I just watched an anime called Jyu-Oh-Sei (獣王星). Beware spoilers if you haven’t seen it.
Basically, it follows the story of a young man named Thor who for various reasons ends up banished to a penal colony located on the planet Chimaera. It is set an indeterminate but long time into the future after humans have ventured out into space. It is learned late in the series that the Earth was destroyed by an asteroid impact some 130 years previously. The series is easily divided into two parts due to the 4 year gap in the action between episodes 5 and 6.
The First Half
The first half starts with Thor and his twin brother Rai being sent to Chimaera some time after their parents have been brutally murdered. No explanation for them being sent to Chimaera, a prison planet, is forthcoming. They are dumped into the middle of a sort of wild west in the jungle and must figure out how to survive. Thor shows some aptitude for survival while Rai proves to be basically inept. It is not very long before Rai ends up the unfortunate victim of the vicious native plants, some of which can actually move around.
After Rai’s death, Thor muddles around and generally survives things everyone else assumes must be fatal. He saves a few people from death by misadventure and wins the heart of a girl called Tiz. He also attracts the attention of Third, the mysterious third in command of the Ochre ring (there are four rings or tribes on Chimaera). Third eventually manipulates Thor into challenging the Top of the Ochre ring and with some minor interference in the form of a strategically timed distraction, he defeats the Top, becoming the new Top in the process. Since he, Tiz, and Third had already decided to form their own ring with Tiz as second, Tiz becomes the new second and Third retains his position.
Along the way, Third convinces Thor that he needs to become the Beast King in order to escape Chimaera. Also along the way, Thor meets an old man who tells him that Odin, the leader of the Juno system, was responsible for the deaths of his parents. This serves as a major motivation for Thor to go after the title of Beast King: revenge. The old man turns up dead shortly after, of apparent misadventure with the local flora, but it is conceivable that Third was responsible in light of later revelations. It is also possible it was suicide since it is implied the old man is dying. Of course, the possibility of genuine misadventure is also plausible.
The Second Half
Four years after Thor takes over as Top, the Ochre ring is prospering and he is clearly well liked. Tiz is still second and Third is still third. It is night time (on Chimaera, nights last for half a hear and days last for half a year) and the, Zagi, Top of the Blanc ring is on a rampage, completely destroying the Noire ring (genocide!). The Top of the Sun ring is also defeated by Zagi in single combat. That leaves two Tops: Zagi and Thor.
This is where things get complex. Zagi has a plan to escape Chimaera and he needs Thor to pull it off. Enter Karim, Zagi’s second, whom Thor falls in love with. This creates something of a love triangle and no small amount of emotional angst for both Thor and Tiz. It starts when Karim has been dismissed from her position as second and runs off into a blizzard. Thor runs after her. They fall into a crevasse and the typical man and woman caught in a hopeless battle for survival situation ensues with Karim’s hatred for Thor turning to love by the end of their day alone. This prompts Thor to admit to Tiz that he loves her as a sister, not a lover.
Much muddling around ensues during which we get a clue that Third is not what he seems to be and some plotting involving Zagi and Thor is accomplished. Tiz and Thor are having a tense conversation/argument. Karim has been dismissed yet again by Zagi, rudely, before she can answer his question: whose child would she want to bear, his or Thor’s? Thor and Tiz hear her as she attempts to track down Zagi to give her answer (both!). She seems to find him. At least, she finds a figure wearing the right colour robe but his face is shrouded. As she catches up with the figure she believes to be Zagi, he stabs her in the chest, killing her. Predictably, this sends Thor into a rage. Believing Zagi to be responsible, Thor attacks him.
The final battle between the remaining tops ensues. Thor wins because he easily evades Zagi’s trick (a second, hidden blade) but he does not kill Zagi, even in the face of strong urging by Third. Zagi warns him that Third is not what he seems to be and not to trust him just as he passes out, but Thor is unable to understand the warning. With the battle won, Thor is declared the Beast King by the powers that be and taken up the local space elevator to meet Odin and claim his prize (a full pardon, etc.) Zagi has previously told him that the prize is bogus, that the Beast Kings are being used as guinea pigs and do not gain freedom. (This turns out to be accurate.)
This is where the story really switches gears and the narrative gets complicated and somewhat subtle. First, we have a massive info dump in the form of Tiz learning that Third has been a plant on Chimaera all along – he’s actually a soldier! Also, Thor learns about his heritage during an interview with Odin. We learn that Third was responsible for killing Karim and that his role has been to prepare the way for and groom Thor, for which he received a triple promotion.
