Last year was the first time I participated in the Secret Santa Project run by Reverse Thieves and the experience was one of my favorite memories as an anime fan for 2011. For those unfamiliar with the SSP, this link can provide more information. My secret Santa – who I now know was draggle from Draggle’s Anime Blog – had to chose three series, OVAs, movies that I might like but haven’t seen and might never watch otherwise. Draggle picked Noein, Figure 17, and Simoun. I was only required to watch and write up a review to one of these series and I chose Noein based on the staff involved. My review is here but the tl;dr version is that Noein was Awesome!. I decided to watch the other two series but only had the chance to get to Figure 17 (pretty awesome itself, review) before Christmas came; so, I promised myself that I’d get to the third series, Simoun, before next Christmas.
Months passed and I was in no hurry to get back to Simoun because there was no longer a deadline and I always work best with a deadline.
That is, until, I decided that I needed a break from trying to wrangle a couple stubborn blog posts into shape to post and looked at my backlog to see Simoun sitting there, waiting. Turns out that was the right decision to make but for the wrong reasons.
On a distant planet, a technologically advanced country, Simulacrum, is drawn into a war with it’s less advanced neighbors over their refusal to share the secrets of their technology because these secrets are intrinsically connected to their religion. Long at peace, Simulacrum is unprepared for such a massive war and turns to the Simoun, the flying mecha known as the “chariots of the gods” for their connection to and use in Simulacrum’s religious ceremonies, which have hidden capabilities that can turn them into very deadly weapon platforms. By religious dictate the Simoun have to be piloted by a pair of girls, holy shrine maidens in their country, who understand the theory of how to turn their Simoun into weapons of war but not the training or mental preparation needed to fight in a war. Their task is made all the more muddy and difficult when, even, fighting a war is not enough to banish the typical trials and tribulations of a teenager learning to find their place in the world.
Thoughts and impressions
Watching Simoun was the right decision because watching astounding, exceptionable anime is always the right decision. 🙂
As much as I’d like to kick myself for waiting the six years since Simoun first came out to finally see it, I’m kinda glad that I watched it when I did. I basically knew nothing about Simoun; I was a clean slate – which is what I consider the best state to be in when watching or reading something new – and the sheer newness and uniqueness of Simoun overwhelmed me (in a good way) at first. As I got further into the series, though, I started having this feeling that I couldn’t shake of how Simoun somehow felt familiar. It was killing me until I realized that Simoun was reminding me of AKB0048. Which is why I’m glad I watching Simoun when I did because AKB0048 helps frame the argument for Simoun’s greatness.
The percentage of people that thought AKB0048 was going to be a great series before it aired was vanishingly small, probably non-existent and there were plenty of solid reasons to think that. Starting with the apparent reason for making the anime (vanity piece for a popular idol group) and moving on to the characters (a bunch of girls who wanted to idols) and finishing with the absurd story (guerrilla idol group fighting to overturn the ban on entertainment in the far future). By the end of it’s run, though, the group that thought AKB0048 was a great anime had grown to be a very large cohort and the people that thought it was less-then-good had shriveled to a very small amount.
The reason for this landslide in opinion change derived from the inability of AKB0048 to be embarrassed about itself. It didn’t try to make excuses for itself, or spend time justifying it’s absurd nature, or trying to be “ironic”, or playing the whole thing for a laugh; instead, from the first second of episode 1, AKB0048 never wavered from it’s belief in it’s characters, their motivations, and the resulting relentless advancement of the plot these caused.
Simoun also had this quality to itself and that’s why I connected the two.
Which made it hardily surprising when I realized Mari Okada was behind the script/series composition of AKB0048 and much of the script for Simoun.
It’s either a sign of a very informed populous or a sign that people can obsess over anime a bit much when most everyone seems to have an entrenched opinion over a script writer like Mari Okada and that discussing her work is as polarizing as a discussion about subs vs. dubs is. I take more a middle ground approach; her stellar work in AKB0048 and Simoun point out that there is a time and place where she shines, no questions asked, and other times and places where maybe she’s a bit too much (Hanasaku Iroha).
Speaking of characters and the plotting, the characters in Simoun were not meta-designed to satisfy as many quarks and kinks from some database of stuff anime fans like. Nor is every character designed to be liked by some segment of the watching populace like in a harem style anime. There are characters that I never warmed up too but I was able to, at least, respect them because it was their personalities, motivations, and willingness to pursue their dreams/desires that made me not like them. And there are characters that I really liked, as well. Having both types allowed the show greater latitude in telling it’s story and advancing the plot without looking cheap. That’s right, there is never a point in Simoun that the characters break “character” and do something nonsensical for that character because the writers want to advance the plot and are too lazy to do it right. There are no beach episodes or hot springs episodes or other fluff type of episodes that would disrupt the overall narrative of the show.
