Reviewby Theron Martin, May 18th 2010
Brighter than the Dawning Blue
Some time ago, the Moon was colonized and eventually formed its own independent kingdom, called the Sphere Kingdom. Tensions between Earth and the Sphere Kingdom eventually led to the devastating and inconclusive Oedipus War, in the wake of which relations remained strained despite the efforts of Sphere Kingdom's Queen Sefiria to improve them. The Queen's daughter and heir, Princess Feena Fam Earthlight, looks to pick up where her deceased mother left off by conducting a homestay on Earth (with personal maid Mai in tow) to learn more about its people and thus build better relations with her kingdom. The family she stays with, that of the Earth President's Executive Secretary, includes the secretary's younger cousin Tatsuya, a teenaged boy who, unrealized by either of them at first, actually first met the princess when both were little kids. As Tatsuya helps Feena adjust and shows her the charm of an ordinary life, love naturally blossoms between the two. Practical, political, and even supernatural forces threaten to thwart their coupling, however, and the nobleman fiancé that Feena has tried in vain to reject also intrudes to fulfill his own ambitions and anti-Earth agenda. When a princess from the Moon and a commoner from Earth try to make their relationship work, the stakes can become quite high indeed.
A certain suspension of disbelief is typically expected for fully appreciating almost any anime title, but this fall 2006 TV series by studio Daume (best-known to American fans for producing Sorcerer Hunters, Please Teacher, and a slew of '90s and early 2000s OVAs which includes Le Portrait de Petite Cossette and the original El Hazard) requires greater latitude than most. That someone as important as Feena could do what's she doing, and in the situation in which she is doing it, without some kind of constant security presence is incomprehensible, as is her ability to do it without attracting hordes of media attention, as she hardly makes an effort to do the homestay incognito. The lack of security in some scenes on the Moon late in the series is also appalling; if you had the king, all of his top advisers, and the kingdom's most powerful nobleman all in one room (especially at a time when intruders are known to be on the premises), logic dictates that someone would be standing guard outside the door!
Like having streets improbably empty for action scenes, though, these are things which must be accepted for sake of convenience, as they simplify the animation and avoid unwanted complications. And Brighter than the Dawning Blue is certainly not without its own story-induced complications, either; in fact, it is those very same complications which give the series at least some separation from run-of-the-mill anime romantic comedies. Without them, this is a very generic tale indeed.
Even with them, much of the series – especially in its first half – wallows in story elements that are as derivative as an anime romance can get. Amongst its tried-and-worn-down aspects are a princess from an off-world political entity cohabitating (and falling in love with) a common Earth boy; said good-hearted boy showing said princess the joys of everyday activities like attending school, working a part-time job, and taking a trip to the beach; an unwanted fiancé who complicates matters; a female childhood friend for said boy; a girl who is an epically bad cook; and a male supporting character who, at least once per episode, gets smacked and sent flying for some kind of idiotic and/or irritating behavior. The series even has an episode where the male lead must quickly learn to fight for the sake of his love and uses the Brief but Fateful Childhood Meeting gimmick. In fact, at times the writing gets so mundane that disregarding the whole thing as one big cliché is a tempting prospect.
Not everything in the series is so ordinary, however. It avoids playing the Fan Service card sufficiently enough that the series carries only a TV-PG rating, the purpose and opponent in the aforementioned fight is different than a veteran anime fan would normally expect, and the female childhood friend, quite surprisingly, does not form the third corner of a love triangle; in fact, Natsuki only ever shows vague romantic feelings towards Tatsuya and gives up on them entirely to help him and Feena get together. That childhood meeting is also more profound than most; given the circumstances, few will question why it becomes part of the foundation for their later romance. The story also explores deeper than most the political ramifications of Tatsuya and Feena's relationship, though it moves things along with improbable (and likely physically impossible) speed towards the end. There is nothing wishy-washy about Tatsuya, either, and Feena does have at least a bit of a hard edge which occasionally shows through her otherwise-flawless Nice Girl demeanor. The presence of Wreathlit, and what she represents, is so far out of the norm that it seems almost incongruous for this type of series.
Most importantly, every time the series seems like it is going to get stuck in a rut, it collects itself enough to achieve a moment of heartfelt sincerity. This first happens at the end of episode 2, again in episode 7 when the central pair finally declares their love, and at a couple of points in the later episodes as the lovers try to overcome the obstacles in their path. The climax of the series is also satisfying, although the sheer audacity of the near-literal deus ex machina stunt it pulls may leave many viewers' jaws on the floor.
The series does also at least attempt to be funny, but the humor is as much “miss” as “hit.” Two of its four chief recurring gags – about Natsuki's brother's paddle-worthy idiocy and the paparazzi-like documentarian's ability to appear anywhere and get any shot – are not especially funny to begin with and get old very fast, although the latter is a little more tolerable because it does become a plot point at times. The third recurring gag, which involves why one character is nicknamed The Carbonizer (charred lettuce salad?!?), works much better in part because it is used more sparingly; it gets one feature episode but is otherwise only occasionally brought up. Likewise for the fourth recurring gag, which involves a certain rarely-seen character cast as a blatant parody of a well-established American movie hero. The one other gag which works especially well is the whole out-of-control business involving the bugs in one episode, especially how Feena and her security officer react to the “threat.” The good laughs do not come often enough for the series' comedy aspect to be a significant draw, however.
Neither do the visual aspects of the series distinguish it enough to attract viewers on their own merits alone, unless Feena's cleavage-emphasizing royal outfit is enough to catch your wandering eye. Mediocre animation backs the few true action scenes and the art quality is also very typical in both character renderings and backgrounds. The production does do a respectable job of making its younger female characters attractive without overly emphasizing their sex appeal or cuteness and also does a nice job of giving Feena clothing which complements her hair color and gives her a proper and respectable look without being garish, but the rendering quality and consistency leaves something to be desired. The waitress uniform Feena gets at one point provides an interesting color contrast while still highlighting her beauty. Spaceship designs in the early flashback battle scenes are bit corny, though, as they adapt too much from 20th century naval warships to be fully credible as space warships.
The musical score does better. Opener “Prelude – We Are Not alone –” sets a gentle, melodic tone which continues throughout the series and caps with the similarly toned “Crescent Love” at the end of each episode. These low-key numbers suit the material well, although they do get suitably dramatic and/or intense when needed.
Sentai Filmworks' production includes the typical clean opener and closer but also adds in a music video featuring a beautiful little melody keyed mostly to clips from the beach episode. Its subtitles have a couple of grammar-related issues but they are not pervasive. There is, of course, no English dub.
Despite its typical structure and many retread elements, BttDB does just enough differently – and has just enough strong scenes – to merit a marginal recommendation. For all the series' flaws, central characters Feena and Tatsuya do make a good and convincing central couple, and that can allow one to overlook a lot of other weaknesses in a series like this.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : B+
+ Convincing central couple, occasional good laugh or strong dramatic scene.
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