Sunday, July 06, 2008

Amuri in Star Ocean 01 -- weird gem of moe science-fiction

Now that there is a fansub for this show, perhaps it will begin to get the attention it deserves.

Hoshi no Umi no Amuri 星の海のアムリ is a three-episode OVA done almost entirely in 3DCG, including the characters. I would call it a moe science-fiction fantasy: it's real moe, and real science fiction.

What hooks me about this show are the unusual characters, the moe voice acting and character design, the real science-fiction setting and plot (fantastic as they are), the overall production values, and the general weirdness.

There are some great scenes, including brilliant explosions and light-show battles in space; and unique visual settings, such as the bizarre landforms of a satellite constructed from garbage. The 3DCG is excellent. The music works beautifully. The sound effects are particularly well done. And the direction is fascinating, with interesting angles and motion and timing. (click images to enlarge, mouseover for captions)

Region Free logo space station destroyed

There is plenty of comedy in the show, but some serious undertones, as well. It is set in a near future in which the Earth and its inhabitants have been changed by a period of strong solar radiation. Many people have died from skin cancer, and many babies have been born with special physical characteristics that make them stronger than normal humans.

These new humans are called Adapters, because they can adapt to almost any condition, including being able to live for a time in the vacuum of outer space. A new global government has arisen, called Region Free, to deal with the crisis.

Amuri cast out into space Amuri approaches the Uterus pod

The director/writer/storyboarder is Yonetani Yoshitomo 米たにヨシトモ. His previous directing jobs were Betterman and Brave King Gaogaigar, but he did storyboards for Gundam Seed Destiny, Planetes, Banner of Stars, Shakugan no Shana, and even numerous Doraemon shows. This, however, is entirely his show: he even voices a character (the leader of the rescue squad) and sings an insert song (credited as "※-mai-") .

Amuri arrives in Uterus and makes contact with Perrier Perrier La Mer (Saitou Momoko)

The character design and modelling are by MA@YA, who worked on the LoveDeath and Shining Force EXA games, as well as the new 3D Custom Shoujo game. The science fiction advisor was Morita Shigeru, who was involved in the early stages of several Gundam shows, as well as Code Geass and Toward the Terra. The animation studio is Studio Hibari, which did Moonlight Mile, Kashimashi, and Sumomomo Momomo, as well as helping on Ghibli productions.

The excellent sound effects are by Noguchi Toru, also a Ghibli veteran, who did sound effects not only for Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle, but also for both the original Evangelion series and the new movie. Music is by Kubota Mina, who did music for Kaleidostar and Kannazuki no Miko, and wrote OPs for various ARIA shows. Sound director Nagano Toru has done many shows, including KareKano, Glass Mask, and FLCL.

'jellyfish' pass through Amuri in the Uterus a huge metal scoop arm passes right through Amuri

the story

Our heroine, Kakkyoin Amuri, is a 13-year-old Adapter who has lived a hard life on Earth. She has the strange "allergy" of rejecting all outside stimuli. Whenever she touches anything, she or it bounces away in a shower of light, due to her "repulsion allergy." It's like a full-body sneeze. Her condition killed her mother when she was born. She was never able to touch the grandmother who brought her up. Her clothing had to be made from fabric derived from her own cells. She had no friends. Everyone laughed at her.

Maria holding Pulmo on Pearl Shell Pulmo gives orders

We meet her when she is just just arriving at a space station to begin life in space, working with Region Free (at least I think that's why she's there). As she arrives, the shuttle and the space station are attacked and destroyed and she is hurled out into space.

This is the first of many wtf moments in the show: how can anyone survive unprotected in space? Adapters can, however, and Amuri bounces around the detritus until she bounces into a spherical life-support capsule, like a big organic cell, which is called "Uterus." Inside it are a girl with an eyepatch, sitting in a chair, and a robot avatar that looks like a stuffed bunny. Are you with me so far, lol?

the Pearl Shell command station special squadron Q9 do an impromptu commercial for Region Free

There are some amazing scenes in the capsule, which is filled with a fluid that allows people in it to breathe. Things like jellyfish float around -- and through -- the two girls in the cell-like capsule. More wtf moments. But I like wtf moments, and these are just beautifully done, in image and music.

