Reviewby Theron Martin, Nov 17th 2009
Sub.DVD - Complete Collection
Five years ago Mari Wakatake lost everything, even her memories, when a freak tsunami struck her home island and killed everyone else. Since then she has lived with, and been home-schooled by, her grandmother, but now Grandmother has sent Mari to attend Kaio Academy, a prestigious all-girls boarding school that Grandmother once attended herself. Once there Mari quickly becomes fascinated with classmate Hagino Senkōji, the school's idol and model student, but she soon learns that Hagino is much more than what she appears and later learns that Hagino has some big secrets in her past, ones which directly involve Mari. Hagino (aka Ekaril) and her fellow Arume (an alien race whose members mostly look like young human females) are not the only ones around with an interest in Mari, either; certain officials have long suspected that the tragedy which orphaned Mari involved much more than just a mere tidal wave and that the secret to the incident may lie in her lost memories, so they secretly have their own representative at the school. One of the Arume is also less than satisfied with official reports on what happened five years ago due to the loss of a loved one in that incident. As the Arume ship Blue lurks in the depths off the coast, Mari tries to adjust to her new life and Hagino tries to find the peace of mind which has long eluded her. In each other they may find the answer to their needs.
Blue Drop resembles the super-powered action series Darker than Black in exactly one key way: both are far better than they probably should be given the common gimmicks and story elements which lay in their foundations. An amnesiac whose lost memory conceals a dark secret? Budding lesbian love at an all-girls boarding school? Lesbian relationships involving aliens from an all-female planet? A play used as a metaphor for “real-life” events and relationships? Certain aspect of the plot resolution which are too spoilerish to delve into here? Been there, done that many times.
For all that its story elements may be familiar, though, Blue Drop succeeds because its story is much more about the characters than the gimmicks; in fact, the character drama predominates so much that it is easy to forget or overlook those gimmicks. Sure, there is the sci fi element about aliens scouting out the Earth, but their motivations for doing so, and exactly how the Earth could be a solution to their long-term problem, are left rather vague because that aspect of the story is merely a framing device for the rest rather than the main focus. The series does have a few action scenes, but those scenes are more dramatic punctuations than any attempt to enthrall viewers with battle footage. This is, instead, a story about the timely convergence of three wounded souls and the impact that the relationship of two of them has on helping a fourth party observer realize her potential.
One of the two major factors which make the story work is its core cast. Mari Wakatake might give the initial impression of being a tsundere type, but this is not a girl covering a soft exterior with a tough shell. She has been thrown into a tough situation, one where she has to adjust to many things she never (in her memory) had to deal with before and muddles through it with all of the grace of someone whose background has left her ill-equipped to handle social situations. This gives her a decidedly different demeanor from the norm and a certain level of credibility which characters in her position rarely have. Hagino/Ekaril is more typical as a seemingly perfect nice girl, albeit one with a truckload of secrets and a deeply-seeded sense of guilt; her presence at Kaio may be as much about trying to ease her troubled soul and seek a sense of absolution as it is about doing her job. Just a step below them in priority is Michiko “Michi” Kozuki, the somewhat shy girl whom Mari first befriends at Kaio. The story is nearly as much about her growth as a result of association with Mari and Hagino as it is about the eventually romantic relationship of the latter two, and it is she who writes the wonderful play about Joan of Arc which defines much of the second half of the series. (One of the biggest disappointments about the series, in fact, is that we never get to see the play in full, as it looks like a fascinatingly original creation.) Azanael, the fourth major character, serves a dual role as a source of conflict and excuse to help reveal the truth behind the events of five years ago, but her own sense of loss and inability to come to terms with it flesh her out a bit more. The supporting cast members are more common one-note stereotypes, although there are a few unusual choices like the massive Dorm Chief and a few satisfying ones like Tsubael, Hagino's right-hand woman.
The other key factor is the series' tone. Despite the occasional action outbreaks and hints of the supernatural, this is a low-key series which depends more on developing a feeling of warmth and soulfulness as it examines characters' emotions rather than on dramatic moments; think of it as the antithesis of Code Geass. It can certainly generate some tension and emotion, but in general the series has more of the comfort level of drifting along a slow-flowing river rather than navigating the rapids. This will undoubtedly bore some viewers while wrapping up others in a comfy blanket. An impressively low-key soundtrack dominated by graceful piano pieces and orchestrated numbers proves critical to maintaining the tone, while the soulful opener “Blue” by Suara perfectly sets the stage. The more upbeat “Tsubomi – blue dreams,” also by Suara, rounds out each episode.
Asahi Production and BeSTACK teamed up for the production effort, supplemented by 3D modeling done by Gonzo. The latter produces an effort that, while not flawlessly smooth, is certainly several grades above their results in the more recent Dragonaut. CG-rendered Arume ship designs find a nice balance between style, traditional sci fi feel, and 20th century battleship influences, especially the intricately-designed Blue, which as a nice added touch mimics the movements and feel of a whale in one scene. Itsuko Takeda's character designs turn Hagino into one of the prettiest anime girls you're ever likely to run across, although her commander's apparel is somewhat incongruous; it and the navel-exposing uniforms of the Arume are the series' one concession to fanboy fetishes. (Never explained, though, is why Hagino's hair is black when the hair of all of the other Arume is a grayish-blue.) Mari is satisfyingly attractive without being overwhelmingly pretty, allowing Miss Sugawara to be the other pretty one. Most of the Arume are distinctly feminine in appearance except for the very butch Azanael and Shivariel, while the other students have a fairly common assortment of looks except for the massive Hiroko with her “Hold Weight” shirt. The one total failure here is the Headmaster with his ridiculous flowing purple hair and matching moustache; given the style and content of the rest of the series, what were they thinking here? Good background art and animation also contribute to an overall solid visual effort.
As with all Section 23 releases, this one has no dub, but they do at least deserve kudos for picking up this long shot and formally releasing it in the States. Sadly, their problems with grammatically-challenged subtitles continue; the mistakes are not as frequent here as in Ghost Hound, but on at least four occasions the subtitles trip up on things like improper use of punctuation, homophones, and spelling. These are not major distractions but still below professional standards. Despite thirteen episodes shipped inside a single normal-sized case, a few Extras are present, including clean opener and closer and an art gallery which includes both concept art for ship designs and what looks like Japanese DVD case covers.
For inexplicable reasons the back-cover blurb paints the series as something far more ominous than what it actually is, a case of misrepresentation that is likely to throw viewers who will quickly discover that the series is nothing like the tense sci fi mystery/horror it is advertised as being. Indeed, the pacing is gradual enough that some will undoubtedly find the series dull even though it hardly wastes a scene and progresses at a smooth pace from beginning to end. It also leaves some rather large holes in the background of the Arume and the story in general as it conveniently fails to explain certain complicated points so it can maintain its elegant flow. Overlook those minor flaws, however, and this can be a greatly involving story which goes light enough, and gentle enough, on its yuri content that even those not normally inclined towards such titles may find this one to their liking. It is a nearly-overlooked gem of a story which will probably never get as big an audience as it deserves.
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Character designs, relationships, and development, musical score, Joan of Arc play.
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