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R1 DVD Reviews
Monday, 01 October 2007 17:00
This Ugly Yet Beautiful WorldAnother title gets the thinpack collection treatment - This Ugly Yet Beautiful World, where love can save the world from a repeat of past destruction, if high-schooler Takeru Takemoto can just learn to live with the emotions inside him. If that sounds to heavy, fear not - there's plenty of fanservice along the way to stop things from becoming too heavy. Strange combination, but it works...

Takeru Takemoto is definitely the class layabout, in complete contrast to his friend Ryou, who's more than happy to be helpful - or taken advantage of, even. His layabout nature often leaves him on the wrong end of lectures about his attitude, but Takeru really doesn't care. Things change, though, when he sees what appears to be a shooting star impacting in the forest just outside his hometown. Arriving on the scene to see what’s happened, he encounters a bright light, from which a young girl, Hikari, emerges. Hikari's no normal girl, unsurprisingly, and her arrival in Takeru's life brings a large dose of danger with it – she claims to be alien, and the monstrous creatures that soon begin chasing after her would seem to back up her claim. Takeru finds himself strangely drawn to her, to the point where he declares that he’ll be the one to look after her and protect her. Two problems with that idea: Takeru’s not exactly Mr Superhuman Hero, while under her cute & innocent exterior, it seems the real monster of the piece may be Hikari herself...

Hikari's arrivalWaiting for... someone

KonoMini certainly gets the series going with a bang, as once the character introductions are out of the way, Hikari’s arrival & the first battle between Takeru and the creatures chasing her gives you a real feeling that you’re going to get a real action piece. There’s then precisely zero action until near the series midpoint, as character development & fanservice quickly takes over. That’s no bad thing, but the first lesson of the day is: don’t judge this series by the first episode alone.

There’s a wide and varied cast here, too – mostly female, mostly very easy on the eyes, and sadly mostly playing to the usual anime stereotypes. There’s Mari, Takeru’s short-tempered cousin who quickly develops jealousy issues after Hikari’s arrival but who at heart is a sweet young thing; his classmates Sakurako and Amika, who do their best to torture him at every opportunity; best friend Ryou, who appears to have zero interest in girls and would much rather spend his time with Takeru; and Ryou’s little sister Kimi, who’s taken on the role of lady of the house after the deaths of their parents. Between this little group, and Hikari once she gets settled in Takeru’s home, there’s plenty of enjoyable high-jinks that are definitely fun to watch but don’t play any important part in the story.

The gang's all hereDark Hikari

The first sign that Hikari’s not all sweetness and light comes at the end of episode one, where a cold look in the eyes and a creature reduced to an almost-unidentifiable mess provide a hint that Hikari’s quite capable of taking care of herself, should she choose to do so. Scientist Jennifer Portman quickly puts two and two together and, thanks to convenient lodgings with Takeru’s aunt and uncle, gets the chance to keep Hikari under close observation. Jennifer fills the heavy-drinking comedy role, but every so often she switches to a more serious mode where she becomes a source of useful information, and for that reason alone she’s a character to watch. The final character to be introduced is Akari – technically an offshoot split from whatever spawned Hikari, but perhaps best thought of as her little sister. Where Hikari attaches herself to Takeru, Akari latches onto Ryou in much the same way.

With the gang all introduced, and the curiosity suitably piqued about what these cute aliens are doing on Earth, the show moves on to... not doing anything much, really. A lot of the second disc is spent fleshing out the human personas of Hikari and Akari, but outside that it plays out more like a typical high-school comedy than a science-fiction mystery. There’s a whole heap of possibilities with the premise of KonoMini, but very little effort to do anything with it. What you get is enjoyable but unoriginal – it’s the sort of shallow comedy that’s been done a thousand times before, and I couldn’t help but feel a little frustrated that the setting wasn’t really being stretched as far as it could have been.

The destruction beginsHappy ending?

The middle section of the series also kind of loses its way, with the mystery surrounding Hikari's and Akari's origins put into the background in favour of fanservice episodes - fun in their own way, sure, but not really what I was looking for at that point in the series. The early episodes give the impression you're getting something serious, and you end up with a cute girl comedy. As cute girl comedies go, though, KonoMini is probably one of the better recent ones, thanks to its visual appeal and a cast of characters that it’s hard not to connect with. You do feel for Mari, through her abortive attempts to get her feelings across to Takeru and the way Hikari reacts to her attempts to start a rivalry. Away from Mari and Hikari, the other girls – including Akari – get a little neglected as the love-triangle aspect becomes the primary focus, but they each get enough screentime that you at least don’t forget they’re there. The beach and mountain episodes both provide the usual summer holiday stereotypes, with part-time jobs, tests of courage and fanservice-laden hotsprings scenes all making appearances – nothing you won’t have seen before, but still enjoyable enough with this set of characters.

Come the final four episodes, though, and we're back into more serious territory and, almost unbelievably for a GAINAX series, there's a proper ending. Even more surprising, it's a proper ending that works. It’s no surprise that Hikari wields the power of death – one look at “Dark Hikari” when she appears, and the way she’s handled any creatures who have made it past Takeru are enough to tell you that. What does surprise is the reasons behind Hikari choosing to unleash those powers now – for all that it’s explained why she’s done it in the past, this time around her contact with Takeru and the others has changed the situation quite a bit, and it all comes down to emotional triggers, and the interactions between Takeru, Hikari, Mari, Ryou and Akari. If that sounds like it has the potential to get confusing, don’t worry – it’s all well explained, and makes perfect sense. While examining characters’ inner feelings and failings isn’t exactly light & fluffy viewing (and is a bit out-of-character compared to what KonoMini’s produced before now), there are some lighter moments thrown into the mix, usually involving Jennifer and Ioneos, that break events up a little. Nothing laugh-out-loud funny, but enough to bring a grin to the face before the story gets back to the serious business of saving the world.

I wouldn’t want to say too much more about the final episodes, for fear of spoiling it too much, so I’ll just settle for saying that it’s a surprisingly satisfying and well-rounded end to the story, and I really hadn’t been expecting to get that – I’d been more geared up for a non-ending of some sort, and just for once I was happy to be proven wrong. The characters have led KonoMini throughout, though – so it’s appropriate that it’s the lead characters and their feelings for each other that end up providing the solution at the end of the day.

Taking the series as a whole, it does seem to try and cover all the bases - always a risky thing to to, as it's hard to please everybody, but KonoMini just about manages to pull it off. Considering it was GAINAX’s 20th anniversary series, you’d maybe expect there to be more to it, but what’s here works really well, with a good mix of fun and touching moments mixed in with some action along the way. It’s not a truly standout series, but there’s enough to it to make it well worth a look.

For full episode summaries and screenshots, check our reviews of the individual releases:
» Volume 1: Falling Star
» Volume 2: Eye of the Beholder
» Volume 3: Red Swarm

Rating - ***

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