The capsule is picked up by automated magnetic garbage collection machines and transported to a big satellite called Galapagos, which is like a small planet made from garbage. The capsule is unceremoniously dumped into the garbage landscape, which includes forests made of trees of scrap metal, and fields covered with cake-slices made from garbage, each cake topped with a red bomb like a strawberry. Memorable images.

Suzu arrives in Uterus a plain of garbage cake on Galapagos

A huge machine prowls up to the capsule and tries to sweep it up in its bucket, but the bucket just passes through the capsule and its inhabitants, somehow. The metal arms passing through Amuri are an amazing scene.

Meanwhile, on a command ship called Pearl Shell, the commander is an Adapter called Pulmo Allen (voice: Kaneda Tomoko), who looks like a five-year-old child, and is always held in the arms of a woman dressed as a nurse (voice: Noto Mamiko). The amazing images just keep coming. Commander Pulmo sends out a tokusatsu-like squadron to rescue the survivors from the destroyed space station (which was called Pink Coral). They go out in a blaze of song and confidence, launched by being shot, spinning, out of big guns. wtf.

Amuri transformed Amuri determined

They manage to drive off the garbage collecting machine, but hordes of new machines show up and the poor heroes are smashed and scattered. As a magnetic drill is about to destroy the capsule, Amuri finds a button that she can actually touch without repelling and discovers the true strength of her ability to repel things: she transforms into a mahou shoujo-like creature, dressed in ribbons that make her like a huge avenging butterfly/sunflower in space. Her sunflower clothing is also made from her own cells. By repelling all attacks back on the attackers, she lays waste a large swath of Galapagos.

But the episode ends with the news that the capsule has run out of oxygen. The preview for episode 2 says that Amuri and friends will "invade" the garbage satellite in search of air.

the enemy's pinball energy attack Amuri in her glory

On the AnimeSuki forum, there was some criticism of underage fanservice in this show. I guess there is some -- distant pantsu in the ED, a mahou shoujo transformation that implies nudity before the ribbons of the new garment cover it. But this is really at the level of Nanoha, and not unusual for a moe anime.

great sunflower Amuri

Some people may not like the voices, but that is a matter of taste. These are high moe voices. It took me a while to get used to Makino Yui's squeaks of pain as Amuri bounced among detritus in space. But the voice ended up working for me. Saitou Momoko uses a deeper, soft voice as the girl in the chair (Perrier). She has a couple of beautifully delivered lines. And even 15-year-old Aizawa Michiru, who was the harsh-voiced Furoe in Simoun, and enters the capsule as a third inhabitant (called Suzu), seems to have a somewhat softer voice this time.

There is a slight hint of yuri, as Amuri drifts into the other two girls lip-to-lip when they each first meet, and comments on how cute the blushing Perrier is.

Anyway, have a look at the show. This is one of those shows that some people will just dismiss out of hand, but that a few of us will love. Or maybe it's just me, lol. I had been looking forward to this show, but even I was pretty non-plussed at first. Having a sub makes things easier to understand.

If you want an idea of where the weirdness comes from, just take a look at the director, Yonetani Yoshitomo, right.

As a countermeasure to that, here are photos of the main cast (l-r) Makino Yui (Amuri), Saitou Momoko (Perrier), Aizawa Michiru (Suzu):

makino yui saitou momoko aizawa michiru

This first episode came out in Japan in May. Episode 2 is due July 25, with episode 3 to follow on September 26.

2 comments:

Zeroblade said...

Having seen this just the night before, I definitely second the high production values. I kinda didn't like Amuri's voice in the first half though - too moe-y for my tastes - but it was a bit easier on the ears at the later half of the show.
The space station destruction was awfully abrupt, and people's deaths (ie: those in the shuttle, the squadron) were taken awfully lightly, but then I guess 3 OVA's doesn't really give much time to dwell on stuff like that. The final scene however, with the energy balls bouncing around and all, just blew me away. Switching the camera angles a lot might've made it a bit confusing at first, but it all just worked really well.

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