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.