Saturday, April 07, 2007

Anime — Simoun

Simply the best anime title of 2006 (because the closest competitors, Akagi and Mushishi are technically 2005 titles that ran through the winter half 05-06.

And a woefully under-appreciated title it was.

The original fan-sub group that picked it up usually handles shoujo-ai titles; and the “key-turn” ritual (middle left) for starting up the Simoun (the flying machines, see top left) made it look like just another excuse for very pretty backgrounds and girls getting friendly together. But it turned out more complicated than that, and was left to languish in favour of more accessible highschool-romance titles, until picked up by the most dedicated and special-purpose group of fansubbers whose product I have followed.

Simoun-Fans, an essentially ad hoc grouping, put together the most polished translations and sub-titling (including credits for the seiyuu against the characters during the OP, rather than the usual self-congratulation; that was left for a brief screen at the very start, before the TV footage). Of course, the polish came at a price — episode 26 wasn't subbed until a year after the first episode aired.

OK, the story, and why you should watch this title…

On a world that is not ours — two suns in the sky, for one thing — a transcendent civilisation rose and vanished. In its wake, the remaining people could unearth the helical motors, the snail-shell parts of both the Simoun and other powered devices (trains, boats, the old “tramp steamer” Messis top right, …). But only the Holy Land of Simulacrum has harnessed them, and the casual flight it offers. Other lands have more steam-punk technology, and seek the secret of the simoun. So war breaks out…

In that world, all children are born as girls, and in Simulacrum choose to be man or woman at coming of age in their late teens. All the parts — even the men, are voiced by women; and, of course, young men are hard to tell from young women — the adulthood change is not instantaneous, as shown in the character of Wapourif, the chief mechanic to the simoun.

While lesser flying craft can be piloted by anyone, the simoun needs to be driven by two girls; and these pilots are drawn from the ranks of the priestesses of Tempus-Spatium. While two priestesses at the helm they can produce magical effects by drawing glyphs in the air (called Ri-Maajon; middle right is the Silver Ri-Maajon), as part of religious ceremonial aerobatics. And as priestesses, they are allowed to defer a while the choice to become adult.

So, a group of priestesses become, overnight, the necessary front line of the Simulacran fighting forces. Few can handle the mismatch between their vocation and their new orders — and when the new overwhelming forces of Argentum actually bring down a choir of simoun, many depart into adulthood. Only the latecomer, Aaeru (lower left), even refers to what they do in military terms, rather than liturgical ones.

So, it's a war-story; but it's character driven drama, of love, sacrifice, choices, and growing up (or not, as the case may be).

After 25 episodes of brilliance, I was anticipating the finale with some trepidation — too many series drop the ball at the end. This, however concluded with an understated and open ending which was as satisfying as could be, knowing that this story had at last come to its ending.

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