Reviewby Theron Martin, May 24th 2006
SaiKano: Another Love Song
Before Chise became an ultimate weapon, maimed Captain Mizuki was a dedicated soldier who sought only to return to the battlefield to defend her country, so she volunteered for an experimental program which turned her into a cyborg weapon. When it became clear that Mizuki had reached the limited of her development, though, ordinary high school senior Chise was drafted and transformed into something even greater, though also far more psychologically fragile. Because Mizuki's nature allows her to hear Chise's thoughts, she knows what the commanders do not: the true toll that being a weapon has on Chise. This is her and Chise's story, a side of events apart from Chise's relationship with Shuji and Tetsu.
The SaiKano TV series ranks among anime's greatest in both tragedies and love stories, due in no small part to a narrow focus which kept its storytelling remarkably tight. That same narrow focus and limited use of perspectives left some gaps in the story, though, and it is into those gaps that the events of these two OVA episodes fit. They offer up a bit more background on what Chise is and how she became that way while also detailing some events which happened off-screen in the TV series. They also provide alternative views of some scene which did happen in the series, such as the Sapporo air raid.
But contrary to the blurb on the back of the DVD case, the story here isn't focused exclusively – or even primarily – on Chise. The true main protagonist is actually Mizuki, whose status as the prototype for Chise allows her to hear Chise's thoughts. It is through her involuntary eavesdropping that viewers get more of Chise's perspective than ever came out in the Shuji-focused series. Moreso than in the original, the psychological impact of Chise functioning as a weapon becomes clear here, and it can be heartbreaking to hear Chise despair about being “evil” or a “monster” because of what she has to do. It's also hard not to feel for Mizuki, who dearly wants to fight but sees herself being rendered obsolete both by Chise's power and the limitations of her own transformation. Though disdainful at first of relying on a girl whose heart isn't in the fighting, Mizuki's special insight into Chise's feelings softens her stance towards the girl who, in most other tellings of a story of this type, would have been her bitter rival, making her a more likeable and sympathetic character than she would normally be in this role.
The writing of the original series was amongst the best of recent years, and at times the OVAs do achieve that same level of quality. The storytelling excels most when dealing with Chise's feelings and Mizuki's reactions to them, and when delving into the stark contrast between the two; Mizuki volunteered for what was done to her, Chise didn't, which creates a great gulf in their motivations. It works less well otherwise, as the cost of the broadening the scope of events depicted has been the sacrifice of the intimacy which made the original so powerful. SaiKano was always a story focused on feelings and relationships rather than action, with Chise's destructive potential being more of a tragic device than an exciting one, yet the action content is ramped up in this one, which ultimately causes the action to serve more as a distraction than a complement or highlight. The story does offer appearances by Tetsu, Kawahara, and several minor supporting military characters from the original, and is still better than average in its progression, but those expecting a story as sharp, frank, or poignant as the original will be disappointed.
The artistry remains faithful to the original series in both style and quality, albeit with slightly higher production values. This isn't necessarily a Good Thing, since it results in more unattractive new character designs, but backgrounds are good, there's some nice use of color to be seen in sunsets, and the action scenes come off well. Unlike the original, the OVAs do feature some nudity (including Chise), but they don't go out of their way to show it and the handful of scenes with such content in them are tastefully drawn. Animation quality is respectable enough to support the action scenes but nothing remarkable. The musical score falls into the same category, with some themes borrowed from the original mixed with new ones to create a sound that is decidedly less effective at setting the tone than the original. The closing song "Mayonaka no Niji" by Akira Asakura, while a good number on its own, is also not in the same league as the beautiful original closer by Yuria Yato.
Voice One, which did the English dub work for Viz Media on the original series, is back again for the OVA. All of the original cast members whose characters reappear here have been brought back, with Melissa Hutchinson once again giving a highlight performance as Chise that is every bit as impassioned as the original. The quaver she gives to Chise's normal speech may not work for all sub fans, but it certainly lends to the vulnerability of the character and her ability to transit between Normal Chise and Weapon Chise creates some chilling contrasts. (She was, in fact, my pick for the best English vocal performance of 2004, and her repeat performance here only confirms that.) The rest of the vocal performances aren't up to the same level, but none of them are bad and new characters have actors well-matched to their original voices and styles. Also notable is one section where soldiers are speaking in English, which isn't subtitled in the Japanese track but sounds like it was redubbed anyway for the English track (albeit with the same VAs, as near as I could tell.) The English script is fine, as it doesn't always stay tight but never strays far. The subtitling could use some further editing, though, as it contains grammatical and formatting errors.
Included with the OVA are several SaiKano illustrated postcards and a mini-poster featuring Chise and Mizuki, along with some nice cover art. On the DVD itself are a Japanese promo and an extensive sampling of production art.
The Saikano OAV episodes are hardly essential for full appreciation of the original title, but they are a nice complement to the TV series. They provide a fuller picture of what's going on offscreen in the original series and, to a lesser extent, why it's happening. The storytelling is not up to the high standard set by the original, but it's still worth watching and should be a high priority for dedicated SaiKano fans. Anyone new to the franchise is strongly recommended to watch the original series first, however, as this is not a stand-alone story.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : C
+ Added fan service, strong lead English vocal performance, better fleshes out the original story.
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