“Metanoia” refers to a moment of spiritual growth brought on by an act of penitence and true remorse for one’s actions. As curious as naming a fictional video game after a Christian theological term may seem, it seems more curious that the main character of this film does, in fact, undergo such a change. Perhaps that reflects its origins in a Catholic culture.
This was the first 3-D animated film made in the Philippines and I’ll confess that it came as a mild surprise to me that they chose to film it in Tagalog. After all, while “Filipino” is the official language of the nation, the reality is that there are hundreds of local languages and dialects — and most people speak English as a second language.
And it would be a lot easier to sell an English language feature on the global market.
The basic story is strangely familiar: Nico, a young gamer who is a master of the online game Metanoia, accidentally lets a malign program loose in the game and it’s turning players into zombies in the real world. He and his friends — who play as a team in the game — go into battle to stop the virus — and to save those enslaved by it.
Those who’ve seen Mamoru Hosada’s incredible Summer Wars (which came out a year earlier) have undoubtedly spotted many of the similarities already (or, for that matter, those who saw Hosada’s earlier film, Digimon Adventure: Our War Game!). Nor does it seem unfamiliar when those enslaved by the “god mode” relic within the game all end up wearing an identical helmet: we’ve seen it in a certain Matrix sequel.
However, there is something here you won’t find in either of those films — or even in .hack//Beyond the World, which riffs on many of the same ideas: Nico’s friends help drag him out from behind his computer and into the real world. He’s never been able to overcome his awkwardness in the real world (largely, we suspect, because he’s never tried again at the things he’s failed at) and in the end, it is his growing confidence in the real world that helps him to defeat the conquering Sargo and Metanoia itself. It seems a particularly welcome moral in our day and age — and mildly surprising when you consider it’s coming from a bunch of computer geeks!
Another interesting layer to the film are the glimpses we get of Pinoy life, like Nico’s father working in Dubai, “tricycles”, and the street games Nico and his friends play.
While they chose a simpler and less detailed look for the film, without the texture and complexity we’ve come to expect from Pixar, the film is still imaginative and inventive, with a lot of interesting design work within the world of the RPG Metanoia MMORPG. It looks quite good despite its more limited animation approach: its characters and settings may be simplified, but the animation itself is smooth and fluid, its camera mobile, and there’s a dazzling collection of worlds on display in its virtual realm.
It may not be one of the greatest animated films ever, but it has a great deal of charm and was quite well made. Children will love it — particularly those old enough to read the subtitles! — as will many of the hardcore computer geeks out there.
Although it probably won’t drag them out from behind their monitors.