Reviewby Theron Martin, Apr 24th 2006
DVD 2: Kyoko/Suomi
Two more stories of struggle and heartbreak unfold, each focusing on a young woman from Hokkaido. In the third tale, set in Sapporo, aspiring collegiate filmmaker Kyoko has become obsessed with bettering her previous effort after winning an Honorable Mention award at a film contest the previous year. The rest of her film club does not share her level of devotion and perfectionism, however, and there's only so far that even her very supportive boyfriend will go. As a rift forms between her and her friends she begins to lose her perspective, the one thing most critical to any director who wishes to master the art of cinema.
In the fourth tale, Suomi Kitano was a world-class Finnish(!) figure skater before an accident caused by her best friend/top rival left her with a potentially career-ending injury and an uncertainty about the ice she once so loved. A day spent in Asahikawa with a boy on the outs with his best friend over a skating-related issue inspires her to give it another try, however, and see if she can realize the wish she once made on a childhood sighting of diamond dust.
Diamond Daydreams is a series unlikely to garner the attention it deserves in the States because it doesn't fit into any of the romance categories normally favored by American anime enthusiasts; it doesn't have fan service, comedy, (directly) tragic love, or a harem set-up, and while it looks like a josei title (i.e. a title aimed at young women), it contains no yaoi content. It instead just tells simple, low-key dramatic stories in two-episode arcs, with each arc featuring a different young woman. What it does do, though, it does exceptionally well.
Though based off a dating sim, DD avoids the foibles normally associated with such anime series by presenting accessible, believable characters that a viewer can easily relate to and/or empathize with. Because of that, each story arc is remarkably involving despite being only two episodes long. It's almost painful to watch as Kyoko's overzealous behavior, which is based on a flawed perception of what should be most important in her craft, alienates the people around her, and it's hard not to feel for her boyfriend, who really does try to reorient her. Naturally she has to fall before she finally realizes where she went wrong, but in this case it leads to a more melancholy ending than one might normally expect. Suomi's tale (and she's supposedly Finnish with such a Japanese-sounding name?) plots out as a typical story of a pro who has lost her edge and passion but restores it through experiences with a more innocent amateur, but such an ordinary summary does not do justice to how appealing the execution is. Suomi herself is adorable, and her heartbreak is less about a person than about a pastime to which she has devoted much of her life, a friendship strained by the event which brought about the heartbreak, and the value of a wish she once made as a child.
Although none of the particular story elements used here are original, the writing and construction of the subject matter flows so smoothly that a viewer can easily find himself near the end of an episode before he realizes it – and that's without any meaningful action to speed things along. Critical to the impact of the stories is the wistful musical score, which emphasizes gentle piano and recorder melodies mixed with traditional Japanese string instruments in setting the mood for each scene. The closing theme, which may remind some of the themes from SaiKano, fits quite well with the score, while the much peppier and cheerier opener feels incongruous so far.
Although DD appears at first glance to be an anthology series, there is some continuity between the episodes beyond the fact that the stories are all principally set in Hokkaido and in some way involve the meteorological phenomenon “diamond dust.” Atsuko, the heroine of the first story arc, makes a brief appearance in one episode in this volume, while Shoko, the heroine of the upcoming fifth arc, appears by voice in one episode of this volume and, upon looking back, in one episode of the first volume, too. Akari, the heroine of the final arc, also made a brief appearance as a supporting character in the first volume, and the Next Volume preview suggests that all six heroines come together in the final episode. Then there's this random guy named Jurota who pops up in a bit part in most episodes so far, wearing a T-shirt with a different message each time and inevitably playing the put-upon unfortunate. Catching all his appearances will probably require some effort, but it's an amusing gimmick.
Diamond Daydreams scores well on its artistry due in large part to the quality of its backgrounds (and their accuracy in representing actual Hokkaido sites) and scene selections. Its character renditions are sharp and pleasing, although female designs invariably favor cheeky faces with big eyes regardless of the character's age. At least a couple of shots in each episode provide a good pan over the central character's appropriately-proportioned figure, but that's as far as the fan service goes; this is PG-rated material all the way. The animation is not on the same level, as it depends heavily on still shots and minimal movements. This usually isn't a problem, since there's little real action here, but the animation's inadequacy does clearly show in the skating sequences in Suomi's story arc.
Purists will probably have a problem with the English script's lack of faithfulness to the original, although the essential meaning of scenes is usually maintained and outright changes are limited to minor details and the Next Episode previews, which in the original Japanese usually had little or nothing to do with the next episode anyway. The dub script flows quite naturally, though, and ultimately enhances the story rather than being a detriment. The same can be said of the English dub, which primarily uses well-established ADV talent and does a very good job of matching VAs to their roles. Performances are equally good, with nothing sounding forced or awkward. Unless you'd get really hung up over the lack of purity in the scripting, this is a dub which well-deserves a try.
The highlight “extra” of this volume is its fourth episode, a bonus episode which continues Suomi's story but was never aired in the series' original TV broadcast and thus is not part of the normal episode numbering. Tagged on to the end of that episode are a handful of undubbed “bloopers” which actually use new artwork and animation. Other extras are plentiful, including typical ones like clean opener and closer, company previews, a preview of the bonus episode, a preview of the next volume, and an interview with the director. Less typical are “DDD Time” (a pair of radio show clips featuring the seiyuu for the lead characters reading and answering series fan mail) and part 2 of “Panda's DVD Diary,” which in this volume is a collection of letters addressed to the main characters from Panda, a woman who is allegedly a PR rep for the series who for some reason only appears in publicity promos in a panda suit. The most useful and interesting true extra is part 2 of the Hokkaido Travelogue, which highlights each of the principal cities used in this volume, although photos of some of the sites used in each arc can also be seen in the eyecatches for the appropriate episodes.
Diamond Daydreams has been referred to as a “quiet, dignified drama,” which is an apt description for how the four episodes in this volume play out. It doesn't forge any new ground and isn't outstandingly creative in the stories it tells, but it doesn't need to be to deliver a quality product. If you're looking for a friendly and affecting series to serve as a counterpoint to all the flashiness, wildness, and intensity of other anime series out there then you could do far worse than to check out this one. Having seen the first volume is not even required!
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : C+
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Quality writing and pacing, appropriate musical scoring, great backgrounds.
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