Reviewby Theron Martin, Sep 15th 2009
Destiny of the Shrine Maiden
DVD - Complete Collection
Chikane Himemiya is perfection in teen girl form: rich, a rare beauty, good in school and athletics, and kind, she is the object of adoration and desire to fellow male and female students alike. If she is the princess of Ototachibana Academy, then dashing, athletic Souma Ohgami is her princely male counterpart. Everyone regards them as an ideal match, but they have a different secret in common: they are both obsessively in love with Himeko, a much put-upon comparative Plain Jane who has nonetheless unwittingly won both of their hearts with her fragile, innocent radiance. All three soon discover that they are also irresistibly bound by overlapping destinies, as Chikane and Himeko are, respectively, the reincarnated Lunar and Solar Priestesses, who are charged with reviving the god Ame no Morakumo so that he can combat the Orochi, the embodiments of the eight heads of the legendary dragon Yamata no Orochi, who seek to destroy the world – and Souma happens to be one of them. Resisting his destructive compulsion, Souma vows to protect Himeko instead by waging mecha battles against the other Orochi. Obsessions and jealousies have a bad habit of getting out of hand, however, and destinies have a bad habit of interfering with their carriers' love lives. Bringing the two together can be apocalyptic.
The late 2004 TV series known in Japan as Kannazuki no Miko was originally licensed and released under that title by Geneon in 2006 (single DVDs) and 2007 (boxed set). In mid-2009 Sentai Filmworks did a “license rescue” on it and is now rereleasing it as a double-disk complete series set under the name that was its original subtitle: Destiny of the Shrine Maiden. (And no, that is not a literal English translation of the title, which would be more along the lines of “October Shrine Maidens” – an option which decidedly lacks punch by comparison.) Presumably the name change was done because Sentai felt it would be more marketable with an understandable English name, but whatever the reason, anime fans now have a new and very economical chance to enjoy one of the all-time great yuri anime series.
And yes, that is an exaggeration. Destiny certainly has its strong points, and does eventually turn into a better series than it initially looks like it will be, but it also suffers from Be Everything To Everyone Syndrome and has other niggling problems which get in the way of it achieving greatness.
The first and biggest of those problems becomes evident quickly. Although the story initially seems to be setting itself up as a fairly serious romance laced with fan service and mysticism, by the end of the first episode the mecha have started to appear and engage each other in battle, taking on the roles normally played out by people or monsters in other anime versions of the tale involving Yamata no Orochi. Their presence is jarringly incongruous, especially once the weirder-looking ones show up, and the pilots/Orochi behind them represent a blatant cross-section of otaku fan faves, including a nurse catgirl, a manga artist, an idol singer, a sexy lady, a bishonen guy, and a tough guy. The bits focusing on them, and the succession of mecha battles with Souma which typically result, are the low points of the series for most who are not mecha junkies, although in the late stages the series does reveal that each of the Orochi have specific – and in some cases very well-justified – reasons for hating the world and thus succumbing to a nihilistic bent. (The nurse catgirl's in particular is heartbreaking, and in retrospect she dropped clues about it early on.) Still, except for the bishonen guy, at least the series does not kill multiple episodes delving into the backgrounds of each one.
The series works much better in its relationship development bits, so it is sad that the story did not have the courage to rely just on that. Stories about obsessive love are too often played for comedy in anime, but here Chikane's feelings towards Himeko not only are dealt with seriously but also get the focus treatment. They and Souma form an atypical love triangle, one where members of both genders are fixated on the third party and where one is not aware that the other is competition for him. Chikane's progression as she tries to deal with loving Himeko as more than just a friend, the slowly evolving relationship of Souma and Himeko, and the catty jealousy that Himeko inspired from other girls are all handled well. The writing also provides enough evidence to support why Himeko might have such an inferiority complex and why she struggles so much to reconcile her feelings for both potential love interests. The only disappointment in this aspect of the show, in fact, is the way the final episode stretches a key death scene in order to allow characters to spill their guts (figuratively, while one is basically doing it literally), although a plot twist involving the motivation of one character that is revealed during that span may seem to cheapen some earlier developments.
Other more minor problems lie in the series' logical consistency. In the early going the priestesses seem so immensely vulnerable to the Orochi that one has to wonder how they were expected to survive at all to fulfill their purpose without an improbable person stepping forward as their protector. That no one at school noticed Souma and Himeko dating or being just as close as Himeko and Chikane, or at least did not make a stink about it, also seems improbable. Let's not even get started with the whole “Japanese shrine on the moon” business and how it has gone unnoticed, either.
TNK, whose most prominent American-released effort besides this one is probably UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie, did the thoroughly lackluster primary production work on this one. Most of the animation budget seems to have been focused on the flashy mecha scenes, as elsewhere animation shortcuts abound; even in those more thoroughly animated sequences, the effort fails to impress. Character designs are a little too angular and only really impress in some of the costuming choices and in parts of the opener, while backgrounds limp along and mecha designs offer nothing special. The one artistic selling point is the plentiful (albeit nipple-free) fan service, as the series offers numerous opportunities to see one or both lead female characters in various states of undress and even Himeko, despite the maid Otoha's snippy comments, has plenty enough to show off.
The musical score is stronger; in fact, it may be the best thing the series has going for it. The energetic, heavily-synthesized opener is catchy in its own way, while the regular score blends symphonic sounds with classical Japanese instrumentation to produce a moody score highly effective at promoting the darker tones and serious themes of the series, especially in its latter half. Destiny is better than most series at using its score to gracefully segue into its intense, dance beat-paced closer, which like the opener is written and sung by KOTOKO.
Bang Zoom's English dub sufficiently does the job but no more than that. Jennifer Sekiguchi (aka Stephanie Sheh, who also contributed on the English script) uses basically the same voice for Himeko that she does for Bleach's Orihime, Eureka 7's Eureka, and Naruto's Hinata, but she was clearly cast because that kind of voice fits the role. Michelle Ruff is a less comfortable fit, and less smooth performance, as Chikane, and the caliber of the other casting decisions and performances vary widely. The dub does improve a bit as the series progresses but is always impeded a bit by oft-stilted dialog; this may be a fairly faithful English script but it is not one of the smoother ones.
Extras split between the two disks include clean opener and closer, an art gallery, and the original Japanese promo for the series. Both disks are stored on separate sides of a slightly thicker-than-normal DVD case.
The naming conventions used in the series also deserve some mention. Given that the Otochi reappear here, the name of the academy the students attend seems suspiciously coincidental, and the creators were not subtle on the names for the heroines; both have “hime” (i.e. princess) as a component in either their given or family name. Those are just extra color on a series which otherwise heavily relies on fan service and mecha content to draw viewers in but may compel quickly-jaded viewers to stick around because of its potent relationship dynamics. While the series has too many flaws to be considered a quality work, it does overcome a shaky start well enough to avoid being as bad or trashy as its first impression may lead one to believe.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : C
Art : B-
Music : B+
+ Character relationship development, musical score.
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