Reviewby Theron Martin, Aug 26th 2008
Sub.DVD 5 - Song of Prayer
While Neviril, Aer, and Yun try to absorb the shocking truth Onasia has revealed to them at The Ruins, the combined forces of the Highlands and Shoukoku continue their assault on Simulacrum airships by attacking the Arcus Prima. Realizing their perilous position, Simulacrum agrees to a disadvantageous cease fire, one that puts former enemy troops on the Arcus Prima and forces Chor Tempest to permanently disband. With all of the sybillae required to go to the Spring as soon as possible, each of the girls is left to quickly make the choice of a lifetime. Which future will each girl choose? And with whom will Neviril's heart ultimately lie?
It is not unusual for a longer (24+ episode) anime series to reach its climax in the next-to-last episode and then spend the entire final one in denouement as it wraps up loose ends. The true action in Simoun comes to an end in episode 22, however, leaving four episodes remaining that contain only one comparatively minor true action scene. Can a series truly have so much left to resolve that it needs that much time to do it?
Yet that is exactly the case here. Although action and story advancement have always been major components in the series, they have also always stood secondary to the characters and concepts present in the series, and in the final four episodes those two elements take over completely. How each of the sybillae will choose on her permanent gender, and why, remains to be resolved in every case, and in most cases the choice each will make is not clear even by the wonderful scene in which most of them walk into the Spring together. There will be some surprises here, and one of the most delightful moments in the series is the sequence of scenes at the end which shows what most of the sybillae look like several years later. The changes in some cases are startling.
Equally important are the relationship issues which still linger. The Neviril-Aer-Parietta love triangle finally sorts itself out, and the ultimate result should surprise no one who has been paying attention so far. Even so, its resolution, and how it comes about, proves immensely satisfying. These were not casual choices being made here, and the writing does its job on making the characters work for it. The tension between sisters Alty and Kaim also gets settled, and Yun finally decides, for better or worse, where her fate lies. The relationship that has been developing between the mechanic Waporif (who is definitively shown here to be a man, which makes certain scenes earlier in the series make a whole lot more sense) and Morinas gets a good amount of attention, and the way in which the words carefully chosen by Waporif have a distinct impact on Morinas's choices (a point specifically brought up in the staff commentary) can be fascinating to watch. An older Dominura and Rimone also make a return appearance. The relationship developments aren't limited just to the sybillae; Guragief and Anubituf, the two bishonen guys in charge of the Arcus Prima and the sybillae, get more time to show off their relationship here than at any other point in the series. Even Onasia gets involved, as she reveals the tragic truth which led her to the position she now has. It is a truth that, once revealed in episode 23, resonates strongly through the last three episodes given what else happens.
Moreso than with most anime series, the concepts which lie at the heart of Simoun drive it, and that remains true through to the end. Religion continues to play a critical role, with the focus in this volume being the meaning and comfort that prayer, blessings, and especially the granting of absolution can hold for both giver and recipient regardless of whether any palpable power exists to back it up. Gender issues linger in the reexamination of what can motivate a person who has a choice to choose one gender over the other, an issue which the series expands upon by introducing the concept of an “eternal maiden” as a person who avoids ever making such a choice. It is a concept rife with both positive and negative symbolism; whether it represents a statement, an ideal, or a flight from reality – or all three – depends entirely on viewpoint. Connected to it is the series' most subtle yet pervasive underlying theme: the process of growth into adulthood, which the series shows mechanically through the gender-decision issue and metaphorically in the decreasingly immature behavior of the sybillae as they approach that crucial transition. As in the real world, refusing to truly become an adult, and take on adult responsibilities, can have strong consequences.
The final volume has more than just quality writing going for it. Pretty character designs have always been a strength, and the series proves it once again with the aged and gender-changed looks of the former sybillae at the end. (Rimone, in particular, fills out quite nicely.) The CG artistry and animation also continue to shine, although other animation is a bit rougher and non-CG backgrounds are often found lacking by comparison. A musical score that has always been strong but a little too eclectic settles completely into a more soulful mood designed to promote the elegance of the overall feel and the poignancy of numerous key scenes, a task at which it succeeds beautifully; the final episodes would not have the impact they do without this superior effort. The opener and closer, which remain constant through to the end, fit perfectly into this scheme.
Like previous volumes, this one has no dub, but the Japanese cast turns in a fine effort despite having to stretch greatly for the deeper male roles. Most notable is the interesting way the voices of certain characters change in the “years later” scenes to accommodate the gender decisions they made. Instead of translating any of the dialogue of the Highlands and Shokoku soldiers, the subtitles always merely label their speech as “Foreign,” an approach that can be confusing at first and seems awkward in general. It also sounds at times as if the foreign speech may actually be Japanese played backwards.
The final volume offers the same format for Extras that all previous volumes have: clean opener and closer, a dippy “ADR Bulletin” segment which this time fittingly features the seiyuu for Morinas and Waporif, and a Staff Commentary set to clips from throughout the series. As with all previous volumes, its dubless release merits a lower-than-normal price point.
The way Simoun ends may not satisfy some viewers. The circumstances which bring about the events of the final four episodes leave behind a bitter taste, the ultimate fates of two of the sybillae are unclear, and the fate of a third, despite the noble effort which brings it about, seems terribly sad. The series also never fully fleshes out the setting and history as much as one might hope. Series with a conceptual focus rarely offer a clear, complete, and closed ending, however, and the beautiful, elegant, and involving way in which this series concludes, combined with the heartwarming resolutions of certain sybillaes' stories, should be more than enough to satisfy most. This may have started out as a yuri sci fi series, but by the end its yuri component no longer registers; it is simply a wonderful sci fi series, and that's all that truly matters.
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : A
+ Beautiful, elegant, and sometimes moving resolution of major story elements, wonderfully effective soundtrack.
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