomi makes his kokohaku to Ruri. She returns his feelings and agrees to date him. It’s a touching moment, set under the pink light of an evening. While most evenings are portrayed with red, orange and gold accents, the addition of pinks and violets creates a more nostalgic, wistful sense. The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan utilised similar lighting to convey a gentle environment and emphasise that Yuki’s journey to get closer to Kyon was going to be a nostalgic, peaceful experience.
- When the date that Ruri was supposed to be struck by lightning comes, both the older and younger Naomi make the necessary preparations: originally, Naomi had invited her out to the summer festival, so the first stage is to hold off on the invitation and not give the weather a chance to do its thing. However, the mysterious looking kitsune guards begin appearing in large numbers, intent on ensuring the events of this reality proceed as written in history to ensure the Alltale’s stability.
- As such, when Naomi intervenes, the system forcibly transports Ruri from her bedroom to the bridge where the lightning strike happens, moments before charges in the air reach a critical point. The impact of large electrical currents on the body are highly detrimental – since the body uses potential differences to control muscle contraction, large currents can cause cardiac and respiratory failure. Victims of lightning strikes also lose consciousness after a strike: this is the fate that Ruri suffered, and Naomi’s older self had sought to change this.
- In the end, Naomi summons a black hole to absorb the lightning and kitsune guards, changing the archived data in the Alltale. It takes him great effort to do so, standing in contrast with Thanos, who created a black hole without much effort in Infinity War during a fight against Doctor Strange, who ended up dispelling the black hole with a spell and transforms it into butterflies. While the contexts are dramatically different, the stakes are similar, and it was as gripping to watch Naomi use every fibre of his concentration to save Ruri, much as it was thrilling to watch the Avengers and Guardians square off against Thanos on Titan.
- In the aftermath, Naomi and Ruri prepare to share a kiss. Before they do, the older Naomi extracts Ruri: it turns out his objective had been to use the inference engine in the Alltale to capture Ruri’s feelings at their apex, and then use this data to restore the real Ruri’s memories. Naomi and Ruri are thus separated, and the younger Naomi is left without the Infinity Gauntlet. Because the Alltale had been forcibly altered, the system begins unravelling as instability builds up, and the internal fail-safes go into overdrive attempting to restore everything.
- As Hello World enters its final act, the distinction between world is lost, and it’s easy to get lost. It is revealed that after losing Ruri to the storm, Naomi joined the Alltale programme as a researcher and began working his way from an undergraduate summer research student to a full member of the team. During this time, Naomi investigated all possible means of entering the Alltale system to accomplish his aims. During this time, Naomi’s experiments placed an increasingly high burden on his body: he is scarred and left with a limp as a result of attempting to link his mind to Alltale.
- I believe first heard about Hello World late in 2018: the film had caught my eye both for its title and premise. The title is, after all, the first program any learner of a new programming language, and the premise itself had been curious. However, the film itself is quite unrelated to any programming language and the title was probably chosen because of the phrase’s relation to technology. Similarly, while the premise had supposed that Naomi would time travel to rectify a past regret, the film takes a different approach in executing this premise. This is why reading even previews of a film can yield unexpected results.
- Despite technically not being able to leave his space on account of being a mere record, Naomi’s younger self manages to do so anyways, suggesting that the older Naomi is himself still in a simulation. This brings to mind the Rick and Morty episode M. Night Shaym-Aliens, where aliens have captured Rick and placed him in a simulated reality to learn of his formula for concentrated dark matter. Rick and Morty employed the idea of a nested simulation for comedic purposes, but in Hello World, it creates doubt in the viewer as to what’s real and what isn’t.
- This forces the viewer to ground themselves to the one constant in Hello World: Naomi’s feelings for Ruri never waver, and this is what gives both Naomi and the viewer focus. As the system loses control, it spawns increasingly deadly mechanisms to combat Naomi: the kitsune guards representing the system eventually mutate into a massive monstrosity hellbent on destroying Ruri and Naomi. A thrilling chase results, and both Naomis realise the importance of getting Ruri back to her original world.
- The last anime movie that left me with a handful of questions after I finished was probably 2018’s Fireworks, which similarly created ambiguity in what had occurred. Such anime films can be frustrating to watch at first glance, but they also provide enjoyment for those who prefer their films to be driven by spectacle. In the case of Hello World, once the older Naomi sacrifices himself to save the younger Naomi, the irregularity in the system is removed, and a subsequent restart of the Alltale system creates a new world, free of defects, that the simulated Naomi and Ruri can return to.
