Monday, January 28, 2002

Nice boil-down of Fujishima's classic series

Ah! My Goddess: The Movie (2000)
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

In 'Ah! My Goddess: The Movie,' the world is threatened by a god who wishes to create a reality where no mortals have to suffer. He forces an unwitting Belldandy--a goddess who has been bound through love to Japanese college student Keiichi--to serve as the main vehicle of his plot.
The movie features all the characters from the long-running comic book and graphic novel series (published in America by Dark Horse Comics and translated as "Oh My Goddess!"), including recent additions to the cast such as Belldandy's rival, the goddess Peorth and the various angels tied to Belldandy, Urd, and Skuld. In many cases, the film assumes that the viewer knows who these characters are, which in my mind is its main flaw. While readers of the graphic novels and comic books can be somewhat up-to-date--as of this writing, "The Fourth Goddess" where Peorth first appears has been released, but the Whirlwind motor company that's referred in the film to will still be an unknown if one only reads them and not the monthly issues--and there are a host of characters that will remain mysterious to those who may be coming to this film from the other animated episodes alone. If the filmmakers had weeded down the cast a bit, there would have been time to provide brief introductions to everyone and the film would have been better for it.

The animation quality is very good, taking advantage of both traditional and computer animation to convey the strange power of the film's supernatural beings who live by the addage "sufficiently advanced technology is equal to magic"; in the "Ah! My Goddess" universe, reality is maintained by a super-computer running incredibly advanced programs, and all supernatural beings are, basically, "remote terminals." The animators have remained true to creator Kosuke Fujishima's character designs and mix of cartoony and hyper-realistic art, and the characters of the film seem very much grounded in a world not far removed from our own. The result is a very attractive-looking film that captures the look of Fujishima's comic art very nicely.

The English-language dubbing is better than average, but I think the casting could have been better. Belldandy is entirely too whiny and Urd isn't husky/assertive enough from how they should sound based on their portrayals in the comic.

Story-wise, the film also captures the feel of the comic quite nicely, with the real plot revolving around Belldandy and Keiichi's love once again surviving supernatural challenges and emerging reconfirmed and even stronger than before. (No, that's not really a spoiler; anyone who has even passing familiarity with "Oh My Goddess" and romantic films of this nature go in expecting a happy ending.) Unfortunately, the story fails to successfully revolve all of its subplots and themes by the time the film is over. The chief of these is the race that the NIT Motorclub is preparing for during the film. It's there to underscore the fact that Keiichi and Belldandy are the perfect couple, and it should have been returned to at the end. (Eliminating some of the characters who don't play any role in the story but who are just there because they're part of the graphic novels might have given the tme needed to properly wrap up the film's loose elements.)

The flaws of this film balance its good parts, hence the Three Stars (an average rating). I recommend it highly to fans of romantic comedies and the "Oh My Goddess!" series... but I do so warning you that it is far from a perfect work.