Reviewby Theron Martin, Sep 19th 2006
This Ugly Yet Beautiful World
DVD 2: Eye of the Beholder
As Akari settles in as “one of the gang,” Hikari and Takeru grow closer, much to Mari's consternation. In an effort to show Hikari as many different experiences as possible, Jennifer arranges for Hikari to join Takeru's school as a transfer student, but things go disastrously wrong when she discovers there Ioneos, her own equivalent of Akari's helper/pet Kuon. With school out early for the summer, a trip to the mountains followed by a trip to the beach is in order, as is the local Bon Festival. Throughout it all Hikari marvels at all of the wonderment in the world around her, but bubbling within is her darker side, one which serves a far less pleasant purpose and is increasingly finding its way to the surface. The monsters – called “E.D.s” – sense it as well, and make another strike at her.
With its second volume Gainax seems intent on packing into TUYBW all the stereotypical elements that anime romantic action-comedies should have: there's the Hot Springs episode, the Beach episode, and the Festival episode, and what series of this type would be complete without the Destroy the School episode? (Hey, wait a minute. . .) Of course there's romantic hijinks and goodly amount of fan service, and while it isn't anywhere near as pervasive as it is in, say, Mahoromatic, it does include extensive nudity in one episode. The action element that has gone missing since the first episode is also back. Sounds like a very generic recipe for fun, right?
But again, this is a Gainax series, and Gainax series never let their characters off so easily.
The first episode implied that Hikari has a very dark and nasty side, but that was put on the back burner through the rest of the first volume. In the second volume, though, Dark Hikari starts making regular appearances and gradually becomes an integral part of the plot. In Dark Hikari can be found Hikari's true purpose on Earth, and as episode 8 suggests, it isn't a nice one. While running the course of the staple episodes the truth gradually seeps out in bits and pieces. Though the full story hasn't been laid out by the end of the volume, enough has been presented for a viewer to get a good sense of who and what Hikari really is. The only thing that doesn't yet fit is Akari, but viewers will have to wait for the final volume to learn that. The whole bit with the butterflies isn't yet explained, either, but do watch for a few more references to them, such as the pattern on Hikari's yukata in episode 8. Coincidence? Unlikely. Neither is the text the teacher quotes in episode 5.
The second volume also better clarifies why the series is named what it is than does the first volume. In one scene Jennifer refers to the world as “rotting and ugly,“ but Hikari, whose eyes are unclouded by cynicism and the dullness of repetition, concentrates on the colors (or lack thereof), delights in sensations like the wind while riding in a car or the feel of water running by your legs while fording a mountain stream. She sees only the beauty and revels in it, which ultimately makes it very hard for her to understand death. The question the series seems to be ultimately building towards is whether or not the beauty in the world is sufficient to outweigh its ugliness. Why? You'll have to wait until the final volume to find out.
Hikari is such the feature player in this volume that character development for the rest of the cast is minimal and mostly predictable. Takeru gets completely hung up over protecting and kissing Hikari, Mari is still struggling to make her feelings about Takeru known to Takeru, and Takeru's schoolmates are still as girl-obsessed or Ryou-obsessed as ever. Ryou and Akari are seriously under-exposed (well, Ryou is, anyway, since we technically do see most of Akari), perhaps to balance out their feature treatment in earlier episodes. The only other character we do learn anything new about is the two-faced Jennifer. On the plus side the robot Ioneos makes a nice addition to the cast, but he's the only new character to appear in more than one episode.
The second volume gets off to a nice artistic start by finally featuring Akari in the sharp light-blue outfit she sports in the opener, but Ioneos's design isn't likely to excite anyone and the monster which appears in episode 7 looks like something borrowed from Inuyasha. A fine job is done with the nudity and bikini-clad babes, however, especially in keeping the female characters reasonably-proportioned for their builds. The artistry works best in its use of color, especially the contrast it creates between the visually lively world outside the school and the (by comparison) very drab-looking school ground. It suffers from obvious contrast between its cel and background art, however, which is most notable in the first couple of episodes. The backgrounds are good and the character designs widely-varied, and it's still a respectable effort overall, but visually it's not in the same league as top-tier artistic efforts. The animation is good enough to make the Takeru/monster battle look good, but is weaker in scenes where characters are just talking.
As with the first volume, the musical score continues to perform well at supporting the tone of its varied scenes, including some bits backed by Gregorian chant-styled vocals. The highlight number is undoubtedly the dynamic string-backed opener “metamorphose,” sung in the tradition of (and by the same artist as) Neon Genesis Evangelion's “Cruel Angel's Thesis” and synched nicely with its visuals, while the peppy closer, courtesy of Yoko Ishida, is a more light-spirited number. Nothing much new is done with the musical score in this volume, but it further solidifies its OST (due out in the U.S. in early October) as a worthy purchase.
As with the first volume, the Translator Notes included in the Extras are necessary reading for full appreciation of the languages subtleties inherent in the series. It's especially important to know what the last name given to Hikari means to understand why it fits her, and the nicknames given Ieoneos won't make sense without explanation. It is also critically important to recognize a subtle shift in the use of honorifics between normal Hikari and Dark Hikari, a distinction which doesn't come through well in English. Aside from tackling those problems, the dub script is fairly liberal in its use of equivalent English euphemisms but otherwise does acceptably well at staying true to the meaning of the original script.
Less acceptable are the English dub performances. Even though the cast is heavily-populated with longtime ADV veterans (some of which are still using comical pseudonyms), this is not one of ADV's better dubbing efforts. Performances struggle to find the right tone and some casting calls are questionable; “Goldie Fawn” never sounds quite right as Hikari, for instance. Akari, Mari, and Jennifer are all fine in English, and the mechanical resonance given to Paul Oddo's voice makes him sound better than the original seiyuu as Ioneos, but the weak spots outweigh the good here.
In addition to the aforementioned Translator Notes, Extras include clean opener and closer, a preview of volume 3, and a Japanese promotional video. The other highlight extra is probably the live-action “metamorphose” music video, but you're better-off watching the much better clean opener than wasting your time with this 1980s stylistic reject. Also included in the liner notes are interviews with staff and cast members.
Although it contains more light-hearted content than the first volume, the aptly-named “Eye of the Beholder” is still more serious on the balance than this type of series normally is. Much of its content may feel like filler to a first-time viewer, but one who goes back and watches this volume again after seeing the conclusion of the series should notice that even the more innocuous content is still helping to set things up for the finale. It isn't a great series, and does not stand as Gainax's best effort since Neon Genesis Evangelion, but it is a better one than it might appear to be at first.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Outstanding opener, good fan service, more substance than may be readily apparent.
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