When a 26 episode series costs only $17.50 on sale at Best Buy, and has been critically acclaimed, you have to buy it. And for once, I wasn’t disappointed, at least not yet.
I had to laugh when I saw a blurb on the back of disc 1 proclaimed it to be “anime’s version of Stand By Me.” Stand by Me worked precisely b/c it wasn’t horror or fantasy, despite it being a story b Stephen King. I laughed even harder when I saw that it was not from a review, but from the director of the anime itself (Kazuki Akane, the director of one of my all time favorite shows, Tenku no Escaflowne). Escaflowne is not a bad point of comparison for this show, actually; like that 1996 classic, it’s in part about a girl who is destined to be the key to the destruction or preservation of a world with dimensional crossings. (Plotwise, it’s more like the Esca movie than the TV show.) Like Escaflowne, it contains a first-class epic orchestral soundtrack, though not one by Yoko Kanno/Hajime Mizoguchi. It also tries to develop its characters and include semi-realistic interaction as much as fantasy concepts.
The cast is younger this time, in the last year of elementary school. It honestly doesn’t change the interaction of the characters that much compared to anime with ostensibly older characters, which is perhaps a testament more to the immaturity of many anime teens than anything else: I can believe in this kind of behavior out of 12 years old. Of course, this being anime, these on-the-verge-of-puberty children are forced to bear incredibly emotional burdens that would make any normal person crack, whcih is what we see happening increasingly to the male protagonist, Karasu/Yu. He does sound a bit like Evangelion’s Shinji at times, though, at least in kid form, though living with that fanatical of an “education mama” is probably enough to drive any ordinary healthy boy insane. It made me more sympathetic to him, at least.
As for the SF aspects of the story, they are introduced relatively slowly until most of it is explained in episodes 6-7. A lot of complex concepts are thrown out in relatively short order, though not to nearly the confusing extent as was a much, much worse show like Dragonaut. Time travel, something that is surprisingly less common as a theme in anime than in other manifestations of SF, takes on a prominent role, with the multiple-universe theory taking center stage as the chief explanation for why moving people through time doesn’t screw up the events. It’s a respectable SF premise, at least. Very few anime even bothers to try for that kind of explanation.
Perhaps the strongest aspect of this show is, like in RahXephon, the SF and personal/character-oriented sides of the story blend together very well. One great example is the story of Yu’s mother, Miyuki, and how she turned recently into a controlling, domineering woman who has embittered her son. Her life trajectory is straight out of the case studies I read in my Family Systems Therapy class–which means that it’s very believable, the way parents frequently use their children to fulfill their dreams and emptiness. The metaphor of dimensional crossing was a compelling way to present Miyuki’s need to confront her past and not get lost within it. The first step to doing that, of course, was to name the problem, which Yu did admirably–something which, sadly, is very uncommon in Asian families in general. The intertwining of the SF and the human element is the way SF is supposed to work, and Noein does it well.
The next article I write about this show will be the final series review, probably. It’s a genuine epic, with lots of meaningfully developed characters and subplots, and is grandly romantic in the way few anime seem to be anymore. The shades of Escaflowne and RahXephon are really clear and I suppose we don’t get these all that often anymore, sadly, in a time of postmodern humor, moe, and recycled harem cliches.
Thanks to Jerry Energy for reminding me about this show again, and to Best Buy for pricing it 50% off. :)