Reviewby Theron Martin, Feb 1st 2008
Oh My Goddess!
Novel - First End
Another peaceful morning dawns at Tarikihongan Temple, home to college student Keiichi and the three Goddesses of Time: his beloved Belldandy, her older sister Urd, and younger sister Skuld. The peace is soon shattered when a sudden upsurge of bugs in the Yggdrasil system that sustains the goddesses heralds a catastrophe of apocalyptic proportions. Left with tragedy on their hands and the imminent destruction of Heaven and Earth, the sisters do the only thing they can to save everything: execute a system restore point for Yggdrasil, resetting everything to a time back shortly before Keiichi first met Belldandy. Although the effort seems to be successful, only the trio of goddesses retain their memory of the original timeline, and gradually differences start to crop up between the new timeline and the old one. The goddesses strive to prevent the circumstances leading up to the previous calamity from happening, even as the universe seems intent on correcting itself and even if that means Belldandy must, this time, maintain some distance from Keiichi.
Never thought anyone else could adequately duplicate the charm and style of Kosuke Fujishima in his long-running Oh My Goddess! franchise? This novel will prove you wrong. After 34 volumes of manga (in Japan; only 28 have been released in the U.S. as of this writing), more than 100 episodes of animation spread over three TV and one OVA series, and one feature movie, First End marks the first novel entry into the franchise, and it isn't even written by Fujishima, who only did the cover art and approved the project. Fear not, AMG/OMG faithful, for this wholly original novel has been crafted and executed by two individuals who are as intimately familiar with Fujishima's creation as any save Fujishima himself. Hidenori Matubara, the Character Designer and Animation Director for the movie and two recent TV series, did the interior illustrations and Yumi Tohma, the seiyuu who has voiced every animated incarnation of Urd in the Japanese dubs, did the writing. She may not be the most skilled of writers (this is her first novel, after all), but her long-time association with the franchise shows in the way she has faithfully reproduced Fujishima's universe and characters.
Indeed, the technical aspects of the writing may be the biggest weakness of this production. The lack of refinement in Ms. Tohma's writing is especially evident early on, and while the quality does improve over the course of the novel, certain niggling idiosyncrasies persist; being reminded about the hair and eyes color of various characters becomes irksome after needlessly repeating such details for the 20th or 30th time, and certain turns of phrase sound too colloquial for use in professional writing. (The latter could partly be a translation phenomenon, however, since this same issue has come up in other translated Japanese novels.) The brief paragraphs and minimal use of more advanced vocabulary makes the reading level accessible at a pre-teen level while also allowing it to progress along at a brisk pace, giving it the feel of the “lite novels” popularly used as source material for anime series over the past few years, though the page count clocks in at a much meatier 362 pages of actual story.
Whatever the novel's technical faults may be, the writing more than compensates for them in characterizations and storytelling. Whether Belldandy or Keiichi, Urd or Skuld, Megumi or Sayoko, Tamiya or Otaki, Peorth or Chihiro or Hild, these are the same characters with the same attitudes and behaviors fans grew to love in the manga and anime. Sure, it hardly requires too much effort, as none of the AMG/OMG mainstays were ever especially complex or nuanced, but each character in his or her turn captures every bit of the spirit they show in the manga.
The story itself may initially remind viewers of earlier OMG content, but Ms. Tohma quickly rolls out some stunning plot twists (most notably what triggers the catastrophe and why) certain to shake fans out of any storytelling doldrums they may have been lulled into over time. After an intense run-up to the seminal reset, the general course of events follows a path trod previously by sci-fi, anime, and comic stories from both sides of the Pacific as it plays out the alternate timeline. That does not detract from all the fun of getting to see key events in the OMG timeline play out in slightly different fashion, however, or following the way Belldandy's efforts to prevent the catastrophe from repeating itself affect her relationship with Keiichi. Ms. Tohma also fully retains the mechanical affections of Fujishima's writing and his penchant for casting the magic of the goddesses and their system in computer terms; the basic concept of a system restore point for reality has been used before but never interpreted in that manner.
Dark Horse, the long-time American publisher of the OMG manga, has picked up this offering through its book division. In the early going the editing allows through more typos than should be present in a professional novel publication, but those problems disappear by the midway point. Dark Horse presents the book in a physical size roughly equivalent to a double-thick manga volume, with a paperback cover featuring a rendition of Belldandy done by Fujishima. Three pages of Afterword by Ms. Tohma and Fujishima follow the main story, and a couple of pages of About the Creators blurbs follow that. Dark Horse fronts the work with two pages of character summaries, though Peorth's status as an employee of a rival help line service, as described in her blurb, never comes up in the novel; she functions entirely in the role of a system manager for Yggdrasil (i.e. her role in the movie).
Based on the events and characters referenced throughout the story, the novel takes place at some point after volume 27 of the manga. Although it elaborates enough on the “who” and “what” of the OMG universe that newcomers should not be totally lost, it is a work clearly created for long-established fans of the franchise rather than newbies. Fans should find the last 50 pages both heartfelt and a little unsettling, and will doubtless be left hoping that First End is also not the last.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B+
+ Faithfully reproduces the creator's universe and characters, tells a solid story.
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