The mid-to-late 2000s was a period where the moe boom – fueled in large part by several highly successful visual novel adaptations – prevailed in the anime landscape about to the degree that isekai series currently do. If your anime fandom does not date back that far then this Summer 2018 series, which is itself based on a 2016 visual novel, will give you a strong sense of what VN adaptations of that time were like. In fact, it so closely resembles the style and structure of trend-setting titles like Air and Kanon that I would be shocked if it wasn’t specifically intended as a throwback to that era.
The first episode in particular is formulaic to a fault: a young man with no past or memories arrives at a new location which has its own quirks and quickly encounters and starts interacting with a trio of girls: a twin-tailed tsundere, a bright but also clumsy girl, and a girl with an apparent significant health problem. Each of them has something troubling them that only an outsider like Setsuna can help her resolve, and each in the process accidentally or intentionally flirts with him as well. Setsuna also has mysteries about him that run just as deep, even to himself. There’s also a gaggle of friends for one of the girls which serves both for comedy relief and as a veritable Greek chorus. Naturally vague legends and matters of life and death are tied up in the otherwise-banal daily occurrences and there are hints of the supernatural (or in this case the super-technical) at work.
For most of the series, the writing sticks so slavishly to its formulas and moe calculations that episodes 2-9 can pretty much be summed up as “Setsuna helps each of the girls with their problems in turn.” This is not necessarily a problematic structure; 2018’s Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai proved that such a structuring can still work fine if the girls and their individual stories are fresh enough and executed well enough. Unfortunately, that’s not the case here for the bulk of the story. Karen’s story in particular seems abrupt in the set-up and resolution of her main crisis, whose nature is not even hinted at until right before it happens, though the story does follow through a bit better in the discovery part concerning her mother. Sara’s situation, meanwhile, is a messy jumble which never feels like it gets entirely resolved even though she acts like it has.
The only one of the three girls whose situation initially seems even modestly intriguing is Rinné. Whether or not she even has the illness that she professes becomes a mild early twist, and she additionally has mysteries about her like where she was for the five years that she was missing (and can’t remember – she has amnesia as well, you see), why she didn’t age a bit for those five years, and so forth. There’s also a suspended animation capsule which may or may not also be a time machine involved and. . . well, it gets a bit convoluted in the way these stories often do. A sudden death and a temporary switch to a different time period, which may explain where Setsuna is coming from, are hardly out of line for the genre, but the real twists come when Setsuna returns. Even hardened genre veterans are unlikely to predict the startling revelation about how “time travel” in the series works or the big jaw-dropper in the final episode, but once those land, quite a few other details throughout the series start making new sense. The result is an ending that skips on explaining a lot of details but still fully is about love, though absolutely not with a pairing that could have been reasonably predicted at the beginning. In that one place the story breaks new ground.
The animation effort for the series comes courtesy of studio feel. under the guidance of director Keiichiro Kawaguchi. While they do not go overboard in trying to mimic uber-moe visual aesthetics, the look and feel of the series is also quite consistent with its predecessors. Featured girl Rinné is the stand-out character design, with her delicate features, pale hair, and penchant for wearing a captain’s hat with a jersey, though Sara also distinguishes herself with her poufy hairdo. The other distinguishing design feature is that this is one of the rare modern-era (it’s set in 1999) titles where none of the girls wear skirts; Sara is almost always in her shrine maiden outfit and the others typically wear shorts when not in swimsuits or sleeping apparel. (More oddly, Rinné’s mother usually wears what looks like an animal-themed hooded sleeping outfit meant for kids.) Though all of the girls are involved in minor, tame, and scattered doses of fan service, the emphasis is most on Rinné; the camera subtly plays up her sex appeal even while making her childishly cute as well. There is also one heavily-implied sex scene in the series’ later stages. Animation support is nothing special, but setting design is rife with details based on an actual island: Niijima, in the Izu Island chain located SSW of Tokyo, is indisputably the model for Urashima. In fact, the series could practically serve as a travelogue for that island.
The musical score for the series sparsely uses background music for big chunks of its content, with synthesized instrumentation mostly reserved for key dramatic sequences. During those times it can trend towards melodrama. It does better with a collection of insert songs sung by the original seiyuu. Both standard opener “Eternal One” and standard closer “Eternal Star” are solidly-performed but very typical-sounding anime openers, with a new opener and closer temporarily replacing them for the two different-time episodes. The visuals for the opener also update when it returns.
Funimation provided a simuldub for the series (albeit at a delay of several weeks) and it’s a capable if not especially inspired one. Austin Tindle seems to be the company’s go-to guy for roles like Setsuna, and he handles it well. So, for the most part, does Jad Saxton in the role of Rinné, though there are a couple of minor vocal style slips. Alexis Tipton comes across a little too strong and abrasively as Karen, but not to the point of being a big problem, and lesser roles are generally fine, with Shawn Gann giving arguably the best performance in the relatively small role of the young police officer Taro. The Japanese vocal cast mostly carries over from the visual novel, with the notable exception that Rie Murakawa does not reprise her original role as Sara due to creative differences with the anime staff.
Funimation‘s release of the title is a basic one, with only Blu-Rays and digital access included. (A DVD version does not seem to be available.) The only Extras are a complete set of clean openers and closers.
Ultimately Island leaves a few things completely unexplained in its quest to nail down its dramatic love story and doesn’t do an especially smooth job of integrating the source visual novel’s three main storyline. It also only vaguely references its setting’s namesake, the legends about Urashima Taro. Though the huge twists which dominate the last episode give the series a different spin in the end, it is, on the whole, more a nostalgia trip for fans of moe visual novel adaptations than anything likely to break through into new audiences in current times.