Shelter, a music video, animation piece and original song, is a collaboration between American music artists Porter Robinson and French songwriter Madeon and the Japanese animation studio A-1 pictures. It is a six minute long video that captures the story of a young girl, Rin, who lives in a virtual reality simulation created by her engineer father in an effort to help her escape the apocalypse.
Shelter, the song itself, is an amalgam of electronic instrumentals that lend the song and music video to the futuristic world that the setting takes place in. However, the chorus and verses express a poignant dialogue between daughter and father. The song itself is a poem of final words, without a hint of the futuristic world they live in or the impending apocalypse, but rather words of farewell and promises.
While the music is a dialogue of promises and open ended conversation, the animation constructs the story. Created by studio A-1 pictures (known for Sword Art Online, Magi, Anohana), the anime is full of vibrant colors that represent the virtual world that the girl, Rin, is able to modify and create on whim. With her tablet, she is able to draw her reality, where the trees and forests that she realizes in 2D become her surroundings. As a result, the creators are able to express a flexible amount of creativity in drawing the fantastical backgrounds that spring up from Rin’s imagination. The breathtaking scenes range from Rin watching an Aurora Borealis to her walking in a black and grayed-out forest where glowing, red and white ornamental cubes seem to be hanging from the trees, the few representations of color in an otherwise grayscale frame. The transitions between scenes that Rin creates through her tablet have a digital effect, where the frames dissolve into cubic, angular shapes before coming back together to form a new otherworldly scene.
Not only are the backgrounds gorgeous on their own, but they closely depict the progression of Rin’s internal thoughts and are cleverly aligned with parts of the lyrics. Rin’s inquisitiveness, innocence and curiosity manifest through the stunning backgrounds that the animators draw and the landscapes she is able to completely alter by a simple flick of her tablet pen.
When Rin begins to lose control of her virtual reality and it starts to bring up scenes from her past when she was still with her father, the central story and conflict begin to reveal itself. Rapid scene flashes hint at the destruction of the earth from a collision and the father’s blueprints to create Rin’s virtual reality simulation. Before the implied apocalypse, her father sends her out in the dual space shuttle-simulation, where she is physically unconscious as her mind is immersed in the virtual reality. The final scene closes in on her motionless body hooked up to the simulation as the omniscient audience is aware that she is “living” in a virtual, fantastical world.
More than anything, the brilliant colors of the virtual world and the realms that Rin can create contrast her loneliness, as though to suggest the beauty of this futuristic technology cannot measure up to being with another human being. While the setting of the music video feels far removed from the world today, the film still touches upon the same emotional needs and sorrows that most humans can empathize with.
The sorrow does not stem from the fact that Rin lives completely in a simulation with her body in a seemingly timeless space capsule. Rather, it is the sacrifice and gift of her father that resound most deeply with Rin (and consequently, the audience). The conclusion of the video as well as the lyrics end on a hopeful note, with her thanking her father for what he did for her and a fading voice singing, “And I know, I’m not alone, you’ll be watching over us.”
Shelter is a masterfully effective piece of work, not only because of the addicting music and phenomenal art, but because of the central ideas that resound so deeply within humans. The concept of familial love is not a new one. Originality is not the goal. Instead the father’s actions are something plausible and evocative of a plausible reality that few have considered.
In isolation, such a futuristic reality forces the questions: what would it mean to be the last human alive, living only in a simulation? And can that truly be considered living? But in conjunction with the flashback scenes when Rin is with her father, these questions become trivial compared to the recurring idea of loneliness.
The power of the music video is in its ability to depict common themes such as love, sacrifice, and loneliness in a realistic future for audiences to understand. The repetitive electronic instrumentals, gentle lyrics, and breathtaking keyframes and digital transitions of the animation create such a setting in which the artists could be flexible in how they underlined core themes while also push the audience out of their comfort zone, into a realm of the unexpected.
Even in such a world, the characters suffer and derive happiness from the same, tangible experiences that most all humans do. The so-called “shelter” is not the cleverly engineered simulation or robust space shuttle that carries Rin away from the earth’s destruction, but rather the father’s efforts to preserve their love and protect her from desolation and loneliness.