Jason checks out Hideki Ohwada's politically-charged mahjong manga, The Legend of Koizumi.
Reviewby Zac Bertschy, May 6th 2003
Juna and Tokio's relationship continues to fray at the ends, and Juna struggles to cope with her newfound sensitivity to the environment around her. Cindy teaches Juna that if she listens closely, the world around her will reveal itself to her; Juna succeeds, with some unfortunately harrowing results. Things get worse, however, when it's revealed that Tokio's father runs a major Biochemical plant that's been leaking toxins into the nearby forest--toxins that could eventually spell doom for the Earth as we know it.
Arjuna remains one of the most beautiful and thought-provoking series ever produced, and unfortunately, it seems to be going unnoticed by most anime fans. Most people don't like to think while they're being entertained, and if thinking isn't something you prefer to do when vegetating in front of the TV, then by all means, avoid Arjuna. This show is relentlessly thoughtful and challenging. It might make you question how you live, how you eat, and how you interact with your environment. If you'd rather just watch robots piloted by girls with short skirts, then stay away from this show.
If you're still reading, that means you have more than a few firing brain cells and are ready to let Shoji Kawamori, director of such masterpieces as Macross Plus and Escaflowne, challenge you to question your world. This third volume raises so many interesting points and questions that at times it gets a little too heavy, and if you're really in to analyzing what you watch, you'll need to take it one episode at a time. Simply put, no other anime series has as big a conscious as Arjuna does; it is, by far, the single most socially and environmentally conscious show ever produced (and that includes the not-so-subtle tree-hugging themes found in nearly all of Hayao Miyazaki's films). Kawamori does not pull his punches. Every time Juna even looks at a prepackaged fast food burger, we're treated to diseased looking shots of beef extruders, cows at a farm, granaries, and the other particularly unpleasant aspects of beef production. If she drinks a “health” drink, we're shown similar shots of what exactly went in to the beverage's production, and it isn't pretty. It's obvious how Kawamori feels about human food consumption and production habits. If you didn't know that we destroy our environment to an irreparable degree, or at the very least don't feel bad about it, rest assured you will know the first and feel the second when you're finished watching this show.
That's not to say that Kawamori's presentation is flawless. In the third episode on the disc, he takes a few steps too far when presenting his opinion on abortion. For those of you who didn't know, Kawamori is decidedly pro-life. Cindy teaches Juna how to “hear” the unborn babies, who all protest when their mothers smoke or take too much medication. Juna is, of course, reviled at the behavior of pregnant mothers, and even confronts someone close to her about the concept of aborting the child. Cindy's mother had sex with multiple partners while she was pregnant, and since Cindy is psychic (and apparently was while in the womb), she now knows what sex feels like. It's a little creepy, but we get Kawamori's point; unborn babies are just like the plants and insects that can't scream when you kill them, and people are only okay with abortion because the baby can't protest. Unfortunately, the subject is so controversial and split down the middle that his message (whether or not he attempted to present both sides of the issue, which he clearly did not in this case) is diluted by the controversy and he comes across as being belligerent, almost abusing his power to create media simply so he can dump his pro-life opinions on the viewer. It's a weak moment in an otherwise strong show.
Regardless of your opinion on the environment, Kawamori has crafted an extremely intelligent show that everyone should see and have an opinion on. He raises many, many interesting and valid criticisms of our consumption habits. It helps that his characters are extremely well written, and the show is a gorgeous visual gem. Tokio, the audience identification character, stumbles along in his relationship with Juna (whose clumsy enlightenment may well symbolize Kawamori himself on his path towards environmental consciousness) and fails to understand her and her hypersensitivity. Tokio's biggest problem is that he can't eat his precious Meriken Burger, his favorite food, because the mere thought of consuming such a thing makes Juna sick to her stomach. We, the audience, identify with Tokio, because Juna's unrealistic idealism just doesn't seem plausible in our chemically-dependant world. Slowly but surely, however, Tokio buys some of Juna's preaching, and changes his ways. Not completely, mind you, but he is clearly meant to be a model for the audience, since Juna is so deep in to environmental sensitivity that no modern human would ever be able to catch up. Juna represents the ideal, Tokio is the compromise; it's genius writing and Kawamori deserves accolades for it.
Visually, Arjuna remains one of the best-looking shows ever produced. Despite some awkward CG, each episodes is like a miniature film, complete with amazing action setpieces and some of the most beautiful CG-assisted painting I've ever seen. I found myself pausing the DVD at certain spots just to gawk at some of the amazing artistry on display. DVD is the perfect format for this series; the color palette and detail of the images simply demands the best possible presentation. If you've been watching fansubs, please delete them and buy the DVDs so you can truly appreciate what a beautiful series this is. You won't regret it. Of course, the music is absolutely phenomenal. It's some of Yoko Kanno's best work. Here's hoping Bandai opts to release a soundtrack CD in the US sometime soon.
The dub, unfortunately, is amateurish and flat. Juna is completely miscast and poorly acted. She sounds very valley girl-ish.. it brings the wrong tone to the character and ruins many of the subtle emotions the Japanese performance exudes. Tokio is also a waste; his “spunky teen” voice is totally the opposite of what the confused and awestruck Tokio should have sounded like. Cindy and Chris are obnoxious-sounding brats. In short, skip the dub. It's a total waste. The subtitled version is vastly superior.
Simply put, do not miss Arjuna. This third volume is one of the most potent in the series and features plot elements necessary to understand the ending to the series. Arjuna should have been a landmark event that all anime fans saw, à la Evangelion; unfortunately, most of the backlash against Evangelion existed because people don't like to think. As long as intellectually lazy people determine what's popular and what isn't, shows like Arjuna will never be as popular as they deserve. If you value your intelligence and want to treat yourself to a smart and beautiful series that will engage you every second it's on the screen, watch this show. You won't regret it.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : A+
Story : A+
Animation : A+
Art : A+
Music : A+
+ Thought-provoking, beautiful, and wonderful.
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