Along the way, Thor realizes he wants to start a family with Tiz and they make up in a heart warming moment. Meanwhile, Third is promised his real prize of a trip to Earth and one Doctor Loki has an attack of conscience and attempts to kill Odin but he cannot take the kill shot and only wounds Odin seriously. Odin then sets the final stage of his diabolical plan in action – a gimmick that will accelerate the rotation of Chimaera to be a more normal length day. The side effect of this is that all life on the planet will be destroyed. At this point, the story splits with Tiz going back down to Chimaera to try to evacuate as many people as possible and Thor heading to a secret installation to stop the gimmick, with the help of a suddenly helpful Third. Thor’s story line becomes a classic quest story.
On the way to the gimmick control centre, several of Thor’s companions are killed by plants from Chimaera. First the red shirts (anonymous soldiers). We then learn about the fate of the Earth – destroyed by the same asteroid that had slowed Chimaera’s rotation in the first place. Upon getting in, the Doctor Loki’s passcode fails to work so they destroy the control centre. Oh yes, Thor gets to show off the two bits of knowledge about Chimaeran ecology that he learned on his first day there in a couple of moments of true leadership. On the way back out, things are not so good. First, Doctor Loki makes the heroic sacrifice to save them from a ravening plant. Then Third commits suicide to prevent Thor from dying with him while the two of them dangle from a metal platform. Finally, Thor escapes the facility to the heliport where he just stands around looking dazed for a bit. Then he has a vision of Tiz urging him to just the right spot for some lucky red shirts to pick him up.
As an aside, Tiz and Zagi have something of an argument on Chimaera and end up falling down a crevasse (rather similar to the occurence with Thor and Karim earlier). Just before this occurence, Tiz had jumped in front of Zagi to save him from a bullet (from a surivor of the Noire ring). After a somewhat heartfelt conversation, Tiz dies in Zagi’s arms and he discovers that Chimaera itself is stopping the planet rotation changer gimmick.
Thor has a chat with Odin before returning to Chimaera. Odin is happen that Thor has survived and Thor has decided to return to Chimaera. He no longer holds a grudge and can live his life. Odin promises there will be no further interference in Chimaera’s affairs. Also, due to a quirk in his DNA combined with the contact with Third’s blood earlier, his appearance is starting to change.
Fast forward some time into the future and we find a young girl being adopted by one of Thor’s friends. Thor names the girl Tiz, who likes the name. Thor now looks very much like Third. By the actions of the Chimaerans,
On its surface, the plot, and particularly the ending, seems rather weak. But on closer inspection, it is much deeper. For instance, it is clear that the Chimaeran flora is sentient in one way or another. Perhaps it is planet wide or perhaps it is simply a group of organisms working in concert. Either way, the planet itself appears to take action at least once and may be responsible for some of the carnage at the gimmick control centre.
Consider the apparition of Tiz at the gimmick control centre, just when Thor needed it, but after she died. It seems possible that the Chimaeran plant life may have intervened. Also, the girl child at the end gives some indication that she might actually be Tiz reincarnated. Granted, that is something of a stretch, but it does fit with the on screen action.
The “bad guys” seem to be rather shallow as well, but when you consider that they are attempting to save all of humanity from extinction, their actions seem terrifyingly real, and justifiable! (Apparently, only on Chimaera are natural births occurring. Everywhere else, the population is declining and rapidly approaching a crisis level.) Even Third is given plausible motive for his actions.
One thing I see questioned all the time is why does Tiz take the bullet for Zagi? She does it because Thor spared him! Remember. Tiz loves Thor. She has also spent years as his second and will have seen Thor himself do silly things like that many times.
The quest seems somewhat contrived as a way to provide redemption for Loki and Third but it is not nearly so pointless as it looks. Thor needs the journey through the gimmick control centre to work through his issues. The reason for the trek (as opposed to waving a magic computer) is reasonably explained on screen.
The other major criticism I see is the four year narrative gap in the middle. Based on the other on screen evidence, that four years was spent with Thor consolidating his position with the Ochre ring and learning everything he needed to survive. In other words, it would be a tedious series of episodes about surviving the planet or it would be a particularly clichéd training montage sequence. While it might have been somewhat interesting to see some events from those four years, a few lines here and there serve to explain it just as well. I do admit the sudden jump was jarring but only briefly. The point of the gap is that nothing story relevant occurred. (It does seem like there might be some interesting adventures along the way, though.)
Overall, while this is not an example of perfection, it wins my praise for being both concise and comprehensible. The story is internally consistent and the characters all behave fairly reasonably. It also gets points for not having all the initial characters magically survive the hostile environment of Chimaera and the politics involved in it. It also avoids epic fight sequences (which could easily pad it out to a more typical 13 or 20 episodes).
Jyu-Oh-Sei has definitely earned a place on my recommended watch list, if I ever have one.