As they walk home Dual (voiced by Risa Taneda), a strangely somber Japanese schoolgirl, listens as her friend Sumire (Ai Kayano) reveals she is moving to Europe to study classical music. Mere seconds later the sky bursts forth hordes of flying bio-mechanical monsters with gaping mouths. They swarm Sumire. Infected with a lethal virus, the poor girl melts into a lifeless husk before Dual and fellow monster-slaying magical girl Dorothy (Ayane Sakura) blast these creatures back to hell. Then fly home to the 'Box of Wisdom', their headquarters: a gravity-defying city of lights floating in infinite space. For planet Earth is long since dead. Long ago a mysterious event fractured reality into multiple worlds with multiple timelines, populated by 'living programs' recreating humans long gone, like Sumire. It falls to Dual and Dorothy, as the last human beings left alive, to protect these lifelike programs from monstrous 'Virus' bent on wiping them out. However one day they rescue a mysterious white-haired little girl named Remo (Yumiri Hanamori) who somehow breaches the protective wall around the Box of Wisdom. While Dorothy is sure Remo is some kind of malfunctioning computer program, Dual comes to believe she is something more.
Magical girls in miniskirts fighting interdimensional threats are a long-established sub-genre in anime. These stories often juxtaposed a sugary surface with darker psychological undertones but of late have grown increasingly mind-bending. Especially in the wake of the genre-redefining Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011). Garokawa - Restore the World (in the original Japanese: Glass no Hana to Kogasu or "Vitreous Flower and Destroys the World") opens in dreamily disorientating fashion as something akin to Inception (2010) by way of Bunty. Thereafter the film adopts a free-form, almost stream of consciousness narrative in the long tradition of psychologically-driven shojo manga. Stunning psychedelic visuals evoke the coded world of a schoolgirl's diary, juxtaposing folklore and sci-fi, gorgeous real-world landscapes and hi-tech realms, kawaii chara designs and H.R. Giger-like bio-mechanical monstrosities, plus that omnipresent shojo floral imagery. As an example of powerhouse visual storytelling Garokawa dazzles even though its machine-gun pace is too much for all but seasoned anime buffs.
A dense, multi-layered story crams a heck of a lot into just sixty-seven minutes, often skirting on the edge of incoherence yet posing provocative questions about the nature of reality and how we define being alive. Obviously this deals in concepts reminiscent of The Matrix (1999) right down to a restaurant scene where characters ponder the 'reality' of the food they taste. However anime was exploring such themes long before the Wachowski siblings strapped a wire-harness on Keanu Reeves. Most notably in Megazone 23 (1985). That said sci-fi fans might notice a few similarities between Garokawa's third act plot twist and Steven Moffat's seminal two-part Doctor Who story 'Silence in the Library.' Also the big reveal lifts a trick or two from Studio Ghibli's When Marnie Was There (2014).
Where Garokawa one-ups The Matrix is in drawing engaging human relationships. Through the ever-curious, wide-eyed Remo, sensitive introvert Dual and the flightier Dorothy discover the life-affirming sensory delights of music, food and fun as they time travel through fascinating moments in world history. Some of their ensuing antics are trite cute-girls-doing-adorable-domestic-stuff fluff, but infused with an intriguing metaphysical subtext. The film pulls off poignant moments (as when Dorothy recalls her Little Women-like past life with a Nineteenth century virtual family) and is not afraid to pose challenging questions. Such as whether it is right to preserve only the beautiful aspects of existence and let the rest wither and die? Or does that violate the basic principal of humanity? If the running time is too brisk to adequately explore all those questions, the final round of mind-blowing revelations proves genuinely affecting. Thanks in large part to committed performances from voice actresses Risa Taneda, Ayane Sakura and Yumiri Hanamori. It is unlikely viewers will find such a high-concept melange of girly drama, pop musical and cerebral SF outside of Japanese animation.