by Carl Kimlinger,

Aoi & Mutsuki: A Pair of Queens (Sub)

Complete Collection DVD

Aoi & Mutsuki: A Pair of Queens DVD (Sub)
When we first met Aoi in Space Pirate Mito he was a simple Earth boy. Since then he has discovered that his mother is a 12000-year-old space pirate with the body of a grade-schooler, and that he is the heir-apparent to the galactic throne. Oh yeah, and he also turned into a girl. This has all put a rather sizeable strain on Aoi's relationship with his/her newfound sweetheart, enemy-turned-bodyguard Mutsuki. It's all just the usual adolescent fun and games as Aoi tries to strengthen her bond with Mutsuki, until despotic former ruler of the universe Hikari is resurrected and sets about reclaiming the throne, sparking a full-on galactic war. Aoi's mother Mito, with the help of a motley crew of pirates and former adversaries, puts up a fierce fight, but ultimately it'll be up to Aoi to protect her own throne, with perhaps a little help from her one true love.

The first thing to strike one upon watching Aoi and Mutsuki is the art style. It's hideous. Every scene is a riot of clashing colors and swarming aesthetic monstrosities. The second thing to strike one is the fact that, despite having become female, Aoi is still played by a male voice actor (though to be fair Souichiro Hoshi is one of the few male voice talents capable of a passably effeminate performance). Though one eventually gets accustomed to the voice-actor issue, it's still a tough one-two punch to beat. Aoi and Mutsuki does its best to recover, and actually succeeds more often than one would expect. For a while, that is.

It's surprising that it succeeds at all given how heavy a burden to bear the art is. Characters have cartoony faces, starry eyes, and too many angular lines; the cast is rife with pig/rabbit/fox people of questionable aesthetics; the bad guys are indistinct black blobs with beaks; the mecha—including a nauseating lip-machine—are simply ridiculous; and some of the hairstyles are embarrassing mistakes (Mutsuki looks as if she has Labrador Retriever ears when she runs). It isn't easy to immerse oneself completely in a story when the characters look like refugees from the Institute for Retro Rejects. It's no coincidence then that the most involving scenes revolve around the two characters who are, if not aesthetically pleasing, at least aesthetically acceptable. And who luckily also happen to be the main characters. Aoi's initially disconcerting masculine voice aside, it's Aoi and Mutsuki that provide the series with the vast majority of its appeal. Their awkward and earnest relationship is cute, and Mutsuki's agony over her inability to properly protect Aoi has a genuine power to affect. The series' other attempts at building character drama, though often reasonably successful, simply can't keep the series' negative qualities at bay the way the Aoi/Mutsuki romance can.

That's in part because they have so much to keep at bay. Completely nonsensical touches wander into the narrative seemingly at random. Mutsuki sprouts mushrooms when she's upset, enemies use "willpower" to form a giant space-faring version of themselves that is immune to physical attacks, and somehow blowing on conch horns allows one to tap into the infinite power of the universe. Lapses in characters' logic are equally common. One girl blithers on about the immorality of same-sex relationships while simultaneously coveting Aoi, and Aoi, despite the fact that she's supposedly smitten with Mutsuki, blithely agrees to go on a date with another girl in full awareness of the girl's romantic intentions. Just to round out the portfolio of flaws, the series is also populated with irksome characters who seem to pop up and do something hideously annoying or stunningly stupid at exactly the wrong moment.

Yet everything—terrible art, illogical and stupid behavior, inexplicable plot developments, annoying characters—is made tolerable by the series' surprising flair for the dramatic. That is until the show makes the fatal mistake about four episodes in of shunting Mutsuki and Aoi's relationship aside for the majority of the series. From that point on, the show is largely a very strange war story (fought in part with weapons that turn people into cup noodles) during which much running around and blowing stuff up occurs but nothing much really happens. No matter how tense something gets—and make no mistake, there are stretches where the series is compulsively watchable—some infuriating secondary character or inane and completely random plot development will swing a wrecking ball through it, and with nothing strong enough to resist its negative force, will set everything back to zero.

Aside from the art, the series' production values are about average. The animation spends as much time mucking around with the usual anime shortcuts as one would expect for a series of this profile. The occasional spectacular computer effect spices things up while the sheer energy of some scenes gives the animation a hyperkinetic edge that matches the art for both busyness and annoyance. The background art, especially during scenes of wartime havoc, provides the overall art scheme with a minor saving grace. The musical accompaniment is appropriate and occasionally a tad (just a tad) catchy—as with the various arrangements of the opening theme. It's a solid score that never gets annoying, with the exception of the music used during the eyecatches and opening title. The ending theme is a pleasant tune by Masumi Itou in her usual slightly nasal style.

Media Blasters pushes the shoujo-ai aspect of this series hard on the packaging—as one would expect given their growing library of shoujo-ai properties. In a way, despite the fact that it really isn't the series' focus, they nailed Aoi and Mutsuki's appeal, though not in the way they probably intended. It isn't the shoujo-ai that saves Aoi and Mutsuki from total self-destruction, but the couple themselves. There's still enough self-destruction, however, to make it a safe bet only for fans of the first Space Pirate Mito series. The incredibly low price-point (twenty dollars MSRP for thirteen episodes) may tempt some non-fans to the series, but please be careful—for your own sake.

Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : C+
Art : D-
Music : B-

+ Central romance; Mutsuki's angst scenes; kind of tense on occasion; cheap.
Ugly art; horribly annoying secondary characters; often makes no sense whatsoever.

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Production Info:
Director: Takashi Watanabe
Series Composition: Fumihiko Shimo
Hidefumi Kimura
Junko Okazaki
Fumihiko Shimo
Hiroshi Kurimoto
Masahiko Murata
Toshimasa Suzuki
Shigeru Ueda
Takashi Watanabe
Kenji Yasuda
Episode Director:
Tetsuya Endo
Makoto Fuchigami
Kenichi Maejima
Masahiko Murata
Yoshikata Nitta
Kunitoshi Okajima
Shigeru Ueda
Takashi Watanabe
Kenji Yasuda
Music: Hikaru Nanase
Character Design: Zerobanchi Ishigami
Art Director: Masatoshi Muto
Animation Director:
Masahiro Ando
Hiroshi Kanazawa
Yukari Kobayashi
Takamitsu Kondou
Aya Sato
Masahiro Sekiguchi
Minoru Tanaka
Mechanical design:
Ichiro Itano
Tomohiro Kawahara
Sound Director: Kazuya Tanaka
Director of Photography: Hideo Okazaki
Executive producer:
Taro Maki
Shigeru Watanabe
Yoshiyuki Ito
Nobuhiro Osawa

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Aoi & Mutsuki: A Pair of Queens (TV)

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