Hopefully, at this point, I’ve written something that has piqued the interest of some of those reading into also giving Simoun a chance. So, for those people, it’s probably a good idea to be up front about a potential deal-breaker – Studio Deen is the animation company behind the anime adaptation of Simoun. Yes, I can the moans from here. If there’s one studio that normally deserves it’s bad name it’s Studio Deen; however, as the saying goes, even the losers get lucky sometimes and that’s the case here. So, don’t let their reputation play into the decision of watching or not watching Simoun.
As an aside, Simoun is the best anime series, OVA, or movie Studio Deen has ever done and probably ever will. (Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about their work with the Kenshin franchise.)
From here I could be basically done with my review of Simoun. If I wanted to ramble a little longer I’d include a short paragraph mentioning some of the production values things that either are really important to a person liking an anime or completely not important. I’d mention the soundtrack – excellent, still fresh six years later – and even point to a post by Yu over Anime Instrumentality just happened to write about the Simoun OST. And then I’d bring up the animation – starting to show some age after six years, though still serviceable – because I have to be truthful but I’d look to cushion this by creating a long, grammaricully questionable sentence to hastily add that the character designer was Asako Nishida who five years later would be the character designer to Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko and, while the characters in Simoun look a fair deal rougher, the two share the same overly detailed, mesmerizing eyes.
I wanted to explicitly point out that I could be done with my review to make a point.
Readers who have already seen Simoun are probably wondering why I’ve so far left two noteworthy parts out of my review of Simoun.
This was done on purpose. After I finished watching Simoun, I read what others had written about the show and saw a common pattern repeat itself over-n-over again. A great deal of focus was always given to those two areas that I’ve yet to talk about which rubbed me the wrong way because, even the people that really liked Simoun, often came off sounding like Simoun was a good anime in spite of these two areas. A true disservice. I can’t help but wonder if part of the reason that Simoun is such an unknown, under-appreciated gem comes from how it’s reviewed. So I made the decision to write a full review without mentioning either to show it can be done.
However, now that I mention how I’ve skipped two noteworthy parts to Simoun, I kinda have to mention what they were.
The advanced nation of Simulacrum that makes use of the Simoun mecha are not the creators of the Simoun. They salvaged the motors (called helical motors) that allow the Simoun to fly and become weapons of great powers from very ancient ruins and don’t understand why these motors work the way they do or completely how they do so.
The first area that I neglected to mention is that the government of Simulacrum has figured out that to make the Simoun fly a connection needs to be made between the two girls that will pilot it and the machine itself. This is accomplished by the two pilots first kissing each other then kissing the helical motor and this obviously leads to lots of scenes of girls kissing. Just off hand, I can think of three reasons why the attention devoted to this aspect of the show was really overblown. One, the vast majority of such scenes were completely chaste and reminiscent of how some Europeans kiss cheeks as a form of greeting. Two, the sheer number of times that the Simoun need to go on a sortie numbs all the meaning from these scenes. Three, the animation quality being what it is means these scenes are hardily stimulating.
The second area is that, on this distant planet where Simoun takes place, every child is born female and, at least in Simulacrum, remains so until reaching the age of 17 when every child goes through a religious ceremony where they choose if they want to be male or female. The only exception to the age rule is a war-time exemption for Simoun pilots because only those people that haven’t gone to the spring and chosen their gender can pilot the Simoun mecha. This sounds like some type of cheap tactic to make the cast all-female but it’s not because it’s so expertly woven into the fabric of the story, the characters, and their motivations. (See, by bringing both these items up, I’m spending time justifying why Simoun is still a serious anime worthy of as much praise as possible.) For example, one character decides to be a Simoun pilot because she doesn’t want to choose a gender quite yet. Also, in at least one of the countries that are at war with Simulacrum, the choice is made at birth and chemicals are given to those babies to force them to become males. (That country has a different religion and it’s not explicitly said if their policy stems from a religious dispute they have with Simulacrum or what but it helps provide a motivation for their decision to make war against them.) And while I’m not a master at figuring out metaphors and the like, even I realized that we’re supposed to see the connection between the helical motors (helical like a DNA strand) and the requirement to fly them of having a level of future potential that can only come from two persons that haven’t chosen to be male or female yet.
An interesting production decision that was made because all the characters in the anime were female at one point was to have every role, even the males, voiced by female seiyuu. I liked this decision because it helped sell the idea that even the guys running around were originally female.
Now, I’m done for real. I’ll close by saying that Simoun was awesome and to the readers that haven’t seen it yet – I can’t over-emphasize my recommendation to watch Simoun.
Final Series Score: 12/12 Perfect
Rewatchablity: 4/5 – Medium to High
Ending: 4/5 – Excellent
Animation: 3/5 – Good