Reviewby Theron Martin,
Ah! My Goddess
DVD 1: Always and Forever
College sophomore and avid motor club member Keiichi Morisato is down on his luck. Though a gentle and caring soul, his lack of height has made it difficult for him to get a girlfriend and the Star of Misfortune perpetually shines over his head. The Heavens have taken notice of his plight and judged that an imbalance exists, so when Keiichi calls a wrong number one night, he instead hooks up to the Goddess Hotline. Moments later Goddess First Class Belldandy steps through his mirror and declares that he is to be awarded one wish. Not quite believing what he is seeing and overcome by Belldandy's declarations of his merits, Keiichi wishes that a goddess like Belldandy could be by his side forever. To his shock, his wish is granted, and that's where the trouble begins.
Though Belldandy is beautiful and wonderfully sweet (and, well, a goddess), she understands little about the human world and creates a new housing dilemma for Keiichi. She also attracts attention, most notably that of Sayoko, the long-standing Queen of the Campus at Nekomi Tech, who sees her as a dangerous rival. Further complicating matters is the System Force, which protects and enforces the contract made between Belldandy and Keiichi by his wish. It takes effect anytime it looks like the two might be separated and creates all manner of calamities to rectify the matter. And how exactly does one cohabitate with a goddess, anyway?
Kosuke Fujishima's much-beloved long-running manga about a decent young man who wishes for – and gets – a real goddess as a girlfriend sees its third anime incarnation in this new TV series. Long-time fans of Fujishima's work will love this series for how faithful it remains to the manga, while newcomers will find a light-hearted and enchanting take on anime romantic comedies. Those new enough to the hobby to be unfamiliar with Ah! My Goddess might not recognize it as such based solely on this volume, but this is one of the prototypical “harem” anime titles; its original OVA release back in 1993 probably deserves almost as much credit (or blame, depending on how you look at it) as Tenchi Muyo for getting that subgenre rolling. Unlike most recent harem series, though, AMG never descends into the crass exploitation which all too often mars the value of such series. This is as clean and gentle as anime romantic comedies come; those looking for fan service or racy humor are watching the wrong series.
Keiichi is ostensibly the main character, and while his personality may seem stereotypical of harem leading men, one must remember that he helped form the mold for all the others that have come along in the past decade. The real star of the series, though, is Belldandy, who is named after the Norse goddess Verthundi, the Norn who represents the present. (And in keeping with the Norse naming theme, the great computer through which Belldandy channels her power is called Yggdrasil.) One would have a difficult time finding a sweeter and more delightful – and yet also tolerable – female lead anywhere else in anime. She is innocence and goodness personified, with one of the most charming smiles you'll see anywhere and a guardian spirit named Holy Bell who can appear to assist her with more complicated tasks. The joy she projects and the way she can see the best in Keiichi are what make her truly appealing, however, and what will likely draw in even those who might be inclined to label the series' concept as sexist. The depth of the relationship she ultimately forms with Keiichi is not evident in this volume, but the story is still in its foundation-laying stages. Newcomers to AMG should know that Keiichi and Belldandy are not consistently labeled as one of the all-time great anime couples for nothing, so that aspect will come in time.
While the original 5-episode OVA series was a greatly condensed take on the franchise, this TV series has so far carried through its intention to remain more faithful to the manga. As a result the story develops much slower than it did in the OVA; Belldandy doesn't even appear until the end of the first episode, and they don't settle on living in the temple until the third episode. Those looking for the introduction of prominent supporting cast members beyond Sayoko and the Auto Club members (Megumi, Urd, Skuld, Maya, and Peorth, among others) will apparently have to wait for later volumes. The side effect to Belldandy's use of too much power also does not show up in this volume, nor does an explanation of the nature of Belldandy's physical form, but at the pace the story is going such details have not become important yet.
The disadvantage to this more gradual approach is that the story moves forward maybe a little too slowly, but the advantage is that it allows for a much better set-up, better-established characterizations, and smoother story development. By the time Belldandy appears and declares that Keiichi is being granted a wish, a viewer will have no doubt about why he's deserving of such a reward. Keiichi's blowhard sempais Ootake and Tamiya go a long way towards keeping things lively in the absence of a more expansive cast, and a couple of minor characters who never appeared in the original OVA have already made their appearances here, such as the monk who tends to the Buddhist temple where Keiichi and Belldandy ultimately wind up living. (It was vacant in the OVA.) The scripting does an excellent job of capturing the spirit and feel of the manga, and that's probably the most important thing to long-time fans.
Although there are sharper-looking series out there, the artistry of AMG is a substantial upgrade from the original OVA. It does not have the glossy look commonly seen in recent productions, but it does have a warm and varied color scheme, good detail, and a few effective CG effects that are blended in well. The character designs so far have remained relatively close to Fujishima's drawings, with Keiichi looking a bit more mature than he did in the OVA and Belldandy having a less rounded face. The outlandish hairdos or figure-enhancing clothing all too commonly used in romantic comedies are absent, as more sensible looks and styles of dress are the norm. (Well, except for Ootake's interesting choice of earrings.) The one negative here is that most of the supporting characters have basically one fixed expression, but this is more attributable to the original manga and Belldandy's captivating smiles go a long way towards balancing out that flaw. Except in the CG bits, the animation quality is generally unremarkable and peppered with common shortcuts. (But again, it's still better than the OVA.)
The musical scoring is also a substantial upgrade over the OVA, with the synthesize filler being replaced with a score heavy on jaunty woodwind numbers. The dreamy, soaring opener does a good job of reflecting Belldandy's identity as a goddess, while the folksy, down-to-earth closer is intended to reflect Belldandy's identity as a woman. Both are wonderfully performed by Yoko Ishida, but you would expect nothing less from the singer who turned in stellar renditions of the Ai Yori Aoshi openers.
Fans of English dubs need not worry: Anime Works kept the English script enough in line with the subtitles that there shouldn't be any major complaints. They have even done a better-than-normal job of accounting for changing use of honorifics. The English performances are also fine, with the deliveries smooth and consistently hitting the right tone for the characters. Most match up well to the original seiyuu and performances, with the notable exception being the “surfer dude” accent and tone used with Ootake – but this was also done in the OVA and fits the mannerisms of the character, so at least the portrayal is consistent. Whether or not the new dub cast is better than the cast used in the OVA or the movie comes down to a matter of personal taste. I favor this one in all roles except Sora, but opinions will vary.
In addition to company trailers and a clean opener, two distinctive extras accompany the five episodes on this volume. Once is the Voice Actor Introduction, a clip from a convention appearance in December of 2004 featuring the seiyuu for Belldandy and Yoko Ishida. The other is the Japanese Voice Actor Outtakes, which takes assorted clips and splices them together with alternate dialogue to describe a situation where Sayoko accuses Belldandy of being a Magical Girl, so she has to explain how her powers really work. While funny and informative, it is a total sidestep from the main story.
Anime Works has done a commendable job on the quick turn-around for this title; its first volume has made its way to the States only nine months after its episodes originally aired on Japanese TV. All in all, Ah! My Goddess should please most fans of the manga and charm a great number of new ones.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : C+
Art : B
Music : A-
+ Remains very loyal to its source material, good characterizations
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