When you think of shoujo anime, I’d bet that androids, giraffes and characters dealing with the trauma of a loved one’s death aren’t the first things that spring to mind. However, these are just some of the things that HAL has in its arsenal of tricks to impress and amaze. It may just be the one romance anime you never knew you needed, as it blends your standard shoujo formula with some subtle sci-fi, and in doing so, takes the best elements of both to make an experience that is both unique and charming. Subverting the expectations we have of this genre is nothing new, however. Therefore, we are left to wonder, what does this anime do to set it apart from all other shoujo anime out there and, most importantly, does it succeed in standing out for the right reasons? Now then, once again it’s time to get ready for another trip down the otaku rabbit hole as we take a closer look at HAL and decide if this shoujo is a romance for the ages, or just another love story gone sour.
In a futuristic world, not unlike our own, robots are a common occurrence. After the tragic death of HAL in the opening moments of the anime, the robot Q-01 is tasked with saving Kurumi, the girlfriend that HAL left behind, by becoming human and helping Kurumi to live again. While not exactly excelling in this task to begin with, due to his awkwardness (being a robot doesn’t really help with his interactions with humans), HAL-bot relies on a secret weapon, a pair of Rubik’s cubes, one left behind by HAL and one of Kurumi’s, with a different dream or goal for the future written on each face of the cube that he can only uncover as he solves the puzzle. With these messages as his guide, HAL-bot sets out to save Kurumi from her grief and misery, and in the process weaves a narrative tale quite unlike any other. As this anime is only an hour long, I won’t explore any more of the story here for spoiler reasons, that way you can enjoy its beautiful and touching story to the fullest – that is if this review convinces you to check it out.
While HAL does stand as a typical shoujo, it often places the romantic elements on the back boiler– instead opting to ask complex questions through its themes, with messages that often linger with you far beyond the closing credits. Due to the nature of HAL’s storytelling methods, romance is often relegated to flashbacks and memories, showing us as an audience that love is something complicated and that, in reality, even the best intentions can sometimes result in heated emotions and sadness – an aspect of love not often explored in anime of this type.
Grief and regret are not something that HAL shies away from exploring. The way it does so, however, is a rare occurrence for shoujo anime, as these emotions are never monopolised on by Kurumi or anyone else, and are instead shared among the entire cast in one way or another, which can often result in some events that leave the audience in stunned awe.
An interesting theme that I certainly can’t overlook of HAL is the question that many a sci-fi has asked, what does it mean to be human? Now this is not a topic that many anime, never mind a shoujo, venture into due to the need to address this in a respectful way or risk it coming off as something shallow and reducing the whole experience as a result. HAL, however, jumps into exploring this with great gusto and does so well. Where this theme is explored, it is often done in a tasteful and often heart-breaking way, with many of the events in this anime leaving us wondering how a robot shows more empathy than the people that populate HAL’s world.
Immediately when you start watching this anime, one thing is obvious – this anime is gorgeous! Integrating the use of CG and conventional 2D animation that seamlessly emphasises the futuristic nature of the anime while avoiding the pitfalls of CG is something that HAL excels at. The use of colour and the constantly changing state of Kurumi’s shop acts as a symbol of both the mental state and the recovery of Kurumi, with scenes involving Kurumi having darker muted autumnal colours, and the shop being unorganised and messy. As the story progresses, the shop becomes more organised and the scenes involving Kurumi gains flashes of vibrant colour, a subtle yet effective use of visual storytelling, giving us subtle hints as to the impact that small acts of kindness can have on the world, be that the world of the individual or the world at large.
The character designs are a little on the bland side in this anime, but that isn’t a bad thing, as this anime is not one that focuses on extravagant character designs, and instead gives focus to the narrative that it’s weaving. The choice of colours, clothing and shapes are simple yet well executed, with the smallest details helping to set each character apart and helps give a strong first impression – an impression that often turns out to be wrong.
The biggest issue with writing a review for HAL is that the devil is in the details. If you go too in depth with the story and character analysis, you spoil the experience, but leave things unsaid and you end up not doing the anime the justice it most definitely deserves. What I will say is that this short anime of only one hour long really resonated with me for all the reasons I’ve already touched upon, and many more reasons that I can’t talk about due to spoilers. For me, the obvious flair and passion that went in to the making of this anime is astounding and with the expertly subtle storytelling and execution, HAL stands as a sci-fi/romance lovechild that is an experience than everyone should check out at least once – just make sure to bring a box of tissues when you do!
So with that I give HAL…
This anime is a breath of fresh air and really draws you in with its story, its atmosphere and its artistic flair. if you want to experience something beautifully tragic with an excellent story full of twists and turns, then this is something that I can’t recommend enough. With that, we’ve finished another trip down the otaku rabbit hole. I hope you enjoyed this review and give HAL the fair chance it deserves. Until next time, keep it weeby!