- Naomi and Ruri’s high school incarnations are given a new chance to explore their relationship further: as a new day dawns on their world, it’s all optimism and rainbows for the two’s future. However, this is muted by the fact that viewers now know that this Naomi and Ruri are in a simulated reality, and while the younger Naomi’s definitely earned his ending, this seemingly comes at a cost to the older Naomi and Ruri in the real world, leaving audiences feeling as though something’s missing. Fortunately for viewers, the film’s not quite done yet.
- Viewers are treated to another spectacular view of Kyoto as Hello World draws to a close. A rainbow can be seen in the distance: this hallmark of a storm reaching its end brings to mind the storm that swept through my area during the afternoon earlier today. It’s a quiet, calm evening now, and after sitting down to a dinner of herb-and-spice fried chicken, I spent the remainder of the day in World of Warcraft. Besides Warlords of New York, I’ve also picked up World of Warcraft about a week ago, playing the Starter Edition to relive some old adventures I had on a friend’s private server years back. I’ll be writing about these experiences in the future, and for now, all I’ll say is that playing through World of Warcraft‘s opening missions is surprisingly cathartic: even with the Starter Edition capping me at level 20, there’s actually quite a bit one can do with respect to exploration.
- While the high school incarnations of Naomi and Ruri have their happy ending, Hello World concludes with Naomi waking up in “the real world” after Ruri transfers a copy of his old memories into his body successfully, to the joy of observing scientists. The Ruri of the present day sports a different hair style and glasses: compared to her high school self, she looks a lot less like Hibike! Euphonium‘s Reina, and projects a much friendlier aura. Doing from this alone, meeting Naomi probably wrought changes in her life, and her smile here is beautiful, speaking volumes about her joy and relief at having Naomi back with her.
- It turns out that Naomi was successful in restoring Ruri’s memories, and in turn, Ruri was somehow able to bring him back from the brink: presumably, after Naomi sacrifices himself to save his simulated incarnation, he very nearly dies in the real world, but with the Alltale providing a backup of his memories and experiences, Ruri is able to utilise this to save him. The two embrace tearfully, bringing to mind Futurama‘s The Sting. I hope that with this post, I’ve offered some helpful thoughts in Hello World: discussions of the film elsewhere have been very limited; most viewers enjoyed the film but also found the ending a little confusing.
- Overall, Hello World earns an A- (3.7 of 4.0, or 8.5 of 10) for me: the movie had an interesting premise and relevant themes to the limitations of technology, as well as an endearing love story and some of the most eye-catching art and animation I’ve seen in a non-Makoto Shinkai work. While the explanation of the different realms and how the Alltale works is lacking in some places, and the ending can come across as being confusing for viewers, the positives outweigh the negatives in Hello World. This is a film I can recommend to most viewers, especially those with a fondness for interesting animation and art. With Hello World in the books, I will be turning my attention towards A Whisker Away as the next film I write about. As we’ve now entered July, the summer season has kicked off, as well; once more of the episodes begin airing, I’ll have a clearer picture as to what I’ll be writing about, but I can say to readers that my next post is going to be an interesting one, being a collaboration.
Admittedly, while an engaging and touching film, Hello World also can be somewhat tricky to follow at times once the idea of a nested reality is presented: resulting from the fact that the Alltale has infinite storage, this means that something like the infinite regress problem is possible, and that there would be an infinite number of Naomis and Ruris, all of whom can exist concurrently in their own respective instances of the simulation. Notions of infinity create an ontological quandary, since infinity is, by definition, undefined. The implications of the Alltale in Hello World would doubtlessly create for interesting conversations surrounding the nature and limitations of simulated environments, determinism and free will in said environments and other topics, similarly to how the Matrix drove curious discussions about the nature of existence. Like the Matrix, the complexity of topics is such that there is not just one single theme within Hello World, and consequently, I am rather surprised that discussions of the movie are not more extensive. Beyond its thematic elements, Hello World is also a technical marvel of a movie, featuring very strong artwork and animation. With incredibly detailed renderings of landscapes and interiors alike, fluid character animation and the inclusion of different art styles to hint at the nature of the different environments Naomi goes through, Hello World pushes the envelope for what can be done within an animated medium. Hello World is, in short, a thrill to watch; the film may not be as straightforward as the average anime series, but Hello World has plenty of merit that makes it a worthwhile experience.