Halfway into the YouTube animated series Esluna: The First Monolith, Bataar (voiced by local Victoria Fringe Festival favourite Shawn O’Hara) may well have the means to go home. He’s from another world and unless he gains allies to help him, he’s stuck in a strange land populated with robots and ruled by a power-hungry warlord. The way he arrived suggests he’s been spirited away than simply teleported over. An ancient artifact of mystical power called The Monolith brought him here and nobody operated it at the time. When it’s in the hands of Queen Leda (Tara Pratt), who wants to use it for other purposes, returning will not be easy.
Anyone who controls this device holds the fate of Esluna in their hands. Maeve (Grace Chan) knows of what it can do. She’s a relic hunter who will prevent any lost artifact from going to the wrong people. Many years have passed, and the story picks up when Bataar is older. He feels resigned to his fate and eventually hope picks up.
The story is presented in measured steps. Each chapter lasts for about ten minutes and focuses on a specific moment. A theatrical cut might be offered in the future, but for now, these shorts help pace the story along. Anyone wanting to binge watch, can. The end credits is a unique work in itself and is worth repeatedly watching!
Denver Jackson is a self-taught filmmaker, and this work is a labour of love. He draws from a number of influences, and the Avatar, the Last Airbender style opening narrative and artistic design are the most notable. Additionally, shades of Laputa, Castle in the Sky and Star Wars (The Force Awakens) can be found; they form the basis of how he shaped this world–there are giant floating ships and droids in this the science fiction fantasy.
From visual effects designer to comic book artist, Jackson has proven again just how talented he is. This jack of all trades has produced other works, and they have played at film festivals worldwide. They show his love of the anime medium–especially the works of Hayao Miyazaki. Hints of Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet are just as noticeable. With many inspirations behind this latest project, I’m finding his first feature-length series has the potential to offer more. Could he be into archaeology too?
The world of Esluna has ancient technology strewn about, and the orbs are just one example of the past still being used today to power modern day technology. While not exactly a Baghdad Battery, it is capable of being weaponized. Should the Monolith be paired with it, everyone should be deathly afraid. Its origin is suggestive of the one from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Since this world have ships capable of sailing the skies, are they also able to travel into space? Jackson leaves room for further exploration.
He shares screenplay credit with Erica Meaney, and I look forward to seeing this team create more. Since creating animation is not an easy process, I suspect more tales can be told in a comic book medium, should these two decide to continue Maeve’s adventures.
This film is certainly worth the look and I feel fans of Nickelodeon’s show will not be disappointed. It’s fun stuff. The fantasy elements are just right, and I’m fairly sure this creator was inspired by Mononoke Hime too. Should he make the leap to making a full on CGI animation by himself, I’m sure he would never get any sleep. Thankfully, he got an impressive team of local and professional talents to assist. Ultimately, he was the one to put in the spit and polish for the final result and it’s a very likable work.