Reviewby Carlo Santos, Oct 9th 2005
The Melody of Oblivion
DVD 2: Monotone
As a Warrior of Melos, Bocca fights for humanity in a century-old battle against monsters, but what if his efforts go unappreciated? Bocca faces a moral struggle in his first challenge as a warrior: let an agent of the Monster Union bring profits to a tourist town, or risk the wrath of the town's residents when he defeats her. His journey then continues in a valley where a dam collects the tears of children everywhere. Why is there a boy plugging up the dam with his hand, while a painter paints a mural on it and a millionaire seductress lives nearby? The secrets of the valley become clear when a girl with a bow and arrow arrives there. Despite her weaponry, she hates the Melos warriors, but she and Bocca find a common cause when the Monster Union rears its head.
Being a traveling warrior must be one of those great career opportunities: lots of outdoor work, high risk and high reward, and cool weapons to play with. For our young hero Bocca, however, it can be thankless work, as he soon finds out. Fighting for the good of humanity isn't all that glamorous, and often times it can be destructive and tragic. But isn't that something we've already learned from other series that play out exactly like this? The melody plays on, but it seems that Bocca's journey is one that everyone knows the words to.
Despite its post-20th-century setting, The Melody of Oblivion maintains the flavor of a Classical or medieval epic: a lone warrior from an ancient order stands up for the people, riding a majestic steed and wielding a magic weapon. Despite the noble intent of Bocca's quest, however, some of it feels like it was written by a twelve-year-old. How could anyone take the monster-of-the-week formula so literally that the archenemy organization is actually called Monster Union? Not only that, but the beasts take the form of giant robot animals: a chicken during the resort town story arc, and a mouse in the valley. Did these monsters get lost on the way to the set of Power Rangers? Even the heroes aren't safe from cheesy genre elements: we finally learn that Bocca's arrow-firing battle cry is translated as "Flush" instead of "Flash" because the new warrior girl's attack is "Straight Flush." Poker is a pretty cool game, sure, but attacks named after poker hands ... not so much.
Silly names and monsters aside, the story and characters in this volume do form an engaging, self-contained world. As Bocca's battle in the resort town finishes up, the tale of the valley unfolds within this volume, improving upon the earlier episodes with a tighter storyline and stronger pacing. It's a bit too easy to guess the painter's final intentions for the dam, but when it does happen, it's a rewarding finish to a story arc that carefully weaves together the lives of varied and seemingly unconnected characters. Learning their back story is as much fun as following the actual story, although main characters Bocca and Sayoko don't get much development, as there are far more interesting things going on with the residents of the valley.
Although this series is one of Gainax's 20th anniversary commemorative works, the main animation duties are handled by J.C. Staff, resulting in a production that doesn't do justice to the Gainax name. The juvenile character designs, although appealing to some tastes, are too easy to lump in with lame shounen adventures involving swords and spells and leveling up. Even character designer extraordinaire and Evangelion alum Yoshiyuki Sadamoto turns in a sub-par job on the Aibar machines, which look like animal-headed motorcycles. The backgrounds turn out better, blending urban and rural elements to form a contemporary fantasy world that accommodates both magic and technology. The valley environment, in particular, is a welcome relief from the dreary "midnight sun" setting of the tourist town. Putting that artwork into motion, however, reveals the weaknesses of the animation staff: lots of shortcuts, lots of recycled animation (how many times is Bocca going to ring out the melody? Pull that bowstring some other way already!) and action scenes that fail to excite. It's not as stiff as some of the aforementioned lame shounen adventures, but the animation technique leaves plenty to be desired.
Like the setting of the series, the music score is a mixture of the modern and traditional, letting pseudo-classical styles sit alongside energetic, guitar-driven instrumentals. At one point it even mimics Vivaldi and then segues flawlessly into modern rock as a battle breaks out. However, that's the only highlight on a soundtrack that's generally bland—the mixture turns out to be the mediocre side of rock and the boring side of classical. The forgettable, conventional theme songs only serve to reinforce that mediocrity.
Geneon's dub in this volume shows the actors getting more comfortable in their roles as the characters become more distinct. Bocca is definitely settled into full-on hero mode now, although there's still time for cute exchanges between him and Sayoko. ("Huh?" "What do you mean, huh?" "Huh means huh.") Even the side characters in the series perform with confidence and a good sense of rhythm. The dub script stays close to the original dialogue, which might have been helped in part by Reiko Matsuo's involvement as both translator and ADR director.
Although there are signs of improved storytelling in this volume, The Melody of Oblivion still sits in the ranks of run-of-the-mill shounen fantasy adventures. It doesn't do anything to extend the genre further, and the silly monsters and attack names are a strike against it. Add in the sloppy animation by a staff that isn't actually Gainax, and this is a halfhearted way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of a studio that's made such an impact on anime. It's not bad enough to be painful, but neither is it good enough to be compelling.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : B
Animation : C
Art : C
Music : C+
+ Intriguing characters come together in a tight, well-paced story arc.
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