Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
In the 20th century an unspeakably bloody war was fought between humans and monsters, with the monsters winning. As the 21st century progresses, things have settled down and humanity has begun to forget what happened, though the monsters (and their human sympathizers, the Monster Union) still remain in charge. In fact, life in general is pretty good for humans except for the occasional child sacrifice to the monsters. The Warriors of Melos, who became legendary for fighting the monsters but are now pretty much regarded as myth, are in fact still around, using intelligent bike/weapons called Aibars to battle the monsters. All warriors seek the true location of Melody of Oblivion, the astral image of a girl that only they can see. It is said that if the physical form of Melody of Oblivion can be found, humanity will have a chance to take the world back from the monsters.
Unlike most of his fellow students, Bocca has taken a keen interest in warriors and what has happened before. A fateful encounter one night brings him into contact both with a real warrior and with Sayoko, a pickpocket who seeks out the warrior. A further fateful encounter with a monster causes him to see Melody of Oblivion himself for the first time, which empowers him as a Warrior of Melos. Together with Sayoko he sets out on a quest to find Melody.
What does it say about a series when it strongest point, by far, is its musical score? Such is the case, though, with the first volume of Melody of Oblivion, a supernatural action/drama series which starts with a shaky foundation and quickly gets really weird. This volume does earn style points for its freaky background artistry (more on this later) and the inventive abilities of its monsters, but loses any respect it might build early on through choppy editing, poor use of transitions, and heavy use of cheesecake shots. It also doesn't help that nearly all of the supporting characters introduced so far are more interesting than the lead.
The first two episodes of this four-episode volume comprise the series set-up, where Bocca's eyes are opened to what's really going on in the world and he becomes indoctrinated into the ways of the warrior. The second two episodes are the first two parts of a story arc concerning the dark side of what's going on in a resort town whose tourism is based on them being perpetually under the Twilight Sun (which means that daylight never comes). Some of this doesn't make much sense at all, although the aforementioned choppy editing is at least partly to blame; the series has a bad habit of abruptly cutting between scenes, which hampers a viewer's ability to piece together a logical progression. (That may, in fact, be the point, but I hope not.) Not until episode four, when the story delves into the past and motivations of a key supporting character, does any real sign of depth show up, but once again jarringly abrupt scene cuts interfere with the story's attempts to improve itself. This is a shame, since it looks like the story development might be going in a positive direction at that point.
One of the coolest aspects of the series is the monsters—and yes, they are actually called “monsters” in the original Japanese, too, so this isn't a case of the subtitles/dub muddling with Japanese notions on supernatural creatures. Though they look human, they most definitely are not, and a human who sees their true nature suffers a calamitous fate. They seem to empower themselves through consuming the essence of children and have mystical abilities which vary from monster to monster; the first one encountered can turn a bus into a bull-like creature used to run down opponents, for instance. Against that, the ability of a Warriors of Melos to shoot energy arrows empowered by symbols on their forearms isn't half as impressive, although the one shown so far seems to be able to hold his own in a fight. Their Aibars also have failed to impress so far, although it's entirely possible that we just haven't yet seen the full extent of what they can do. Bocca, the chief protagonist, is himself dull and uninteresting, as is the other warrior who has appeared so far. Sayoko, who has chains attached to her wrists which can sense the presence and direction of the other warrior (no explanation yet on how she got them, though), is a bit better-developed and actually has a personality. Two other girls are shown in the opener but don't appear in this volume.
The artistry for this volume of Melody, while it has a certain amount of style, is not a strong point. Many of the character designs, especially for those who appear in the first two episodes, are not especially smooth or well-defined, though this gets better as the volume progresses. The blue-haired, red-eyed Bocca fails to impress visually as well as in characterization, and designs for female characters favor incredulously busty figures. The series gives the viewer every opportunity to get an eyeful of its female characters' breasts and figures, too, although nowhere in this volume is there any actual frontal nudity. Background artistry is, well, weird. Backgrounds in the first episode look like crude colored pencil sketches, although they gradually get better as the volume progresses. Shadows are often done in streaky red instead of black, giving the artistry a stylish, edgy feel, though this is not necessarily an improvement. The look is vaguely reminiscent of some visual effects used in Serial Experiment Lain, but it is not as effectively executed here. The artists seem particularly fond of using red as a highlight throughout, as evidenced by a red wall used as a framing device at one point and the red backwash that a light from a lighthouse gives some scenes in episode four. Some viewers may find this effect very creative; other will just find it annoying. The supporting animation isn't any better than the artistry, as it uses stock footage and typical anime battle-scene shortcuts. The producers also borrowed the classic Neon Genesis Evangelion trick of simplifying animation by having a substantial amount of the dialogue go on when the characters' mouths aren't visible.
The musical score for Melody is its strongest selling point. The opener mixes violin in with synthesized rock to create a respectable opening number, and flowing melodies characterize much of the episode content. The music doesn't always synch up the best with the action on the screen (in fact, it is sometimes a little overbearing), but it sure sounds nice. The closer is a pleasant light rock number which would surely have a place on an adult contemporary music channel.
Most of the time the English script is dead-on, often following the subtitles word-for-word. This is, of course, facilitated greatly by the frequency of scenes where one only hears, but does not see, a character speaking, but it is still one of the most impressive efforts on faithfully following the original Japanese script that I have seen to date. Most of the roles are well-cast, with the significant exception of Bocca, who sounds much more boyish in Japanese than he does in English. Performances generally do a good job of mimicking the style of the originals and are well-timed.
Extras for this volume are very limited, with only company previews and a textless opener being present. On the plus side, the credits list each role with both the seiyuu and the English performer at the same time. The case includes a reversible cover and an insert containing an additional cheesecake picture of Sayoko.
I have been told that Melody of Oblivion gets much better in the later going. I hope so, because based solely on this volume I cannot recommend the series. It does show signs of improving beginning with episode 4, but the series still needs to resolve its problem of choppy editing and abrupt cut scenes. It also needs to do something to make its main character more interesting. If it does eventually do these things then it has the potential to become a respectable series, but it isn't at this point.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : C
Art : C
Music : B+
+ Musical scoring, accurate English script
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