So Shelter is pretty good for a six minute music video. Hell, it’s probably the best six minute anime music video about a girl stuck in a simulation while floating alone in the depths of space written by Porter Robinson I’ve ever seen.
Ironically for being a music video, I found the music to be a largely inconsequential element. I don’t necessarily mean this in a bad way—if anything, it shows how fitting the track is, and how it gets away with repeating the same basic structure over the course of six minutes without becoming grating. It does what a good soundtrack should do by complementing the actions happening onscreen, and not forcing the visuals to adhere to it. Thankfully, those visuals are incredibly well presented, providing the meat to the music’s bread in this aesthetic sandwich.
The narrative is also effectively conveyed through mostly nonverbal means, telling the story of Rin, a girl whose father jettisons her into space to save her from dying to the assumed impact, or at least a lethal shift in gravity, of a fucking large planetary body heading toward Earth. Stuck in a simulation that she can control, Rin travels through fantastical, lonely landscapes accompanied by the sick tunes of Porter Robinson and the knowledge that she’s gone years without receiving an email.
However well animated, well accompanied, and well directed it is, Shelter lacks that extra spark to really make it an emotional journey. That’s not to say that it doesn’t mostly achieve what I feel it sets out to accomplish—it does, and it does so well. It’s a hard fault to quantify, but I found it difficult to pick one moment that really exemplifies just how damn well-made Shelter is as a whole—and not because I was swamped with potential choices. The closest I can think of is the ever-looming threat of an entire planetary body about to obliterate Earth as Rin and her father look on with a mix of fear and acceptance. It’s a recurring theme with a lot of pathos that establishes the lengths that Rin’s father would go to in order to keep her alive, and imbues the loneliness of the simulation that she’s trapped in with a tangible feeling of love. It feels like her father subjected her to a lifetime of isolation out of more than a misplaced desire to see her survive at any cost.
For how much Shelter tries to evoke the fantastical isolation of Rin’s simulation, it focuses too much on the ever-morphing landscape, and not enough on what other things Rin can summon from the ether to possibly assuage her lonely existence. Even if she can’t Truman Show it up with AI people, everything outside of her room is built to be oddly sterile and noticeably virtual. It makes her feelings of isolation almost seem like a self-fulfilling prophecy, like somebody complaining about constant symptoms of salmonella while eating warm, raw eggs for every meal. As silly as it sounds, Rin’s mishandling of the technology given to her lessens the overall memorability of the video.
At Shelter’s worst, it still stands as a display of solid animation (marred somewhat by less than inspired visual direction), and as an example of a competent story told with very little dialogue. Though I don’t think it nullifies the admittedly petty faults to acknowledge them within the context of a six minute runtime, it does assuage them somewhat, especially when it hits all the major notes more or less successfully. It runs over into cliche at times, but doesn’t ever implode on itself. Overall I enjoyed it, and would give it a recommendation as an example of what the medium can accomplish given some budget and technical knowhow.