The Ghost in the Machine: A Review of RPG Metanoia

RPG Metanoia is an official entry to the recently concluded 2010 Metro Manila Film Festival, and is the first 3D CG film written, produced, and animated locally.

The movie follows the exploits of Nico — a fifth grader and an online gaming guru, and his buddies both in and outside the virtual world of Metanoia, as they fight an unknown force that threatens not just their beloved game but the real world as well.

RPG Metanoia marks the first cinematic outing for Thaumatrope Animation and Ambient Media, who have been working on the movie for about four years when they were joined by ABS-CBN’s Star Cinema.

The film featured a mix of professional and amateur staff members, from storyboard and initial rendering all the way to the dubbing and screen adaptation (disclosure: I did the Japanese localization for a portion of the script).

I waited until the very last day of the screenings to view the film — despite getting invites for the premiere, mainly because of scheduling differences. As I settled into the theatre seat, I felt a mixture of excitement and trepidation. On one hand, I was glad that we Pinoys have finally gotten off our collective asses to produce an animated film that we could pit against the dueling dragons of Tokyo and Hollywood.

On the other hand, I was not really thrilled with the track record of Filipino films, so I couldn’t get rid of this sinking feeling that this could be one of those cases of “biting off more than we can chew”. However, most of my misgivings were put to rest by a combination of Metanoia’s spot-on wit, local charm, and superior technicality.

The film was so obviously wrought with love and care — although by no means an original the plot was engaging and brisk, taking you through Nico’s online exploits to his real life gaffs and then back again. The subplots were cycled through clearly without muddling the central plot — however, I do have to warn viewers unfamiliar with the MMORPG subculture that some of the erstwhile witty dialogue would’ve been indecipherable ^^;;

The film’s technical merits were far superior to what I initially expected — more “Chicken Little” than “Upin and Ipin” (sorry, Disney Channel shows are what came to mind — and no, Pixar is in a league of its own). The animation was pretty smooth, and the transition between the “in-game” and “real world” footage was seamless. The change in color palette even told part of the story — no one was left in the dark guessing if the kids were plugged in or offline.

Now, for the bad parts. Although the score and background noises were pitch-perfect, the dubbing was sadly not. I really, really, really disliked the voice of the main character — done by ABS-CBN talent Zaijan Jaranilla. It may be unfair to diss such a young actor, but I honestly have no idea why the production team used a real child to voice-act a young boy.

Zaijan did not have the depth and range of — say, a veteran radio drama actor specializing in child-like portrayals. “Star power” be damned, the director should’ve put his foot down and insisted on using a professional voice actor no matter how old he was in real life (protip: Japanese seiyuu who have done child-like roles are in their twenties or older — even Pikachu).

Long story short, RPG Metanoia is an unexpected joy and is without a doubt the sleeper hit of the 2010 MMFF. It has things that children who grew up today surrounded by video games and wireless connections will enjoy, as well as things that children who grew up ten or twenty years ago covered in dirt and bug bites would love. Catch it today while there’s still time, or watch out for the DVD out very soon.

17 Comments Add yours

  1. minamic says:

    Just loved this movie. Finally, something that didn’t pander to the pinoy stereotype of what movies from the Philippines should be! Friends and I were very disappointed to learn that it only earned around 15M, I think, during the first few days or so? While everything else earned between 30-80M! Would the producers be open to the idea that they screen this in international film fests?

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  2. EK says:

    I’m hoping they would keep it up for showing beyond the Filmfest schedule, so those who have been hearing all this good stuff about RPG Metanoia could eventually see it.

    Like

  3. eva_guy01 says:

    Sadly, the masses cater to the “star power” magnetic_rose speaks of. Unless Local films would have lots of money to experiment without fear of being a box-office flop (think early and later films of M. Night Shalayman), they would tend to lean on an easy cash cow than anything else.

    I feel RPG Metatonia would be able to get more from DVD sales, unless the pirates get a hold of it first.

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  4. itazra says:

    the story plot looks familiar.. summer wars? :p

    i agree with the dubbing though. and that japanese accent in a certain scene was awful ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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  5. @minamic — yes, quite gratified that the writers did not treat their audience like idiots.

    @EK — screenings have been extended, but only in select cinemas: Festival Cinema 5, SM City Manila 11, SM Megamall Cinema 8, and SM Southmall Cinema 5.

    @eva_guy — alas, local showbiz is still steeped in ye olde HOLLYWOOD studio system of yore; something has to be done to liberalize the industry of film-making in this country :/

    @itazra — not just SUMMER WARS, but a whole boatload of anime and games such as the .HACK series and even the PERSONA series (if you turn your head sideways and squint a little).

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  6. W says:

    I really enjoyed watching this movie. This is the 2nd Pinoy film I watched that had me proud to be a Pinoy after watching it. I don’t know why but I felt really, really awestruck when I saw the 3d-ish version of the Longsilog, daing na bangus, pakbet(?) & rice!!! I also find myself looking forward to scenes wherein they ARE inside Metanoia, cos it reminds me of the time when I once played RPG. I totally had fun watching & following the “Mark” character, aka the “Chick boy” of the group! His *hirits* are all panalo! Will it just be a “wishful thinking” on my part that it would or could have a sequel? I really hope it does, cos I’m thinking “what if Nico’s PC didn’t ‘hang’ right? Right? ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  7. the_bumper_car says:

    I agree, the plot was fairly predictable but serviceable, but I love all the characters except the main character. Seriously, if I wanted to punch one of the characters in this movie, it would have to be him. I don’t know if it’s just because of his writing, his dialog, or his voice actor.

