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Ah! My Goddess TV Box Set PDF Print E-mail
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R2 DVD Reviews
Tuesday, 13 May 2008 16:00
Ah! My Goddess TVIf you've been an anime fan for more than about five years, I pretty much guarantee you won't need to read much this review - Ah! My Goddess is one of the best-known manga series of all time, with the original OVA anime series & subsequent movie both carrying the tag of 'classic'. It's now finally made the trip to the small screen - and there are a lot of expectations on the new series. Can it live up to the reputation of its predecessors?

Keiichi Morisato is a fairly typical college student, who's sadly stuck in a low-rent dorm (males only) with a bunch of very abnormal fellow students. He has to deal with the usual ups and downs of everyday life, but mostly it's the downs - today, his bike has broken down, he's been turned down (in public) by the girl of his dreams, and his friends from the Auto Club are determined to 'help' him skip class to join their fundraising campaign. But his luck's about to change, when a phone call he makes is re-routed to the Goddess Help Line - and to Belldandy, Goddess First Class...

ArrivalTurned down

MegumiBig sister

If you've seen the OVA series (from almost 15 years ago, now) this will all look a bit familiar. Rather than carrying on from where the OVA left off, the TV series opts to start over again, and this time around is able to linger over the details of Keiichi's story. Old-timers will also note that the character designs have changed slightly - less detailed and cuter than the original designs (and showing the development the manga designs have gone through over time), they're very easy on the eye. The original OVA cast has also been retained, which is quite an achievement after so long. It all adds up to a release that long-time fans of the series will love.

For newer anime fans, at first glance it's maybe not such an easy choice. Ah! My Goddess at heart is a harem series – back in 1993 when the OVA was released, they weren't hugely common, but nowadays they're ten a penny, so if you didn't know the history of the series you could maybe be forgiven for complaining about a lack of originality – even though many of the more recent shows of the genre take at least some of their inspiration from A!MG.

MagicMore mayhem

RatWhere's he looking?

The series does enough to stand out from the harem crowd, though, through its high production values and a cast that you really can't help but love, even though they play to all the stereotypes you'd expect. There's a genuine warmth and interplay between the characters that's a joy to watch and gives the series a feel that very few shows manage to achieve. The comic scenes are genuinely funny and don't feel forced, while the more touching moments between Belldandy and Keiichi are very well written and usually manage to tug gently on the heartstring without making you feel that you're being shamelessly manipulated by the writers.

The early episodes allow Belldandy to get settled into Keiichi's life, before other family members begin to appear to complicate things. Keiichi's little sister Megumi seems to have a small dose of brother-worship going on, which Keiichi could well do without – hence his desire to get her an apartment of her own as quickly as possible, despite there being a distinct feeling she had no intention of staying anywhere but with her brother. She does eventually settle for the independent life, though - which is more than can be said for Belldandy's little sister Skuld, who has the sort of rubber-band relationship to Belldandy that any boyfriend would soon come to hate. I remember Skuld as being one of my favourite characters back in the OVA days, but whether by passage of time or just having her characterised in a different way this time around, I’m not so sure any more, as now she comes across more as a spoilt child looking to get her own way than anything else. Bug-squishing aside, Skuld clearly adores her big sister and would quite happily monopolise her time if she could – and a lot of her efforts to get Keiichi away from Belldandy now flow from her not being able to spend that time with her on Earth. There’s some fun to be had with her antics – especially her over-the-top inventions, even if the idea of them isn’t all that original – but it’s hardly the comic highlight of the series.

Tender careHalf angel, half demon

Under arrestAll growed up

That honour goes to Marller (or Mara, depending on whether you take the spelling from the packaging or the subtitles), who truly is a demon in both name and nature and has an almost endless supply of schemes to separate Keiichi and Belldandy. She doesn’t really come across as truly evil – Urd’s been known to get up to just as much mischief – but it’s the purposes her scheming is put to that mark her out as the bad gal of the piece. She’s a lot of fun to watch, and a character wish had been given more screentime. Maybe in Season Two.

One other character who really shouldn't be forgotten is Urd, Belldandy's big half-sister. She's a mischievous and extremely well-proportioned goddess with a determination to see her sister & Keiichi properly get together, by fair means or foul. There’s nothing she won’t stoop to in her efforts to ignite some passion between the two of them, and the way it’s done ramps the comedy up another notch and creates some great slapstick scenes. Of course, the chances of her plans ever succeeding are essentially zero (as are the odd of Keichii and Belldandy ever getting it on on-screen), but that doesn’t harm the enjoyment you get from seeing her try. Full marks for effort.

For all the efforts made to get Keiichi and Belldandy together, though, the lack of romantic progress between the two leads is always going to be the big frustration with Ah! My Goddess, but given that refusing to resolve a relationship seems to be an essential feature of stories like this, it’s not really surprising – just something to get used to. The comedy aspect offsets that well, though, and the end result is hugely enjoyable. A!MG has had such a following and high profile over the years that there were plenty of high expectations that surrounded this new project, and I'm happy to say that, if you can avoid feeling frustrated at the there-but-not-there relationship between Belldandy and Keiichi, the TV series generally lives up to them. Older fans won't be disappointed by how the story is being handled, and those new to the story should find plenty here to make the series worthwhile viewing.

Towards the end of the series, it tries to do something a little different and more serious, with a storyline that could truly be life-threatening for some of the characters. While it’s not really what the series is “designed” for, if you like, the two episodes that deal with the Lord of Terror are almost action stories. Perhaps I’d just reached my tolerance limit for romantic comedy by that stage, but this story pushed all the right buttons with me – and there was enough humour dropped into the mix to make sure that it didn’t feel too out-of-place compared to the rest of the series.

The final two episodes take the opportunity to take a slightly different look at Urd and Skuld, with Urd taking on the form of a young girl in one and having to deal with a young boy who quickly falls in love with her, and Skuld becoming a full-grown woman in the other and discovering that her feelings for Keiichi aren’t just grounded in jealousy. The Skuld episode is probably the better of the two – I haven’t really liked the way that Skuld was portrayed in this series (too much of a spoilt brat), but her episode here finally begins to address that and brings her personality more into line with the image I had in my head of her from past exposure to the A!MG universe. Her “date” with Keiichi provides some good moments of fun, while also giving her a few touching little scenes that show that while she’s still a little girl, she’s maybe beginning to grow up on the inside. Urd’s episode is almost the opposite of that – she’s just a big kid at heart anyway (bottle of sake notwithstanding), and her chance to be a little kid and play with other little kids is something she seizes with both hands, as she knows it isn’t going to last for long. The story here is enjoyable enough, but didn’t grab me quite as well as the other episodes on the disc did.

To be honest, A!MG TV would have needed to have been a complete disaster for me to write it off at this stage. My interest in the storyline is great enough that I want to see more of it in animated form, and this series finally gives me the chance to do that. Add in the high production values and the way the story is being handled, and I'm very happy with this release. The second season is due to land shortly from ADV Films, and should provide even more opportunity for fans to enjoy themselves - in the meantime, though, this installment comes very highly recommended.

For full episode summaries and screenshots, check out our reviews of the individual discs:
» Volume 1: Always and Forever
» Volume 2: Love Plus One
» Volume 3: With or Without You
» Volume 4: We've Got Tonight
» Volume 5: In Your Eyes
» Volume 6: Last Dance

Rating - ****

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