This week's list takes a look at seven priests with less than holy personalities.
Reviewby Zac Bertschy, Jun 7th 2003
DVD 4: Understanding
The end of the world is nigh, and it's up to Juna to save Japan once and for all. The chemical factory run by Chris's father has exploded, releasing the deadly PDB bacteria into Japan. The PDB has melded with the Raaja, and the result is a terrifying ecological disaster unlike anything the world has ever seen. Juna, under the control of the S.E.E.D. organization, discovers that they intend to simply quarantine and destroy her homeland. She'll be damned if she's going to just sit there and watch her friends and family die.
Warning: This Review Contains a Minor Spoiler for the Ending of Arjuna.
The final volume of Shoji Kawamori's ecologically sensitive magical girl show Arjuna is, thankfully, not a major disappointment. Since the advent of the thirteen-episode series a few years back, more and more anime series have concluded with less-then-spectacular endings, most times leaving the viewer hanging completely. In Arjuna, Everything is wrapped up nicely, for the most part.
The real question is: what impact does this show have? Certainly it's one of the most thought-provoking and ambitious series ever produced. Rare is the show that actually tries to guilt the viewer into leading a healthier lifestyle. Usually, dumping ecological dogma onto the audience turns them away. People forgive Hayao Miyazaki's endless save-the-planet preaching; Shoji Kawamori does not share the same level of prestige, though, and it's more likely that people would be turned away the 500th time Kawamori implores them to stay away from fast food joints. Ultimately, Arjuna winds up being a beautiful, thought-provoking, overly preachy series that's really easy to overlook based on the fact that it isn't very long and it plays out more like a public service announcement on the dangers of being ecologically apathetic than a good ol' magical girl show. Does that mean Arjuna is a failure, in the end? Not hardly. Of course, it isn't really a success, either.
The final two episodes (thank you, Bandai, for charging people 29.99 for two episodes… and here I thought those days were over) of the series feel a little rushed. Things wrap up fairly quickly and there's never really a question about Juna's ability to solve her problems. What becomes of the Raaja is a little unbelievable and unexpected, but it's really the only way they could have solved the problem while sticking to the series' decidedly pacifist outlook. Juna could not have destroyed the Raaja. So, what do they do? Force the entire human population of Japan to essentially eat their way out of danger. The sight of Tokio scooping up a heapin' handful of Raaja juice at the end is sort of depressing, if only because you know in about two months he'll be desperate for something that isn't made out of Raaja. Yeah, we get it, Kawamori; everything's bad for you and the only solution is to eat vegetables you grew yourself without using any pesticides or anything. Hey, only one out of every ten people would have to farm every day of their lives to feed the rest of the world. Got it. Great.
The solution Kawamori provides with his characters is that a new, alternate food supply is magically bestowed upon them so they don't have to rely on processed food anymore. If the show weren't already an indictment of human consumption habits and capitalist food production methods, this would be an excusable solution. As it stands, Kawamori is instructing us to find some magical spiritual beings to eat instead of our usual food. There's only one tiny problem with his proposed solution: we don't live inside an anime show. It hardly seems fair to criticize so much of the human experience and then offer no solution. Arjuna, in the end, amounts to thirteen episodes of Kawamori whining about the environment and, when asked “Okay, smart guy, if everything's so horrible for us, what the hell DO we eat?” at the end, Kawamori shrugs and says, “Hell if I know.”
It's not that the ending of Arjuna is bad; there just wasn't any way for Kawamori to climb out of the hole he'd written himself into. The rest of the show is so didactic and preachy that there really wasn't a way to end the show properly, unless Kawamori had managed to come up with some amazing solution to solve the world's ecological woes. Is it unfair to expect that after thirteen episodes of being hit over the head with eco-preaching we're offered some solution to what Kawamori obviously thinks is the problem with the world today? Probably. Arjuna builds and builds and builds, and in the end, sort of sputters out. It's a beautiful show with beautiful music, but if you were expecting the endless preaching to result in something other than, “Only YOU can save the world! How? Uh…I'll tell you later!” you're going to be disappointed. Let it be known that Juna could probably kick Captain Planet's ass. There's no question of that at the end of the series. I suppose, if we can take that away from this after all is said and done, there just isn't too much to complain about.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : A+
Art : A+
Music : A+
+ Beautiful animation, captivating storyline and character development.
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