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  8. Ady001 says:

    Magnetic_rose, given you translated a portion of it, what are the plans having it abroad? I-roromaji ko na lang.

    Gaikoku ni Gekijouban de happyou-sareta ha?

    I’ll copy my comments in Pex:

    I’m expecting RPG: Metanoia not to earn that much. With a $2 Million budget and a lukewarm general audience, it’s not surprising that it will just earn a paltry 30 million pesos in the tills. But I think Star Cinema was already expecting this. Notice why they entered Tanging Ina and Dalaw as well in the Filmfest? It’s to shoulder any expected domestic losses incurred by Metanoia. We can’t really blame the company if they make My Amnesia Girl or several other romcoms just so they could support one, single, very worthy project.

    But I believe that unlike the domestic releases here that belong to the MMFF disposable films bin, the battle isn’t over for this film. The real battle is overseas. They believed in this project 2 years ago and I think they already saw its potential. They just needed an avenue to show it to everyone (which is the filmfest.) It’s probably more like an experimental project so they could export it outside just like what they did to Pangako Sa ‘Yo.

    I’ve heard that they might show this during the Jeonju International Film Festival (according to some Twits) and even before the film was screened, countries like China, Thailand and Malaysia were interested in producing the film in their countries (during TIFFCOM.) Sometimes, if you can’t get the support you need back home, you’ll need to have it outside. If this succeeds outside, then ABSCBN’s marketing team did succeed. I just hope they get good people to market it well.

    How many cinemas showed RPG Metanoia? I also had the gut feeling that they didn’t show this much just because they wanted to avoid having this film infringed.

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    1. ใ”ๆ‹…ๅฝ“ใฎๆ–นใซใฏใ€€ๆตทๅค–ไธŠๆ˜ ใฎใ“ใจใ‚’ไฝ•ใ‚‚่žใ„ใฆใŠใ‚Šใพใ›ใ‚“ใ€‚ใ™ใฟใพใ›ใ‚“ใงใ—ใŸใ€‚

      re: METANOIA’s dismal performance at the tills — given the last-minute rush of good reviews on niche blogs and word-of-mouth recommendations, the film may be able to double its first week take by the time the screenings wrap up. they can also fall back on their DVD sales (assuming a good portion of the theatre audience goes on to purchase the home video), provided that — as you said, the dibidi boys haven’t gotten hold of a good copy.

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  9. Ady001 says:

    And I have to preach this. I hope they show this abroad first before releasing a DVD/BD first to deter pirates.

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  10. Kat says:

    Just about everyone I talked to who saw this movie had the same feedback on Nico’s voice actor. I understand the “star power” of Zaijan Jaranilla, but it really sucked. Sorry kid.

    Wholeheartedly agree with your review. RPG: Metanoia is a big, big improvement over the past animation offerings. I’m a skeptic when it comes to Filipino movies, but this one had me thinking that we can actually do it. I enjoyed the movie and would love to watch it again. I think it’s a big factor that the movie was started by people who didn’t think of how it’s going to sell (which is what most mainstream movies aim to do, “Kailangan kumita!”), but on how awesome they can make it. I’d love to hear more about the production side of things, like a “The Making Of…” special, but focusing on the animators rather than the actors.

    Original DVD? Yes please!

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  11. Ady001 says:

    How can it perform with 4 cinemas in Metro Manila?

    I think given the limited release theatrically and the 3D setup, I think Star Cinema is ushering new anti-piracy methods.

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  12. the four theatres listed above are the ones extending their screenings for METANOIA; there were obviously a lot more cinemas running the movie during the second week the film fest was still in full swing. if we factor the receipts from week two plus the extended screenings, then there is a good chance that they doubled their earnings from the first seven days of the movie’s run.

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  13. kathleen says:

    I think the reason they hired Zaijian to be voice actor of Nico is because ABS-CBN thought that somehow Zaijian, one of their ‘hottest’ talents, will help pull people to watch RPG. I dunno, but it seems to show that these people think, “People should watch RPG because Zaijian was the voice actor, and not because the movie itself.”The prevailing problem in our film industry is that,they had this mentality that people will only watch animated films if they’re familiar with the actors who will dub them (I feel sorry for the professional voice actors in this country. With their talent, they deserve to be admired just like Japanese seiyuus).
    Tsk, I wish the time comes when Filipinos film producers will learn to respect voice actors because of their potential to give justice to giving life to animated characters and not to over pander with artists with good looks yet have crappy voices just to voice animated characters in Filipino films.:(

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  14. doggie says:

    I agree that the movie somewhat resembles Summer Wars a bit, but I think it would’ve surprised the creators of RPG that it was, considering Summer Wars was just released 2009. RPG reportedly took 5 years to make with 26 people, I assume the basic flow of the story would’ve been done by the time Summer Wars came out.

    When I first heard of this movie, .Hack came into mind instantly, but it really doesn’t resemble it very much. For one, the kids in RPG don’t use any virtual reality equipment at all, all of the fluid and intense action sequences were basically imagined by one of the preteen players, (a scene showing what Nico was actually seeing on the computer screen shows up at one point).

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  15. Johnp33t3r says:

    I was at the Ragnarok Live World Championship when the RPG trailer was first launched in 2008. Summer Wars came out late 2009.

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    1. meanwhile, SUMMER WARS was announced in 2008 and released in 2009. like i said, the plot is not exactly original, but that is beside the point. SUMMER WARS is SUMMER WARS, .HACK is .HACK, and so one and so forth.

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