14 Oct 2006

Simoun

Anime

Fansubbed at simoun-fans.

If the premise of Simoun isn’t instantly obvious, the instructions to the writers seems to be. “Create a yuri-based story that’s accessible to all. Twist the plot and setting to make this work.”

Okay, maybe that’s unfair, since the anime is based on stories published in Yuri Hime, but it seems to have been the original writer’s primary motivation. The rest had to be made to fit.

Thus we have high-school-age (of course) girls (of course) piloting fighting aircraft (known as Simoun). Thus each craft requires a couple to pilot it, with a requirement of affection (or more) between the two.

As for “acceptable to all” – it’s hard to argue that the girls are violating any norms by being intimate with other girls, because… there are only girls. Everyone is born female. At age 17, they choose what sex they will become.

If a couple appears to be growing too close, one of them can claim “It’s okay, I’m going to become a man.”

Contrived? Hell, yes.

However…

Given that bizzare context, the series takes the idea and runs with it proudly. The pain of choosing a gender is dealt with in the first episode. After a calamity, several pilots (which isn’t a role they would claim, at least early in the series) want out. Since they were allowed to postpone their choosing only because of their position, they now have to journey to the place of choosing, the Spring, and become male or female. Eri, unable to make up her mind, steps into the Spring – and is heartsick to discover that she – he, now Erif – has become male.

Or Wapourif, a fairly recent visitor to the Spring, having been male for only two years – still has a smooth face and breasts. Older men are much more clearly male.

The girls’ vocation was never military. They are priestesses, and their craft perform rituals which invoke an apparently divine power. As they’re called on to use this power to kill in the service of their country, they react in different ways; some abhorrent, some welcoming, others just wanting to fly. The head priestess, Neviril, the Sybilla Aurea, loses her lover and partner in the first episode, and has an especially difficult time accepting her new role as a warrior.

Enter Aaeru, gung-ho pilot from a military cadet group, who is so much the typical fighting anime teenage kid that I find it jarring whenever someone refers to her as “her”. She seems another “make this accessible” prop. (This may be an unfair accusation. I looked over the artwork for the Yuri Hime stories, and she hasn’t changed much. I doubt the original authors had this motivation. However, in the comic she does seem subtly more feminine. Although she’s pushy in the comic, it’s telling a different story, and there’s no way to know from issue 1 if she’s really the teen brat that she is in the anime.)

The girls’ growing into their new roles is compelling. A very good balance of friction, cameraderie, angst, hardship and happiness. I’m definitely hooked at episode 16, and impatient for the next few episodes.

Though I haven’t seen enough yet to know many serious spoilers, this is one. [spoiler /Moderate spoiler/ /Hide spoiler/] I claim that the writers have worked hard to make the yuri content inoffensive, but there’s a surprise there. We know indirectly that Neviril and her partner were lovers, and there are clearly others, but there’s only one relationship that we’re explicitly told was sexual – and it’s between sisters. The two have wildly different views on their relationship: while Kaimu hates her sister Alti for what has happened between them, Alti is planning to become male so that she can stay with Kaimu, apparently having no qualms at all about incest. Because of their differences, the two can’t form the bond needed to pilot a Simoun craft together, so they can not be paired.[/spoiler]

So, as far-fetched as the concept is, it’s effective ground for a whole lot of dramatic tension, and the series works well as character-driven, romance or action / adventure.

The weakest point for me is the music. Plinky accordion music works well for Mireille and Kirika sitting outside of a café in Paris, but it absolutely does not fit a battle of a handful of Simoun against a couple of hundred machine-gunning fighter planes. There are times that the music is okay, but at other times it destroys the tension, making the action seem quite bland. This series cries out for Kajiura Yuki – and it’s ironic that the opening theme is by her partner Ishikawa Chiaki. “Utsukushi kereba sore de ii” is among the finest songs ever used as an anime theme. If the rest of the score lived up to the promise of the opening, this would be an even more powerful show than it is.

As I say, I’m stuck at 16. I’m following the simoun-fans sub; there is another that is slightly further ahead, but simoun-fans have produced the highest quality fansub I’ve yet seen. I can’t switch. I do hope that the impetus to complete the sub hasn’t diminished since the series is complete, and all the subbers have seen it. I really, really hate having to skip 10 episodes’ worth of discussion threads. Even “non-spoiler” threads rely on events that have happened before, and as such are spoilers themselves.

I wish I understood at least a little Japanese. Just enough to get the gist of an episode…

Current obsessions: (anime) Simoun

Elfen Lied

This entry was posted on Saturday, October 14th, 2006 at 11:43 pm and is filed under Anime. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “Simoun”

  1. […] I did mean to mention the reason I watched it in the first place. Reading the description made me think it may have been a source that Simoun copied, but there’s no connection. Simoun’s mystical skywriting may have been done before, but it wasn’t here. […]

  2. […] I lurk in the #simoun IRC channel (waiting for episode 17 still – it’s a release candidate now! And others coming up quickly…). In trading information with one of the ops, I gave him the email address that I use, plus my main email address (which is currently unusable, since I’m over 10,000 spam messages out of date). He said “oh, yeah, I think I was reading your blog recently.” […]

  3. […] Incidentally, there’s nothing on the obsessions list right now. Though I’m still waiting eagerly for the rest of Simoun, and I’m even helping simoun-fans with distribution, I’ve waited long enough since seeing episode 16 that I don’t much care if I wait longer. So I’m going to re-watch the series as the fansub group finish up the translations of the last few episodes. […]

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