Miyako “Neko” Negishi is a young woman living in modern day Japan, or at least as modern as it was back in 1986. She is quiet and averse to socializing with her classmates, but that is only because she harbors a secret. She has psychic powers and, at night, meets with what few people she has been able to identify as fellow psychics.
On one such meeting, attended by the unreliable ladykiller Haruko Saiki and the boisterous jock Keichiro Yamagashi, the trio is suddenly surprised when the world around them grows hazy and they are whisked away. When they regain their senses, Haruko and Miyako find themselves standing before a congregation of pink-haired people deep within a cave. A mysterious, cloaked man informs Miyako that she is the reincarnation of Neryulla, a warrior princess who was slain while defending her nation from an overseas invasion. These are her people and destiny demands that she leads them to glory.
Miyako is anxious, indecisive, and her prickly nature alongside her smoking habits make her hardly ideal as a fantasy queen. Nor does she have the charisma, strategic insight, or even the sheer brawn to wage war. But to these people, she is the savior of their prophesies. Can she live up to those expections?
Tobira wo Akete is one of those classic isekai anime, standing alongside the likes of Leda: The Fantastic Adventures of Yohko and Capricorn. These were all great anime, but right off the bat I’d like to say that this is my favorite from among those three by far. Miyako and her friends are endearing characters and having them be swept up in this big fantasy war right away gives the story a strong direction. By comparison Capricorn and Leda were more traditional isekai adventure stories.
The war forces Miyako to reassess her attitude towards people and shoulder a responsibility ill-suited to such a young girl. It also forces her to learn how to cope with setbacks and failure, and even puts her in positions where she has to confront her troubling past. It’s remarkably well-written, both in terms of character development and as a war story. Battles are frequent and benefit from a layer of strategic depth that many other anime would forego. It even features one of the most “realistic” fantasy sieges in anime that I have seen to date.
The world-building is handled excellently without bloating the movie’s runtime, thanks to a very visual approach to storytelling. The anime is content to just show you cool stuff without getting stuck explaining why everybody rides around on giant, flightless birds, for example. The environments/backgrounds are also nice and there’s the sense that there’s a lot more going on in this world than we are privy to seeing. If there was a tie-in game (like with Gdleen) I’d totally want to play it just to see more of this place.
Character development is equally strong for our three protagonist, who are joined by various allies with fascinating stories of their own. I was especially fond of Dimida la Midin, a fellow princess around Miyako’s age. She is a hardened warrior that stole her dad’s army because he’s too much of a pussy to wage war. A really cool character who fortunately receives a lot of screen time. The villains of the story also make for great antagonists, whose rivalries with the cast lead to some fantastic payoffs.
Tobira wo Akete is the kind of movie that makes me want to ramble on and one about everything I loved about it, but in the interest of time, let’s get to some of my criticisms.
While Miyako and Dimida make for great protagonists, the boys in the story get more-or-less side-lined right out of the gate, with Keichiro being outright MIA for much of it. This causes some redundancy in the supporting cast and left me feeling that some stories were left untold here. The ending will also be a divisive element of the story; I personally didn’t hate it, but it was underwhelming after every thing else in the movie was so great.
Whether you’re a fan of old school OVAs or have been swooped up in the isekai craze of recent years, Tobira wo Akete is an incredible anime to revisit. It’s a great example of the fantasy genre in anime done right and it far surpassed my already optimistic expectations.