Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Well-executed anime usually has a dream like quality which makes it very memorable in the viewer's mind, but can often be hard to explain to other people. This is especially frustrating in cases where the story deals with weird and controversial issues which make plot explanations awkward. Simoun seems to be a perfect example of this phenomenon in that while I like the series, it would be hard to recommend it to any of my friends who like adult swim type anime. Simoun is a extremely well written sci-fi opera, but it takes place in a society where everyone is born female and later on chooses their gender when entering adulthood. So even though this anime has similarities to the widely liked Vandread it's emphasis on mostly female characters and their relationships classifies it as a yuri title.

That's not to say the anime isn't exclusively about relationships and drama like some yuri titles. There's a fair amount of mecha oriented action centered around the piloting of the strange flying machines called simoun, which can only be controlled by young priestesses who have yet to choose a gender. These machines have the ability to summon enormous amounts of energy, which are usually used in religious ceremonies to paint the skies with elaborate aerial designs. This is changing though as a long war has made the government put pressure on the priestesses to use the simoun for warfare. Most refuse and enter adulthood to avoid being forced to fight. However, the government's policy of allowing priestesses to remain children as long as they are fighting in the war tempts some to try to put off ever growing up. Of course while they may psychically stay children the war quickly destroys what childlike innocence they originally had.

Ratings: 5 categories with 20 points each

Story: 17
I really liked the story in Simoun even though it was a little too bittersweet for me to rate it as one of my favorites. The war itself is portrayed as pointless with a lot of people dying for no clear purpose. In the midst of all this conflict you throw in a group of young girls who think that risking death in the war might be a better fate then making the decision to grow up. Aaeru is the character who most embodies this wish to remain a child forever. However, as the series progresses you learn that its not adulthood she is avoiding, but rather the loss of being able to fly a simoun. There is something very special that can be done with a simoun which is actually a gift from their god and has a great benefit to humanity. Besides Aaeru's quest, the rest of the story is mostly character driven. Several of the simoun sibyllae (priestesses) have extreme personality faults like obsessiveness, jealousy, and depression which are actually fixed and resolved throughout the series. In the last episode its very fulfilling to see those that survived the war living out their lives as adults. Of course the last episode is also the most depressing since it looks like war is about to break out again and several characters have already receive draft cards. Also you're never really told what happened to Aaeru and Neviril which destroys some of the anime's resolution.

Animation and Artwork: 14
This series really bounces all over the place in the quality of artwork. A lot of the background settings are simple pencil sketches which contrasts greatly with the decent looking CGI used for the simouns and the battleships. This varying quality can also be seen in the actual character designs with some characters receiving a lot of detailed attention while others look very bland. Dominura, Aaeru, and Neviril all look gorgeous though Neviril's constantly surprised expression does make her look like some sort of obscene blow up doll. Rimone and Floe suffer from the worst character design and look like they step out of an 80's Macross series. Perhaps wishing to make up for this the animators made both characters look much better in the final episode which is set a few years in their future. The battle scenes between the simoun and the planes used by the invaders are decent though far from the quality seen in Last Exile. The best and most beautiful animation I thought was found in the "pool" scenes where the simoun sibyllae practice flying in what is basically a giant zero gravity well.

Characterization: 18
Simoun does a really good job of developing a large cast of different characters throughout the series and avoids having any two dimensional filler roles. The main protagonists are Aaeru and Neviril though they are perhaps some of the least developed characters. Aaeru comes across as dense and overly happy at first, while Neviril spends half of the series in a funk over the death of a lover. Luckily, as the story proceeds Aaeru slowly starts to recover from her "Goku" disease and is revealed to be an actual human being. The cast of characters is too large for me to cover all the simoun priestesses, but the relationship between Roatreamon and her former servant, Mamina, was especially poignant. Mimina probably changed the most over the series from stuck up bitch at the beginning to a decent human being at the end. Of course since this is a drama the Japanese have to pointlessly kill off good characters like Mamina so they can manipulate your heartstrings. I also especially like Waporif who is the chief engineer and struggles with her/his beliefs about the simoun and their priestesses being sacred and untouchable. Throughout the war he fights his way through a lot of dogma and finds the kernel of truth in his beliefs while still getting the girl.

Sound and Voice: 13
Simoun has limited mainstream appeal and its no surprise the distributor didn't feel the need to produce an English dub for the series. However, the Japanese voices are masterfully done and accurately match up to the characters. Only Rimone's voice sounds slightly wrong as if an adult was whispering rather then correctly modifying their pitch. The opening and closing themes did nothing for me and I didn't watch them all the way through a single time. It's not that they were bad, just generic enough where I much rather skip ahead to the story. I really hated how this anime inappropriately matched background music to almost every action scene in the series. There was this one piece of catchy music that sounds like something you would hear outside a cafe in Italy, but it was used way too often and I really hated it by episode five. Only at the end of the series does the music start to properly highlight the action of what is being shown on the screen. There are some very touching orchestra scores which work well for the series climax. Also that catchy tune that's used in almost every episode is finally put to good use in a scene where a ghostly Aaeru and Neviril are shown dancing in the ballroom of a sunken battleship.

Originality: 15
The religious aspects in this series were similar to mecha animes like Evangelion and RaXephon though thankfully the series managed to avoid a "reset" ending. Also while I haven't watched any yuri shows before, I've heard that sci-fi stories in the genre generally take place on planets segregated by sex which fits in with the setting of Simoun. However, despite the similarities to other pseudo-religious animes, there were some unique features which I think set Simoun apart. The first thing that stands out was that the design used for the simoun avoids the standard giant robot cliche so often found in anime. True, the simoun don't exactly look aerodynamic, but I like the way they slightly resemble the Nautilus from Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. The series itself also has a unique plot that mostly revolves around the error of trying to remain a child forever and the reason church and state should be separate. It was sadly ironic that the simoun sibyllae who chose to fight and put off choosing a gender were pretty much forced into adulthood anyways by the horrors of war. I've said earlier that the story was a little too bittersweet for my tastes.

Final Score: 77 Good

Note: Right now the series is split across several volumes which might be overly expensive for some. However, amazon does show a planned summer 2009 box set which is actually quite affordable.