Haruhi Dethroned?

A week ago, I’d have named the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumaya as the top anime of 2006, bar none. I may have to eat those words, and it’s not because these girls wear their garter belts on the outside.

I cannot, for the life of me, recall who said something about Simoun being good but hating the mechas. Don, Wonderduck, Andrew…Might have been Pixy. (I took a look around but couldn’t find the reference.) That sort of brief statement tweaked my interest, because from what I remembered seeing somewhere, the mechs looked pretty unique. So I set about downloading it to take a look. Within a few minutes of the opening, I was asking myself, “Are they SURE it’s not hentai???” because Simoun throws you off the deep end immediately, and it’s sink or swim. That is one problem the show has; the first episode is pretty rough sledding because you’re hit with how different their culture is.

I have to draw some strong parallels between this and another show I recently watched: Divergence Eve/Misaki Chronicles. Simoun is not up to that level (few shows are!), but it’s a damn worthy try so far. I’ll only know for certain after seeing it all, but unless the writers leave a bunch of open ends or pull a Mahoromatic, it’s going to get a high grade from me. The voice cast is outstanding (with the possible exception of Floe’s VA, who is a bit grating), the CG is very well integrated, and the art looks good also. Uniquely, instead of the standard “freeze and pan” to save money (which does appear rarely), there will be the ocassional scene frozen in watercolors, using a play of light and shadow to put one or more characters into stark relief. The effect comes across like a manga, which may be intentional; it’s usually done at the right time and place to be dramatic.

The mechas (the Simoun) were actually quite attractive to me. They don’t make a bit of sense, but then again, neither do fighting huminoid robots. Their single biggest plus was that they’re not even remotely humaniform. They’re graceful, beautiful, elegant, and look nothing like weapons of war. There’s a good reason for that–they’re not. Instead, they are religious artifacts, unearthed and poorly understood. They’re flown by young girls, usually aged 13-17, who haven’t “gone to the Spring” and are (simply by virtue of the fact that they fly the Simoun) priestesses of “Tempus Spatium.” When flown a certain way, the Simoun will leave a pretty light trail in the sky; this is otherwise known as “praying.” There are certain patterns that can be done jointly, and most are simply ceremonial; the Theocracy of Simulacrum supports priestesess in groups of six (a Choir), who perform these prayers for unspecified purposes. The trick is, the priestesses almost have to be young girls–because everyone is born female. At age 17, girls must chose to become male or female, at a holy site known as “The Spring,” but priestesses do not have to make this choice, as long as they fly. Once they do go to the Spring, whether they chose male or female, they cannot fly the Simoun any longer.

Only Simulacrum has the technology to fly Simoun, and even they don’t understand them. Neighboring countries want, perhaps even need the technology, and have banded together to attack the Theocracy. Yet despite its odd demographics, Simulacrum is a tough opponent. This is because some of the patterns aren’t just pretty lights; they set off energy blasts that can destroy any machine unable to get out of the way — which describes the clumsy internal-combustion flying machines of all other countries.

So what happens if your only effective defense is squads of idealistic young teenaged girls, who don’t want to fight a war? And you send them out again, and again, and again, to fight, kill, and die? What faith can survive such horror? What loves, squabbles, hatreds, sacrifices and betrayals will occur? To answer my own question: A lot of them. We find this out through following the girls of the aptly named Choir Tempest. Their trials, tribulations, and battles (against foes both internal and extermal). It’s not giving away much to say that they will fall from grace, then fall further, and further yet, before hitting absolute bottom. From there, they will have to climb back up, bit by painstaking bit. There will be no sudden victory, after which all is forgiven and everything’s right with the world. There will be no cheap motivational speeches followed by triumphant battles. No scenes of mere sweat and determination, nor video montages will cheapen their victory — if, indeed, they are victorious. That has yet to be determined. But they’re all on the same page now, and if Hell’s legions had any sense, they’d stand aside. Watching the first dozen episodes is not going to be easy for many people, but the payoff has been worth it.

There is no major character for whom I could always cheer throughout the series. There is no major character whom I could always hate. There are a lot of characters about whom I came to care–and sometimes I had to watch them die. It hurt; another parallel to Misaki Chronicles. Sometimes one or another would act so maddeningly stupid I wanted to slap them silly. But they were always believable, even when they were busy making me hate them, and when/how they changed as the story went on.

At every step of the way, I would try to guess what was going on, and what was going to happen next. The only thing most guesses have had in common is that they were wrong. Simoun has kept me guessing; I’m up to episode 21 (22 was just released today, yay!), and I still don’t know what the hell is going on, or exactly what the story they are telling is, or how much of what we’re seeing is science fiction…and how much is faith. And I suspect that is exactly the way the writers want it.

As long as I get the answers by the end, I’ll be happy. Short of a total trainwreck of an ending, it’s trending that I will. Step aside Haruhi… I may have a new top anime for 2006.

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