Earth Girl Arjuna

I just watched an animé called 地球少女アルジュナ (Earth Girl Arjuna). I found it an interesting story so I decided to review it. There are spoilers so beware.

I just watched an animé called 地球少女アルジュナ (Earth Girl Arjuna). It was an interesting story so I decided to review it. There are definite spoilers so beware.

The story opens with spectacular animation and a fairly typical set where we meet the protagonist and the initial incident that gets the story off the ground occurs. The background is set for a romance and then just a moment later, Juna, the protagonist, dies and has visions of the destruction of Earth before being resurrected by a mysterious person known as Chris. Now the idea of fighting the apocalypse is not particularly novel in any of the storytelling art forms but the setup is well executed.

I do have to admit that by the end of the first episode I was thinking, damn Chris and his sidekick Cindy are just plain idiots. They drop Juna in the middle of a meltdown crisis at a nuclear power plant and seem to expect her to somehow understand everything all at once. And then they go ahead and berate her about it. As the series continues, however, I found Cindy to be much more likable, if flawed even though I thought worse and worse of Chris’s tactics. As a matter of fact, it was not until the climax of the story in the final episode that the apparent idiotic actions of Chris can be reconciled.

In all fairness, however, I do need to point out that Juna and her boyfriend Tokio demonstrate substantial density as well. In many cases, they are practically hit over the head with a lesson before they even apprehend the fact that a lesson is even possible. That is not to say, though, that we have characters that are anywhere near as dense as Usagi in Sailor Moon, and they do learn as time passes.

Earth Girl Arjuna spends a great deal of time on character development. Indeed, that is the point of the story as we watch Juna’s progress from ordinary teenager to saviour. The way the characters respond to some hard hitting situations from broken homes and divorce through abortion and teen sexuality appear well thought out. In fact, the premise of the show allows the subjects to be dealt with even more effectively than an ordinary show would allow.

The true underlying theme, however, is that of waste and environmental damage. Actually, the correct word might be "overlying" as we are bludgeoned with the environmental message. There is no attempt at subtlety at all in the presentation of the message. It is so blatant that the show has the feel of attending a hellfire and damnation sermon. It is not the typical "men are the root of all evil" message, however, and the series gets points for that. It preaches the interconnectedness of all life, including humans. Still, I do not particularly like being hit over the head with an ideological message when I am watching a show for entertainment purposes. A little more finesse in the presentation would have made the experience better. (This may be a side effect of having slightly less story than thirteen episodes would call for, as well.)

All in all, I do have to give Earth Girl Arjuna a pass as it does not fall into the typical trap of the solution putting everything back the way it was with hardly any consequences and having everyone live happily ever after. It also gets points for maintaining a level of tension during the climax and by keeping us guessing about just what Chris’s motivations are and what the ultimate solution will be. Also, the fact that it does not shy away from showing the harsh realities that exist in a city when the infrastructure fails totally yet it does not dwell on it unnecessarily either. Even the "happily ever after" ending for Chris, Cindy, Tokio, and Juna at the end does not feel contrived or recycled as so many do. In fact, having the Raaja macguffins turn out to be part of the ecosystem, somewhat equivalent to an immune system, was an excellent means to resolve the food shortage situation.

The final scene which shows Tokio holding up a double handful of the Raaja is, perhaps, the best finalé the series could have had. His heartfelt "Itadakimasu" is right up there with Tiny Tim’s "God bless us, everyone" from A Christmas Carol.

As a final comment, I was half expecting a somewhat tragic ending, somewhat in line with Saikano but less severe. This feeling came through especially clear during episode 12 when we see the death of Japan and the suffering of the people over the course of a week and a half. In truth, it was a relief to have that turn out not to be the case. Still, it was not a happy ending either. Perhaps it would be most accurate to say the ending was hopeful and that is, when you get right down to it, more satisfying than a merely happy ending.

