Mike wonders aloud which anime would be a good fit for the prestigious Criterion Collection.
Reviewby Christopher Macdonald
Spirit of Wonder
DVD - Miss China's Ring
Sometime during the late 19th century, a young Asian girl has made a place for herself in a seaside town as the owner and operator of the Tenkai restaurant and boarding house. Yet "Miss China," as the locals call her, is in the dumps. She's got a Mad Scientist named Breckenridge living upstairs who is chronically late with the rent, and she's pining for Jim, a handsome watchmaker's apprentice whom she mistakenly believes is pursuing the local flower girl. But this isn't our world. It is a world that has the Spirit of Wonder, where every so often, just occasionally mind you, amazing things happen. The Mad Scientist actually has come up with an incredible invention, and Jim has an unbelievable plan to use it to give Miss China the most beautiful ring in the entire World.
Spirit of Wonder is one of those titles that defy categorization. While it contains elements of science fiction, romance, comedy it really isn't any of these, nor is it a mixture of the three. Spirit or Wonder, quite simply, is unique, and very weird; but also very fun.
It's one of those wonderful stories that just about everyone should find touching in some way or another. But of course, there are those, such as my fiancé, who will find it boring. The story is very short and progresses in a simple manner, there are no plot twists, no mysteries and certainly no insurmountable feats for the characters to accomplish. They do manage to do some pretty amazing things, but they are not challenged in any way performing these feats.
Despite being almost entirely devoid of any heavy psychological or cerebral content, Spirit of Wonder does have a few scenes that are touching enough that you might feel a small urge to cry. However, other than these brief romantically involved scenes, Spirit of Wonder remains a very lighthearted film that does not require any engaged level of concentration from the viewer. A perfect movie to watch with your significant other or your entire family when you aren't in the mood for anything heavy.
Spirit of Wonder is based on the Manga works of Tsuruta Kenji, originally published in Kodansha's "Comic Afternoon" and available in English from Dark Horse and Studio Proteus. While several volumes of the Manga exist, only one has been animated, and seeing how it was animated back in 1992, it seems unlikely that any more of the series is to be animated.
Although the dubbed script was very true to the original, deviating only in a few unimportant instances, it simply isn't the same quality as the original Japanese track. While Coastal Carolina Studios has done some excellent dubs in the past, overall their work on Spirit of Wonder is somewhat disappointing. Despite there being no individual faults with the performances of any of the actors, the over all feeling of the dub comes across as a cartoon made for children. So unless you want to feel like you are watching a children's cartoon, the original Japanese track with subtitles is the way to go for this title.
The original character designs and artwork of Tsuruta Kenji are very nice, and are nicely complimented by good animation. Throughout the video the animation remains fluid at all times and almost never resorts to "lazy animation" techniques. The coloring however could have been better; more use of vibrant, bright colors could have made this a much more visually pleasing and memorable film. AnimEigo did an excellent job with the digital transfer, and there are very few examples of pixelation or artifacting; there are however several instances of very short artifacting, all of which appear immediately after the start of a new chapter, and are only visible in slow motion, freeze frame or when forwarding from one chapter to another.
The DVD itself has to be one of the nicest discs I have ever seen. No flashy colors, just a shiny picture of Miss China "engraved" into a matt background on the cover of the DVD, a bit like a glass sculpture. The DVD insert was not typical fare either, at first glance it's really very boring, just some black text on a white piece of cardboard. Hey! Where's the flashy picture that would make a great poster if it was 18 times bigger? Upon further inspection however, this boring piece of cardboard is worth much more that those useless mini-posters included in every other Anime. The insert contains production info about "The Spirit of Wonder", translation notes and the English lyrics to the ending theme.
As far as extras are concerned, this DVD doesn't contain any except for trailers for other AnimEigo titles; a lot of trailers. Unfortunately, the trailers are all part of the same chapter and therefore must be watched sequentially, no random access here.
One thing about this DVD that I really enjoyed was AnimEigo's use of alternate angles to provide the original opening and endings without the English credits and text.
All in all, Spirit of Wonder is a great video for any one who is looking for a nice, short, heartwarming story devoid of any heavy material. On the other hand, anyone looking for a movie with strong, complicated plot, or overwhelming emotions, will probably be disappointed by Spirit of Wonder. Short, simple, funny, cute, romantic and quirky.
Overall : B
+ Very original, light hearted and amusing
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