Musings from Mt. Prometheus

Out of Shadowland

posted 2017/08/12, by tofu

I've always been more into attractions than shows, but after getting my annual pass, I realised I would have time - plenty of time - to take in all the shows the parks have to offer.

The past year, I've seen Minnie Oh! Minnie, Super Duper Jumpin' Time, One Man's Dream II The Magic Lives On, A Table Is Waiting, Steps To Shine, Big Band Beat, My Friend Duffy, Out of Shadowland, and King Triton's Concert, all for the first time.

I wouldn't consider myself a show style fan yet, but one show in particular stood out and remains a clear favourite to me.

Out of Shadowland made its debut at Tokyo DisneySea in July last year. I never saw the show it replaced, so I came into this with no preconceptions (or expectations).

The show is a 25 minute musical with live singing, dance performances, projection mapping, and special effects.

My first time watching, I kept waiting for Disney characters to show up, but I realised after a while that this show is all original material with original characters. And that in itself is pretty exciting. There's been a trend recently of updating existing attractions or adding in IP where it really isn't needed, so it is good to see this show presented on its own as an original piece. They could easily have added Disney characters into this to guide Mei, the main character, through her adventures, but it would have severly crippled the story.

Let's take a look at the story, be warned that this will include spoilers. It's a fairly simple story about a timid girl who gets separated from her hiking group after following a mysterious bird into the forest. She finds herself in Shadowland, a land ravaged by the evil Shadow Bird, and eventually discovers that she holds the power to restore the land to its former colourful glory.

It can be seen as a very simple story, where the message is that you need to believe in yourself. But I see more than that.

When I watch this show, I see a young girl fighting off demons. Both literally and figuratively.

Mei is introduced as timid, both through body language and actions. In the first scene, she's asked to lead the group to their next camp, but she refuses, saying she's not ready. Yuu, the tour leader, replies "Listen, if you don't try, then you won't fail - but you won't succeed either". The first time I heard this line, it sent chills down my spine. It's one of those simple life truths I wish someone would have shared with me when I was 12-13. This line is delivered in a casual tone and manner, it really drives home that this is a given for most people, but not for Mei - a feeling shared by a lot of other young people suffering from mental illnesses, like anxiety disorders or depression.

When Mei runs off to fight the Shadow Bird, she's really fighting her own anxieties. Once the Shadow Bird is defeated, she enthusiastically volunteers to lead the group on to their next camp. Her journey through Shadowland is her journey towards self discovery. When the Shadowland Yuu dies in the battle with the Shadow Bird, Mei discovers that she can succeed on her own.

I see a clear parallell to Dumbo, though that's not as much about fighting demons as it is about having the confidence to go it alone.

The story obviously hooked me in quite a personal way, and I realise a lot of people don't read it the way I do - which is fine, but to me, the story is everything. The dance sequences featuring modern dance are OK, the projection mapping and special effects are good, and the music is very emotional - but if you're watching this as an adventure storyline, the sadness in the music is bound to feel off. I can easily see people expecting more adventure, considering the costumes, and the setting. Instead, it's literal shadow play and a timid girl slowly building her confidence. With sad ballads.

We need more stories like this, though. I wonder if they meant to highlight mental health awareness, or if it's accidental. It seems too obvious a theme to be something that just happens to fit.

None of the other shows I've seen at Tokyo Disney Resort have had themes like this. So for better or worse, Out of Shadowland really stands out. It's a shame they've made no effort to make it more accessible to guests who don't speak Japanese. The title is in English, but the show is in Japanese, there are no live subtitles or story summary pamphlets. Sadly, the music and visuals aren't really enough to make the show engaging if you can't follow the story. Though one could also argue that it's refreshing to see a show that doesn't rely on visuals alone. The deceptively simple story is important.

The special effects are fun, the huge Shadow Bird prop at the end is my favourite thing, they do a lot of cool things with the choreography in the end fight sequence, including a bullet time move that works really well.

There are a couple of things about the show that bug me.

mysterious flower girl, who and what are you....

One of the dance sequence characters stands out so much, you expect her to do more, but she's only seen in two scenes. I wonder if they originally wrote more material for this flower character, but had to cut it short. It may also be a symbol that is simply lost on me. If the stag Yuu represents the real world group leader, could the flower girl represent Mei? Mei still has the red flower the girl hands her at the end of the show, possibly showing that she's... blossomed. Heh. It's the only thing that makes sense to me. However, we also see the flower girl at the end when Mei makes it back to the others.... it feels like something is missing.

I will never understand how they ended up with this coreography for this song, criiiiinge

Some of the choreography is a little... awkward, and I agree that the music feels somewhat repetetive at times. However, considering the short runtime, it's amazing how complete this show is. The amount of stuff crammed into its measly 25 minute runtime is mind-boggling. It feels like proper musical theatre with a touch of Disney magic, just like a show at DisneySea should.

I've not seen much love for this show online, which saddens me. It's a tight production with a great message, it deserves some love!