Angelic Layer

As something to do while copying a stack of DVDs (the data kind, of course), I watched fansubs of Angelic Layer. (That’s an animé series for those not in the know.) As happens on occasion, I feel the need to post a sort of review. Those of you who are at all concerned about spoilers maybe shouldn’t read further. In any event, here goes with the review.

The basic premise is somewhat sicence fiction. A new toy is taking the world by storm. You purchase an Angel’s Egg and create an angel. Then you join fights with other angels in a playing field called an angelic layer. And, to make things even more cool, you control your angel using a helmet and your own thoughts.

On the surface, it looks like a simple beginner gets hooked into some sort of game and we follow that beginner through a journey of self-discovery as he works his way up the rankings of the game, collecting fans and friends along the way. And, certainly, we do have that in the character of Misaki and her angel Hikaru. In fact, for the first few episodes, I was reminded of several other series including Hikaru no Go and Rockman EXE. Indeed, the similarity with Rockman is marked.

It only takes a few episodes, however, before it becomes clear that there is a much deeper story involved. We don’t have the details of the backstory dumped on us all at once either. As the story unfolds, we get clues about the backstory but it isn’t all tied together until the final few tense episodes when we find out that Misaki’s mother has Multiple Schlerosis and this was the reason she left home. We find out that she and a rather odd man who goes by the name Icchan are the creators of Angelic Layer. We find out that Misaki is really looked for her mother but is afraid she won’t measure up. We find out her mother has the same fears in reverse. It is a truly emotional moment when this particular story line comes to a conclusion in an epic angel battle and then later the summary over the closing credits of the final episode.

But Angelic Layer does not fall into the trap of concentrating on backstory over current story. The main characters are well developed and over the course of the series, we see how Misaki and Hikaru touch the hearts and minds of everyone they come in contact with from oponents in battle to classmates to family to fans. As we watch Misaki work her way through the tournament all the way to the championship match with only a single loss, and that early on, we see how the people around her react and change. But we also see how the very changes in the people around her change Misaki herself. By the end of the series, she is no more the same person she started as than any of the other characters.

Perhaps that is what makes the series so compelling. It is told as a human story about the people rather than events. While this is not all that unusual in animé, it is unusual to see such masterful storytelling and execution. It is a difficult task to write a story of such epic proportions and keep from slipping into episodic formulae and old, tired plot devices. Sure, the clichés are there, but they aren’t used quite the same way. And, even though we know what the outcome of the human story is, we still don’t know how the series will end, exactly. The story is too complex.

Overall, Angelic Layer is up there with Saikano and Full Moon wo Sagashite for emotional impact. I found myself laughing and crying with the events of the series as it progressed. During the latter half of the series at the national finals in the tournament, I might as well have been there in the stadium for how involved in the events I felt. And, in contract to Saikano but similar to Full Moon, the ending is an unambigously positive one for all involved.

The final verdict is that Angelic Layer provides emotional ups and downs with the usual comedy, clichés, and downright painful to watch moments of stupidy, but it will leave you with a sense of satisfaction with the ending. The end leaves nothing hanging; the story feels finished. And, above all, the ending is an agreeable one. I think it is safe to say that anyone who enjoys the series will agree.

So ends the somewhat incoherent review of Angelic Layer.

Megascale Engineering

I was watching a show called "Extreme Engineering" today. This episode discussed building a 1km high pyramid to house 750,000 people. An interesting idea, and possibly not so ridiculous as it might sound at first. But that isn’t what I want to yammer about today.

There seems to be a plethora of ideas for megascale engineering. Everything from gigantic pyramid cities to space elevators to colonies on distant planets. These things used to be the sole province of science fiction and fantasy stories yet now people are seriously considering building just such things. In fact, for much of this stuff, the technology to actually accomplish it does not seem to be so hugely far off.

I don’t know whether this is a testament to human imagination and skill or an example of sheer hubris. Either way, it will certainly make for interesting times to come.