This surprisingly low-budget KyoAni release isn’t bad in the first episode. The question is: is this going to be the next Escaflowne or the next Noein?
Munto, you see, shares much in common with those two fantasy series. It has the whole “Girl of Destiny” concept, the whole “alternate world said girl must save” plotline, and a male character whose job is to see that she makes it and does that job before it’s too late–as well as serve as possible love interest. That this girl looks vaguely like Mikuru Asahina is probably an accident, since Munto actually predates Haruhi Suzumiya by some years–there was an OVA release in 2003 and 2005, of which this is really the retelling. Perhaps, though, this is why KyoAni chose to adapt it?
As I mentioned, the artwork seems surprisingly low-budget, dare I say crude, for one of their productions. Except for a few backgrounds, the character designs are fuzzy and generic; the colors simple; the movement not nearly as smooth as the studio’s previous celebrated works. We see little of the famous “dappled sunset and lights” found in Clannad and other well-budgeted series. I wonder if it was decided this would be a second-tier project as opposed to the Key adaptations; this is the first non-visual novel adaptation for the studio in quite a while and perhaps not regarded as their “bread and butter.” On one level this is a relief and a change of genre, but one also wonders how much better looking this series could be if they expended more effort in the graphical department.
For me, however, story is the important thing, and the reason I posed the question in the beginning is that, so far, there’s no way to tell if this will be a storytelling masterpiece (like Escaflowne) or an ambitious but badly flawed work (like Noein). Munto has the benefit of being a lot simpler so far than Noein, which was done in mostly due to its over-complication; however, the characters are not as captivating as the ones from Escaflowne yet. One could also see a turn toward the preachy in the concept of a world that has used up its energy, which could turn into an environmentalist sermon about conserving one’s (magical) resources.
What I like about it so far is the music and in the fantasy landscapes of the Magical Kingdom and the United Army. While the character designs for the people of the Heavens are rather lazy and generic (basically, they’re elves with pointy ears and the United Army are Vulcans), the rest of it–the pillars, the connections with our world–have room to grow into something interesting. The seeming subplot with Yumemi and her friends is not really all that interesting yet, and isn’t even as captivating as the friendships that began in Noein (which, recall, I loved in the first half). I really want this to be an epic fantasy in the Escaflowne mode, but the feel so far falls short of a grand, important epic. There was only a whiff of it when Munto tries to cross the “space-time continuum” barrier, as if it were just another obstacle to getting to the Girl of Destiny. One can already form the cheesy lines around that idea: not even space and time could separate them! But it’s been a while since we had anything that felt genuinely epic and was able to see it through all the way. Kurozuka tried, but didn’t make it all the way.
I’m going to keep an eye on this as hopefully the plot and characters and settings open up, because I want to see how KyoAni is going to treat a show that isn’t about romance and moeblobs. This episode isn’t a bad start, and I hope it continues to improve.