Reviewby Theron Martin, Jul 11th 2006
DVD 3: Shoko/Akari
Shoko Saiba is the host of the popular afternoon advice show “Cappuccino Break,” but she feels guilty giving relationship advice to her viewers when, secretly, her personal life is such a mess. The man she's completely fallen for is married and seems more concerned with his own needs and convenience than her, and a listener named Radio Boy may be giving her too much attention. Akari is a teenager from Okibiri who works diligently at a confectionary to help support her family since her father, a drunkard obsessed with panning for gold, is unreliable for going to work. Despite that, Akari still loves her father, and when his health takes a turn for the worse she fears losing him like she lost her mother years earlier. Though her boyfriend seems supportive, he did quite his apprenticeship at the confectionary, so how much can she rely on him?
The Snow Festival in Sapporo comes around once a year, and this time all of the past stars – Atsuko and Karin, Kyoko and Suomi, Shoko and Akari – are in town for one reason or another. Perhaps their paths will cross. And maybe Jurota will finally make his move. . .
Two more Hokkaido women, two more two-episode story arcs which at least peripherally involve the rare meteorological phenomenon known as diamond dust: this has been the pattern for the series so far, one which the series maintains up until the final episode. The story content is the stuff more of adult soap operas and dramas than typical anime fare; a woman who's having trouble seeing that she's not getting the better end of an affair with a married man, and a high school student struggling to deal both with her deadbeat father and a boyfriend who may or may not be growing apart from her. If you're looking for action, snappy comedy, complex plotting, or fan service then you're looking in the wrong place, as these are plot-light, slow-moving, and generally predictable stories; in fact, an experienced TV viewer can probably accurately anticipate nearly every scene in both arcs once they get going.
What the stories lack in originality, though, they make up for by crafting leading ladies that feel both real and sympathetic, even if one doesn't agree with the morality of their actions. (Shoko is the “other woman,” after all.) The slow-burn approach to storytelling may be a little too slow at times, but it does effectively build towards dramatic climaxes for each arc which can pack an emotional wallop. The “stalking” thing in Shoko's arc may be handled a bit too cavalierly for American tastes, but even it comes to a sweet conclusion. It's also nice to finally see the series focus on Shoko, a character who's been heard on the radio in the background of numerous previous episodes but never seen before.
And then there's the final episode, which serves as a capstone to the series by bringing back all of the leading ladies and allowing at least brief encores by key players in their respective supporting casts. Unlike earlier episodes, this one has some fun to it and a couple of surprises as all of the ladies have some excuse or another to be in Sapporo at the time of the Snow Festival (a real-world annual event, incidentally). Most cross paths with at least one other leading lady and some have their stories from earlier arcs fleshed out a bit more. Viewers who have taken to the series so far are likely to find this episode to be a highly satisfying conclusion, even if they are left wanting to know more about the stories of some of the characters.
This episode also gives significant screen time to Jurota Tokibi, the guy with the message T-shirts, and Mafuyu, the pretty red-haired woman, both of whom pop up in nearly every previous episode if you watch closely (and in some episodes you have to watch very closely) but the latter of which wasn't identified by name or had any speaking part until this episode. To understand the deal with them, you have to know that the series is based on a dating sim game. As is explained in one of the Extras, Jurota is a background character throughout the original game and Mafuyu is a secret character. The nature of her “secret,” which is referred to in this episode but not revealed or explained, can be found within the game, so the appearances of her and Jurota are more a bone being thrown to fans of the dating sim than just a cute gimmick.
The artistry for this volume is too obviously digital at times but generally good. Shoko's design is convincingly mature and pretty without being overtly sexy, while Akari's high school-aged design reverts to the chubby-cheeked syndrome seen in the younger leading ladies from earlier volumes. She also is given some of the least flattering hair design and color of any leading lady in any recent anime title. Both are sharply and appropriately dressed for their roles and the season, as are the other leading ladies appearing in the final episode. Supporting male characters actually come in a wide and distinctive variety of looks, which is a little unusual for series so focused on female characters. As with earlier volumes, background art is a strong point, especially in the way it replicates the varied Hokkaido locales being used, and photos of actual famous sites from each city continue to be shown during the eyecatches. The animation is good enough to support the story but not a highlight, and it doesn't have much of an opportunity to show off anyway.
The musical score for these episodes just repeats the wistful recorder, string, and piano themes used in earlier episodes, to varying degrees of effectiveness. The most melancholy recorder number is a bit overused, but that doesn't keep it from strongly contributing to the emotional impact of the climatic scenes. The happy, energetic opener fits better with the last episode than it does with the rest of the series, while the longing tone of the closer is an excellent cap to story arcs about loss, heartbreak, and self-doubt.
The English casting for the Shoko episodes is exceptionally good, with only one very minor role not sounding at least close to the tone and style of the original and most being dead-on. (It could be argued that making Shoko's director sound gay was a change, but that's probably the closest American equivalent to the kind of inflection his seiyuu was using.) Each of the roles is also just as well-delivered in English is it is in Japanese, making the dub for those two episodes good enough that even sub fans should appreciate it. The Akari episodes are weaker; although the acting is generally solid and Kelli Cousins does a great job performing the lead role, her voice is pitched a bit too deep, and sounds a bit too old, to be a good match for Akari. The Akari arc does slickly solve the issue of the English class in in one episode by turning it into a Spanish class, however.
The English VAs for the other characters coming back for the final episode are uniformly good fits, making this a strong dub overall. More issue could be taken with how liberally the English script interprets the dialogue, but the essential meaning of a scene is never lost or changed and the script does flow very smoothly. Its only alterations of consequence are the complete rewrites of the Next Episode previews, which are arguably improvements since the irrelevant babble of the originals is replaced with actual intros of the upcoming episode.
Despite containing five full episodes, the last DVD packs substantial extras. All of the recurring features from the previous two volumes are back, most notably final installment of the highly informative Hokkaido Travelogue. Others include a clean opener and closer, the third installment of Panda's DVD Diary, more installments of the “DDD Time” radio talk show, and a recurrence of the Japanese Outtakes, some of which are repeats of those seen in the previous volume but many of which are new. (For those who missed them the first time around, these are basically animated bloopers and alternate visual, instead of dialogue, outtakes.) This volume also adds two new extras: a behind-the-scenes wrap-up piece featuring the entire principal Japanese cast speaking in the wake of recording the final episode, and a feature called “Jurota Tokibi's Love Diary,” which explains the whole deal involving Jurota and Mafuyu and shows some clips of where they can be spotted in various earlier episodes.
Diamond Daydreams isn't the kind of series that every anime fan is going to appreciate because it's a decided step away from the norm for anime storytelling. Seeing the earlier two volumes is not required for appreciating anything except the last story, nor is having played the game on which the series is based. Those familiar with the game or earlier episodes, however, should undoubtedly find this volume to be a great way to round out the series. This particular volume is an excellent value, and the series as a whole is very approachable even to those who aren't normally anime fans.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Involving characters, can get quite emotional, good extras.
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