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Film / Avalon

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Avalon is a live-action film directed by Mamoru Oshii released in 2001. It is a joint Japanese-Polish production: written and directed by Japanese but filmed in Poland with Polish actors speaking their native tongue.

At an unspecified time 20 Minutes into the Future, a run-down Cyberpunk society offers so little to its youth that they turn en masse to an illegal virtual reality online wargame, Avalon. Some players have become so skilled that they have turned gaming into a job of sorts, while others have dived so far into the addictive online world that their physical bodies have become vegetative.

Avalon starts out as a First-Person Shooter game, and players level up as they earn points. It's possible to team up.

The film's protagonist is Ash, a reclusive young woman who ekes out a living by cashing in the points she earns in the game. A former teammate of hers talks her into searching for an alleged Secret Level in the game, a level so realistic it is supposed to be undistinguishable from real life. Ash finds the way to level up to that "Special Class A" and discovers what's behind the game...

Oshii's 2009 film Assault Girls is set in the same universe, but is not a direct sequel.

Do not confuse this with the Josh Phillips webcomic of the same name, the Meg Cabot young adult novel and manga series Avalon High, or the 1990 Barry Levinson movie about Polish-Jewish immigrants to the United States in the early 1900s. Or Frankie Avalon, for that matter.

Avalon provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Of course. This is a movie by Mamoru Oshii.
  • Action Girl: Ash
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Ash's progress through game levels brings her to Class Special A aka Class Real, a level with details far closer to the real world than her own reality (or maybe her perception of her own reality). The problem with that level is that you cannot reset out of it - you are condemned to win the game. And there may be a level beyond that yet.
  • At the Opera Tonight: Very much so, and with a mission to kill.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Not really. The movie is shot in Polish and subbed in Japanese, based off the Japanese script. It was not mean to be dubbed.
    • English subs have been derived from the Japanese subs, shifting the meaning somewhat and introducing some mistakes. More here.
    • There is an English dub by Miramax, too.
  • Boss Battle: A Boss appears in the form of an (improbably designed) dual-rotor helicopter and in later levels as a (madly designed) tank fortress. And possibly as Murphy.
  • Broken Bird: Ash
  • Cool Guns:
    • Ash uses Oshii's signature Mauser C96 on the ghost to access the portal to the next level.
    • Ash likes to use an SVD Dragunov in-game to good effect.
  • Cyberpunk: Veering into Steampunk territory as the terminals seem have dropped off a soviet five-year-plan conveyor belt. They are even using swipe-through cards.
  • Deep-Immersion Gaming: So deep that it is not at all clear where objective reality is or in what direction it is or whether there even is one.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Ash's base reality only has sepia colors. So does the game environment Avalon, until one reaches "Special Class A" aka "Class Real". However, both the restaurant food and the food of Ash's basset hound are colored (though not the cantina food slop).
    • Several shots also deliberately use the anime technique of static backgrounds, long shots and repeat usage of scenery (in a live action movie).
  • Dog Food Diet: Played with. Ash can afford to cook decent food, but she prefers to feed it to her dog while she sustains herself on cold anger and Chrupku dog biscuits. Lampshaded by her gamer teammate: "Your dog eats better food than most people!"
  • Gainax Ending
    Welcome to Avalon.
  • Gamer Chick: Ash. Although not shown, it is clear that she is well known and plays for the audience in the lobby. Also an Emotionless Girl and Girls with Guns.
  • Gross-Up Close-Up: During the scene where Ash meets Stunner over breakfast, there's an extended close-up of Stunner shoveling his food into his mouth with his fingers.
  • Matrix Raining Code: Ash is engulfed in liquid swirling binary string visuals as she ascends/descends to Special A (this visual is also seens in Ghost In the Shell: Innocence). Also used in the trailer, evidently.
  • Mysterious Waif: The ghost which appears in-game similar to a glitch in the matrix. But also in Ash's base reality.
  • No Body Left Behind: When player characters are killed in-game, their bodies de-rezz (NPCs seem to de-rezz differently than players).
  • Our Graphics Will Suck in the Future: Displays in Ash's base reality behave like the lovechild of analog tech and late-80s monochrome orange plasma displays.
  • Powers That Be: The Nine Sisters, possibly the mysterious designers of the game.
  • Product Placement: Great polish beer, as seen in the image at the top of this page.
  • Secret Level: "Special Class A".
  • Shout-Out
  • Show Within a Show: The opera Avalon
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: If you get everything even at second viewing, you are!
  • Welcome to the Real World: Ash's arrival in the "Special Class A," though it's deliberately left unclear whether the colored world of Special-A or the monochrome world she lives in normally is the real one, at least initially. But it's not the real world: Murphy is shot and de-rezzes in "Special Class A" like in any other level. Also, this level has a ghost.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Inverted as Ash's basset hound is literally dropped out of reality (garbage collected?) while she is cooking its evening dish. She looks around for a few minutes wondering where it could have gone. We see it again later in another level
  • World Half Empty: Ash's base reality is a run-down dystopia reminiscent of post-WWII eastern europe. Avalon's world is a permanent battlefield in which civilians run from advancing tanks and get casually bombed to pieces.