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Simoun #1: Choir of Pairs PDF Print E-mail
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R1 DVD Reviews
Thursday, 19 June 2008 16:00
SimounI've been looking forward to this one for a while now, after seeing the first few episodes back when it was airing in Japan - Simoun, set in a world where everyone is born as female and where one nation claims to have the power of the Gods on its side, much to the disgust of others. The Simoun Sibyllae, young pilots of graceful fighting machines, fight to defend the imperial nation of Kyuukoku from the advances of the nation of Shoukoku. But we're really just watching for the shoujo-ai, right?

1 - Fallen Wings
The planet Daikuuriku is at war. The nation of Shoukoku are masters of technology, but even their skills at creating flying machines are limited - and their technology creates pollution on a massive scale. The nation of Kyuukoku has something they want - the Simoun, flying machines with abilities beyond those that Shoukoku can create, and that are clean in operation. To the people of Kyuukoku, the Simoun are God's gift, but to Shoukoku they're the tools of the devil - and they're are determined to have that power. The pilots of Chor Tempest are called into action when a Shoukoku fleet crosses the border into Kyuukoku, but for once their enemies have come in such numbers that the Simoun are threatened with defeat...

EnemyCannon fodder

2 - The Blue Spring
Aer's first "mission" - in a prototype Simoun, no less, with no partner and no ability to draw Re Mājon trails - is successful, so much so that she ruffles a few feathers along the way, especially when she announces she wants to become a pair with Neviril. Problem is, Neviril seems to have doubts about her future, and having agreed to accompany her friend Elly to the Spring to carry out the rite of passage into adulthood, she's finding the lure of adulthood to have a certain draw herself. Events at the temple soon change her mind, however...

AerAt the Spring

3 - The Distant War
The Simoun Sibyllae have a new recruit: Morinas, and a bit like Aer she's not all that enamoured with the religious rituals that go along with flying the Simoun: she just wants to fly. The difference with Aer is that she would prefer to avoid fighting - so at the moment, Chor Tempest is probably the place to be. While Morinas looks around and learns what she can about the Simoun, Neviril continues to agonise over whether she should continue as a pilot - and with Chor Tempest being 6 Sibyllae down, thanks to recent battles and visits to the Spring, there's some pressure on her to make up her mind quickly. The remaining members of the Chor arrange a training ritual to try and bolster their own morale and persuade Neviril to stay on - but the more she thinks about it, the more inclined she is to return to the Spring...

HangardeckShipboard gossip

4 - The Nearby War
Aer's doing her best to build a piloting rapport with Morinas, but Morinas' concentration just doesn't seem to be on the job - leading to the pair making a few rather close passes to cliff faces and the Arcus Prima, and earning them a ticking off from the Commander: Chor Tempest is meant to be on standby, not flying. Not all the other members of the Chor are overly impressed with Aer's gung-ho attitude, either - but she's equally annoyed at their seeming determination to avoid battle when there's a war going on, leaving the other Chors to take up the slack. She finds an ally in Rimone, but when the two take an unauthorised late-night training flight, they end up being captured by a lone Shoukoku soldier...

InfiltratorCaptives

5 - White Loneliness
Chor Tempest are finally flying again, with Aer and Rimone paired together - but since her encounter with the Shoukoku soldier, Rimone's been unable to properly concentrate, and with Re Mājon trails dependent on proper teamwork, her failings are letting the whole Chor down. In an effort to get the girls back up to proper combat readiness, Dominura - a Sibylla from another Chor - is called in to try and get to the bottom of the problem...

Rimone and NevirilWistful

6 - Wounds and Pain
Chor Tempest are finally back on full active duty - although Neviril still hasn't begun flying again, the rest of the group have returned to some sort of normality. Their return to duty has coincided with a lull in hostilities with Shoukoku, though, and so a certain amount of complacency is creeping into the girls, while Aer has taken it upon herself to pester Neviril into coming back on duty. There are others within the group who also believe that she needs to make up her mind what she wants to do - return to flying or go to the Srping - but no matter how much pressure she's put under, Neviril simply refuses to make a decision. Paraietta has known Neviril for many years, though, and decides it's time her friend made up her mind...

Chor TempestAccidental activation

For a show with such blatant girl/girl overtones that it has to be aimed at a male audience, Simoun looks and feels very much like a shoujo series - the character designs don't really meet the usual bishoujo style, and there's plenty of big hair, pastel colours, and young girls swooning over their sempai. All very strange. The setting itself is very good - there's a real contrast between the two nations in technology terms (think of the difference between the Anatoray and Disith in Last Exile, and you wouldn't be too far from the mark), while there's an effort made to make sure the Shoukoku don't come across as one-dimensional villians, thanks to a voiceover that's given by one of their pilots that explains their viewpoint on the Imperials and the Simoun.

What's quite unusual is the male / female split in this world. Here's the deal: on this planet, everyone's born female; in Kyuukoku, they remain so until they complete a rite of passage to reach adulthood, which would normally be at the age of 19. During the ritual, you get to choose which sex you become as an adult. In peacetime, it's no problem - in wartime, the Simoun Simula may need to hold off on their decision to prevent causing a shortage of pilots. Okay so far? The weaponry of a Simoun is in its ability to draw Re Mājon trails, an ability that is driven by the power of the relationship between its two pilots - which is why a Simoun needs a pair of pilots and why there's the kissing ritual before each flight. The rampant lesbianism is excused by the setting, since a fair portion of the girls will choose to become males on reaching adulthood. So there you go. (In contrast, citizens of Shoukoku are forced to become male through a combination of drugs and surgery; it's something that's touched upon in the show's voiceover, in tones of clear resentment.)

Characterwise, our leads are as different as they come. Both are supremely confident in their own abilities, but that's where the siilarities end - Neviril is very much the typical ojousama, idolised by all and at the top of her game. Aer is far more down-to-earth, a tomboy type who lives to fight and doesn't really fit into the Simoun Sibyllae's religious leanings. I could watch Aer for as long as you like - there are some annoying aspects to her personality (she can be far too confident for her own good at times), but Neviril just annoyed me. In common with many similar characters that I've seen in anime over the years, the character traits that are supposed to be what all the other girls idolise her for are just aspect of her that make me want to slap her - at the very least, I'd quite like to have a job like hers where I can refuse to do anything and still keep my position. Fortunately, she spends so much of the story moping in her quarters that you don't have to deal with her much.

There's also a large cast of fringe characters, from which Morinas, Rimone and Paraietta seem to be the ones who are going to feature the most. Rimone's unhappy past makes her a character worth watching (while also filling the role of token loli girl); so far, the rest of the cast haven't been given enough of a backstory to get a real feel for them. There are some good possibilities, though, especially with the show's main emphasis being on the relationships rather than the fighting. For a fighting unit, most of Chor Tempests members seem surprisingly reluctant to fight (at least without Neviril at their head), and that's another aspect of the series I'm not so sure about - but so far at least, the good is outweighing the bad.

Apart from the "OMG! Yuri!" aspect, I really wasn't too sure what to expect from Simoun. It's definitely different, and there's enough unusual about the setting for me to want to keep going. The only major issue with the series is the slow pace it's running at - 5 episodes into a series where war is a key feature, and the girls have only been in two significant battles (episodes 1 & 5). Events need to speed up a bit, and move on quickly from the efforts being made to bring back their fighting spirit. For the most part it's definitely enjoyable, though, and definitely one I'll be continuing with.

Rating - ****

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