Reviewby Casey Brienza, Dec 23rd 2008
DVD - The Complete Series Box Set
Humanity has taken to space and settled the Balkan star system, approximately 150 light years away from Earth. Twin brothers Thor and Rai were born and raised on the space colony Juno and live a privileged life as the children of Prime Minster Odin's right hand man. But then one day their parents are mysteriously murdered, and the two boys find themselves left to fend for themselves on Chimaera, a savage planet not on any map where criminals are left to live or die…or be killed by the monstrous plant life. Four warring groups divided by the color of their skin called “Rings” compete to see their leader, known as the “Top,” become the Beast King, the ruler of all Chimaera and the only person authorized to leave the planet.
The Jyu-Oh-Sei (a.k.a. “Planet of the Beast King”) animated television series is based upon a shoujo manga by Natsumi Itsuki (Oz, Yakumo Tatsu) of the same name. Itsuki, in the tradition of such famed women writers as Ursula K. Le Guin (Tales of Earthsea) in the West and Moto Hagio (They Were 11!) in the East, writes in a distinctive genre known as either “feminist-” or “social-science fiction.” How is this genre distinguished? Easy. In contrast to so-called “hard science fiction,” it is a bit short on the scientific accuracy but compensates by being long on the novel societal arrangements, which may or may not strike audiences as particularly believable.
And needless to say, these two characteristics sum up Jyu-Oh-Sei to a tee. The hard science, such as it is, of this science fiction series strains believability, particularly the genetic engineering. The plant life on Chimaera, likewise, strikes this reviewer as a bit too conveniently Miyazaki-like in its participation in the final denouement (or, to be even more unflattering, appallingly like Origin: Spirits of the Past). Some of the social science raises eyebrows sky high as well. For some reason, a shortage of women on a planet of violent criminals does not strike one as an environment in which women will be socially elevated and treated with utmost respect. It seems more wishful thinking on Itsuki's part than well-thought out world-building. On the other hand, the division of the four “Rings” according to skin color represents waaaaay more multiracial inclusion than the bulk of Japanese pop culture…even if the Blanc Ring (a.k.a. white folks) are the closest to Chimaera's local villains and the Night Ring (a.k.a. black folks) appear only as convenient cannon fodder. But let's face it; given the low intellectual standard set by most anime these days, this one is pretty darn impressive.
Nevertheless, Jyu-Oh-Sei proves to be a pleasant series that, unlike some science fiction that will not be named, does not require too much brain power to follow. And at only eleven episodes total, it boasts a tight enough narrative arc to keep even the most easily-distracted mind from wandering too far astray. The plot can be roughly divided into a three-act structure: The first part shows Thor and Rai as children. Rai gets killed off quickly, leaving Thor to swear revenge against Prime Minister Odin and exceed everybody's extremely low expectations by doing a bunch of impossible things and, ultimately, emerging victorious against the Ochre Ring's Top. This makes Thor the Ochre Ring's top, and along with wannabe wife and Second (in command) Tiz and the mysterious hunk known only by his title, Third, the action then skips several years ahead to a time when Thor is making life on Chimaera better for his people. Until they are threatened by the Blanc Ring, that is, and Thor is eventually forced into battle with the Blanc Ring's Top. (Thor ain't bloodthirsty; they fight over a woman who is not Tiz.) Needless to say, Thor again emerges victorious and becomes the Beast King in spite of himself. In the third and final act, Thor and his entourage head into outer space—and learn some ugly truths about the real deal behind everything that's gone on thus far.
This is an attractive-looking anime, with decent animation and soundtrack quality for a television series. Neither the Japanese nor the English dubs are especially noteworthy, but they too are solid all around. Music—including the forgettable opening and ending vocal themes—is pretty classic-sounding but otherwise unremarkable. Visual highlights include the lush world of Chimaera and the exceedingly handsome character designs. Of course, since it was based on a shoujo manga, the male characters are all gorgeous bishounen, but the creators are gracious to their crossover male audience as well with several female characters—especially Tiz—sporting cup sizes that could only happen naturally on some other planet. Character personalities are a mixed bag; those nostalgic for Hokuto of CLAMP's Tokyo Babylon will love Tiz, but Karim, the gal all the guys seems to want to “make babies” with is a doormat. Yaoi fans will adore Third, and his final moments with Thor are sure to live on in fanfiction history.
The two disc box set from FUNimation features the usual underwhelming selection of bonuses: Staff commentary, original commercials, and textless opening and ending songs. None of these are going to come even close to making or breaking a sale, but some of the double-sided jacket art should have bishounen aficionados drooling puddles deep enough to drown in. Suffice it to say that if you are on the market for a double dose of eye candy dressed up in a reasonably smart, interesting package, you have come to exactly the right place.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B+
Art : A
Music : B
+ A double dose of eye candy in a reasonably smart, interesting package that doesn't take too long to finish.
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