The first indication that RPG: Metanoia isn’t going to be your average MMFF film is its title. It takes guts to name a film Metanoia and in the same way, it’s even gutsier to set a film inside the esoteric world of online RPGs. The film never set out to capture a mass audience, never tried to cater to the whims of the abstract many. But it deserves everybody’s attention. It seems that the recent thrust of the Filipino film industry is to become world class. Well, this unassuming little film happens to be comparable to the best the world has to offer. Filipino animation has always held great promise. With RPG: Metanoia, the promise has become reality.
Nico (Zaijian Jaranilla) is an awkward little kid who spends most of his time fighting battles in the online world of Metanoia. He's the best player among his friends, and he's leading their team in the Metanoia world tournament. But in his fervor to be the hero, he ends up costing his team the tournament, and subsequently gets them thrown out of the Internet cafe where they play. While Nico and his friends spend time playing outside, something sinister is brewing in the online world. A powerful player has gotten his hands on a powerful item that reveals the true nature of the game.
The movie tosses the audience straight into the game world. Nico’s online avatar Zero breaks into a bad guy stronghold and yo-yos his way out of trouble. It’s a smart, thrilling start to what turns out to be a beautifully told tale about celebrating the games that kids play. It’s all a very big adventure, but the film is as much about patintero and agawan base as it is about Massively Multiplayer Online RPGs. Its most joyous sequences are dedicated to the simplicity of street play; the hours of fun that a can and slippers can provide.
The story is pretty rich. While the film doesn’t exactly create a realistic portrayal of what an online game is like, it gains verisimilitude in digging into the psychology of connectivity. There’s a beautiful throwaway moment in the film where we see two Korean players who aren’t allowed to be together in the outside world, their romance only able to exist in virtual spaces. In the same way, Nico is only really able to play with his OFW dad over the Internet. And this is what’s truly remarkable about the film. While it would have been easy enough to fully condemn the online realm as empty escapism, the film makes an effort to show that it’s not all bad.
The animation stutters a bit during the big action setpieces, but as a whole, this film is wonderfully made. A great design sense makes up for the technical limitations. While the animation may look jerky at times, the action scenes themselves are smartly directed. It’s all very thrilling, the fighting happening on several planes, with clever camera movements providing a sense of scale. The voicework is pretty good all in all, though it’s a little hard to tell the kid’s voices apart. Still, Zaijian Jaranilla proves to be a perfectly expressive lead. Eugene Domingo and Aga Muhlach provide beautifully warm performances to back the kid up.
Regular readers are probably aware of how highly I regard Pixar and their work, and so it should taken as high praise when I say that I would proudly hold RPG: Metanoia up against even the best of Pixar. The film is simply extraordinary. Though the animation isn’t as technically dazzling as the projects of the first world, this little third world tale is in many ways more powerful and more well-crafted than even the most high-budgeted of productions. I think we should all be proud of this one.