The third animated feature film from acclaimed director and mangaka Katsuhiro Otomo was announced yesterday, during an extensive panel at Anime Expo 2019 in Los Angeles. Orbital Era “takes place in the near future on a space colony under construction,” according to the official website, “and it’s an action-adventure story of some boys in this peculiar environment and society who keep living their lives while they’re being tossed about by fate.”
The film is “in the middle of production,” according to a statement from Otomo on the website, and while no release date has yet been announced, we do know that the film is being produced by Sunrise. As was the case with Otomo’s previous feature films, 1988’s Akira and 2004’s Steamboy, Otomo is writing Orbital Era‘s screenplay and leading design work.
The as-of-yet unnamed lead character (as seen both above and below) is American, despite wearing a Soviet space helmet, according to statements made during yesterday’s panel. Orbital Era‘s interpretation of the future is rooted more in fantasy than real science, Otomo said, though it’s unclear just how fantastical things will get from the limited information presently available. Given Otomo’s previous work, some real wild stuff could go down.
Basically anything else you might want to know about Orbital Era is currently unknown. No casting decisions were announced, no word on a theatrical release in western territories, or any release in western territories for that matter. The official website does have an English language option though, so I’m taking that as a good sign. When a name like Katsuhiro Otomo is attached to something, it turns out that you don’t actually need to tell people all that much to get them excited.
For the anime uninitiated, Otomo’s seminal film Akira — an adaptation of his groundbreaking manga of the same name — uprooted notions across the world about what animated movies could be. It is an intensely psychological, graphic, and at times, horrifying look at a cyberpunk future where hubris and apathy lead to unthinkable violence. Nothing like Akira existed in the world of animation before 1988, and while there have been hundreds of works heavily influenced by it, few have managed to achieve what Akria does.
Whether Orbital Era will follow in Akira‘s hugely upsetting footsteps remains to be seen. I do like the idea of “kids are gonna skate” being a universal constant across time, even in an era where people are living on space stations. There’s basically no limit to what kind of dope, sick, and/or radical tricks someone could pull in a micro-g environment, let alone what sorts of wicked angles one might achieve with a fish-eye lens. Otomo gave no indication that this is a skating-focused story, of course, but when you show me a skateboard tumbling through space, I’m gonna get ideas. This is actually the premise of a children’s book I’ve been working on, a sort of spiritual successor to If You Give a Mouse a Cookie called If You Show a Writer a Skateboard Tumbling Through Space. No interest from publishers yet but I’m staying positive about it.