Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Ah! My Goddess: Flights of Fancy
DVD 3: Reunited, And It Feels So Good
Being young and madly in love with a goddess can be stressful, even with a couple as relaxed and devoted as Keiichi and Belldandy. The stress comes from the fact that their home, the supposed sanctuary, is subject to near perpetual visitation by supernatural beings, not the least of whom are the crew of goddesses who cohabit with poor old Keiichi. Especially sticky is Peorth, who is still determined to satisfy his carnal desires and still has an enormous Belldandy-chip on her shoulder. When she finally finagles a wish out of Keiichi, it turns out that perhaps her meddling wasn't as self-serving as it appeared. Belldandy and Keiichi do some meddling of their own, and being a bona fide goddess and the world's nicest guy, the effects can't help but be positive, be they for an ex-Auto Club member with employment anxieties or an ex-flame of Urd's with musical ambitions.
Legend has it that, long ago in the mid-East, an aged man could volunteer to become what is known as mellified man or more explicitly as "human mummy confection," a medicinal confection made of candied humans. In order to prepare the medicine, the volunteer would eat nothing but honey for months until he excreted pure honey, and when he died his body would be sealed in a sarcophagus filled with the stuff to steep in sweetness for a hundred years. You can't volunteer for it any more (the FDA would never approve), but if you want a fair approximation of what it must have been like, watch Ah! My Goddess.
Mind you, that's not a criticism; occasionally even the heartiest cynic gets the urge to be pickled in sugar. And if it's sugar you need, you need look no further. The soulful gazing and blushing innocence of Belldandy and Keiichi's heart-on-sleeves affection and their inhuman kindness (anyone who could be kind to Peorth can't be human) are syrupy sweet in the best sense of the term. Peorth's troublemaking induces more blatant declarations of love this volume than any volume past, and even the deeply stupid humorous episodes that bookend the more introspective middle two have their share of sweet romance (including some for Urd!). The ex-Auto-Club-member episode dallies with life-affirming messages, and even the genuinely funny humor involving Urd's ex is sweetly good-natured. Sweetness isn't all this volume has going for it either. The result of Peorth's troublemaking may be typically sweet, but more importantly it's also a tad emotional and clever enough to be unexpected. It also goes the extra mile of having Peorth actually leave after she's fulfilled her mission. Whoa.
Sweet, however, is not a synonym for good, as anyone who's eaten candy corn can tell you. For all its sweetness, the second season has been curiously bland, and this volume, while not so slight as its predecessors, isn't exactly memorable. Entire episodes can pass without making any impression outside of a bovine contentedness (the "ex" episode), and the opening episode centering around a "date" between Peorth and Keiichi comes as close to being outright bad as the series ever has, saddled as it is with tired date-gone-awry humor and, of course, Peorth. As a narrative device to rouse Keiichi and Belldandy from their romantic complacency, she may have been necessary (their relationship was stagnating), but was it necessary to make her so...irritating? A little mean-spirited humiliation wouldn't have gone awry here, but you can't be sugary and bitter at the same time, and of course Ah! My Goddess opts for sugary. More's the pity.
Darkness is as alien to the artwork as it is to the story, filled as it is with brightly-lit daytime environs and as much color as can be splashed on without betraying the basic realism of the backgrounds or straying from the palette's overall pastel tone. Even nighttime shots are carefully moonlit—serene rather than foreboding. Excepting character close-ups, the result—like the often silly music, which has its own exception in the memorable use of bagpipes during the opening pop song—is pretty and instantly forgettable. Character close-ups have the indelible advantage of character designs that are clean, smooth and knock-out good-looking. Urd is beautiful, Skuld is cute, Peorth adds an extra element of sex, and Belldandy is her usual iconic self. In comparison, one feels sorry for the male cast, whose designs are often crude or perfunctory.
Perfunctory is also the animation, which relies so heavily on the sedateness of the series that entire cuts can go by with no more animation than a twitching eyebrow. What animation there is is merely intended to communicate movement, not to do anything extraneous like look good. Movement tends to be flat, traveling across backgrounds rather than through them. The magical effects can be pretty impressive in their flashy CGI artistry and the volume's one race (on miniature motorized bikes) is competently executed.
The English version of Ah! My Goddess comes across fairly well, largely because it's hard to care whether fluff is performed exactly this way or exactly that way. The leads are all comfortable enough with their roles to turn out natural-sounding performances, though Eileen Stevens, who has the unenviable task of inhabiting the perfection of Belldandy, is weak at times. Supporting roles, such as they are, get fair treatment, with the standout performance being Dan Green, who is perfect as Urd's tone-deaf ex-flame Troubadour. He even does his own singing, with the exception of a live television performance which is left in its original language (the TV announcer states, in properly impressed tones, that Troubadour will be performing "in Japanese"). The translation, with the exception of that one workaround, is straightforward, with few changes outside of the usual necessities.
The usual standby extras (production art, clean opening and closing) are accompanied this volume by a surprisingly informative audio commentary for the disc's final episode featuring a flippant Dan Green and Veronica Taylor (Chihiro Fujimi, the ex-Auto Club member).
Stewing in dripping-sweet animated romance, like mellified man, is an acquired taste, and one best enjoyed in moderation—as a sweet side-dish with therapeutic properties, and not as a meal. Heed that advice, and you'll not only survive the stewing, but will feel better for it, unlike that poor candied mummy.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : C+
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Central romance takes a step forward; plenty of sugar for the sweetness-deprived.
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