Look at all that 4K detail in Netflix's Sol Levante!

Sol Levante

Dept. of Tech Before Its Time


Sol Levante wasn’t what I was expecting. Then again, I’m not quite sure what I was expecting. (Admittedly, I didn’t have any of the right tools to experience this the way it was meant to be. I have no need for that “Premium” Netflix package. My television is from a time when “Full HD” was the big new thing and my speakers can just about manage to surround me with sound.)

The short film (it might be the shortest thing I’ve ever had to review) really is an odd thing. Featuring a young woman fighting demonic creatures across a variety of landscapes, it is, by and large, plotless. A series of short, vibrant vignettes, that feel like action sequences and meaningful moments excised from a much larger work. In fact, I don’t think I’d be remiss by calling it a trailer.

That is, after all, why it exists. As a tease of things to come. The 4K HDR equivalent of a kineograph, Sol Levante‘s purpose is to demonstrate not just that it can be done, but also how to do it. This joint effort between Netflix and Production I.G. is a three minute proof of concept that’s targeted toward the anime industry. It is a wake up call to current and future creators.

Let me be clear. This isn’t for you, or me, or everyone else. Even the most obsessive anime fan will find this to be nothing more than a fascinating curiosity.

This one is for history. It is Netflix and Production I.G. rushing out with their hands outstretched saying: “Look what I made!”

But first, a little bit of context.

A scary looking kaiju in Netflix's Sol Levante.

Remember when you were a kid and your mother came home with a massive A3 drawing block and box of 36 colour pencils? Remember how it blew your mind? All this time, there you were, working with 12 measly colours, on scraps of lined paper ripped from the back pages of your school exercise book, when suddenly, you’re presented with this. Clean, weighty, white sheets. 36 different shades, and hues, and tones. Remember how it changed your world?

That’s pretty much what 4K HDR is and what it means to anime.

With the exception of a few 3D CG efforts that are entirely done on computers, most anime coming out of Japan is still hand drawn. Some artists are traditionalists and still prefer the feel of paper, while others neither have the time nor the money to “upgrade”, both themselves and their tools, in order to go digital.

The current process, which involves scanning hand drawings – typically done on B5 sheets – is far from sufficient. In order for these to be 4K viable, they need to be either scanned at a higher resolution – which, in turn, magnifies errors and unwanted details – or be hand drawn on much larger sheets of paper. Neither solution is ideal.

Look at all of those beautiful 4K blues in Netflix's Sol Levante.

As we slowly edge towards that inevitable 4K future, artists and creators will have no choice but to start drawing digitally. This is where Sol Levante comes in. This is its reason for being. Netflix and Production I.G. have spent the last two years figuring out the materials, technology, and processes that are required to make 4K anime a reality. They’ve put in the grunt work so the rest of the industry doesn’t have to. And what’s more, they’ve made all of it open source.

That is why these three minutes are so important. Both Netflix and Production I.G. are aware that they gain nothing by keeping these discoveries to themselves. They know that they only way to fast track the future is by making it as easy and as accessible as possible for the rest of the industry to jump on the digital bandwagon. And I for one am quite excited at the prospect of what’s to come.

But right now, this minute, as you navigate Netflix and click play on Sol Levante – irrespective of whether you’re an anime fan or otherwise – all of this is going to mean very little; even if you have that 4K HDR television with Dolby Atmos.

Sol Levante is a deep look into process. Into how the sausage is made. It isn’t something we will necessarily be aware of while watching this short. But in a few years, as higher definition experiences become more of a household norm, we will know that this is where it all began.

Sol Levante
3 minutes
Producer: Haruka Miyagawa
Director: Akira Saitoh

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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