Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Dec 2nd 2006
Kannazuki no Miko
DVD 3: Destiny Eclipsed
Betrayed and abandoned, Himeko is forced to continue the ceremony to unseal Ame no Murakumo on her own. Meanwhile Chikane seizes the reigns of power from the Eight Necks, and Souma confronts his ultimate fate as a traitor to the Orochi. Himeko, driven by a consuming desire to understand Chikane's decision, does battle with her best friend, and in the confrontation, comes face-to-face with a most unpleasant truth.
Any list of Kannazuki no Miko's attributes and elements inevitably reads like a litany of crimes against quality anime. The setup (the brainchild of popular yet creatively bankrupt duo Kaishaku) is a veritable mishmash of popular genre elements and stock characters. Shrine maidens! Giant robots! Supernatural forces bent of the extinction of humanity! Shy heroine! Brave bishounen protector! Beautiful, popular and reserved best friend! Sexy evil nun! Evil preadolescent cat-girl nurse! Suppressed lesbianism! It's a veritable chamber of horrors for anyone who respects their own intelligence. Add in the contrived, stilted dialogue, virtual absence of substantial character back-story, and the occasionally awful animation, and you get a sure-fire recipe for disaster. With only one little problem. It's really, really good.
Many reasons can be proposed for the seemingly inexplicable appeal of the show, and many of them would be correct: the lack of filler, the eye-candy character designs, the nebulous atmosphere of physical and emotional opulence. But the real strength of Kannazuki is the absolute mastery that the director and writers have over the appeal and execution of pure, unadulterated melodrama. Not of the tawdry mid-afternoon soap-opera variety. No, Kannazuki no Miko is made in the distilled, cruelly manipulative mold of the classical Hollywood melodrama. The show up to this point has been singularly focused on its Strange Love triangle, and with good reason. It was constructing—one glance, one tear, one lie at a time—the web that binds each character to their tragic course of action. There are no real surprises here, only a tightly wound, merciless buildup to the inescapable moment when—with the inevitability of tragedy—everything unravels and the two girls bare everything, stripping their hearts down to the raw emotion. Before this barreling juggernaut of unapologetically manipulative emotion, all previous complaints come to naught. The staff understands that what characters do is more important than back-story, and the dialogue becomes a sort of purposefully stylized poetry: as unnatural—and touching—as the morbidly sentimental story-telling itself.
This effect extends to the technical aspects of the show as well. Even the mediocre animation seems to have gained extra luster. The animation is still choppy and inconsistent, and budget saving shortcuts are still in full force: pans over stills thrive, movement patterns are cycled, and animation repeated. Action scenes are often rendered over blank backgrounds. Speed-lines, lightning-fast cuts, and implied movements cover for the basic lack of animation. Yet it's rarely distracting. Perhaps it's the way the animators cannily turn the budgetary restrictions into advantages. Faking depth by superimposing fore- and background stills and moving them turns one otherwise staid composition into a stunning artistic tableau, and subtleties of emotion are communicated with little more than a glance or a touch, demonstrating a stylistic austerity (and respect for the audience's intelligence) that is refreshing. And then there's the extra attention paid to the animation of changing facial expressions, intimate physical contact, and the movement of tears.
The art remains largely unchanged. Characters are still rendered with sharp, clear lines and sport bright, eye-catching color schemes; hair styles are distinct and detailed without being excessively bizarre. The school uniforms and priestess garb worn by the female leads are still complex, multi-layered, and rarely simplified. Backgrounds continue to be finely detailed and atmospheric, except where landscapes are sometimes simplified into abstract painter's backdrops. Fortunately the mecha designs feature transformations that impart to them a slightly more organic feel, moving them—for the first time—past the realm of mere robot pastiche.
While the action music is suitably exciting, the real standouts (appropriately enough) in composer Mina Kubota's score are the oft-repeated piano solo used in everything from action scenes to emotional revelations, and the simple string and flute melodies used to underline the quieter scenes. The director also knows when to let the music lapse, allowing background noise, conversation, or just plain old silence reign over certain scenes. The techno-flavored opening and closing themes by KOTOKO effectively set the mood for the show, and slowly grow on you, but are still unlikely to send anyone stampeding to the nearest store for the soundtrack.
Geneon's dub, by Bang Zoom!, is improving. It sticks as close to the subtitles as timing and lip flaps will allow and even leaves in the honorific -sama on occasion. The English cast has gotten comfortable with their roles, sounding much more natural than initially. The cast overall does well with the material given them, on occasion matching the Japanese for impact, but the sheer amount of emoting and the minute shifts in delivery required by much of it are somewhat beyond them, making the English version noticeably, if not fatally, less effective.
Extras for the normal edition are limited to some Japanese TV spots, a textless ending for the final episode, and a trio of Geneon previews. The limited edition includes a 30+ minute "character commentary" in English (recorded over a series of stills and clips from the show) that provides background information on characters and settings delivered by characters from the story. The second half of the video is a series of fictional encounters that culminates in a (very) extended version of one of the final scenes. Also included with the Limited Edition is an extensive booklet of translated commentary by the Japanese staff (largely by lead screenwriter Sumio Uetake) detailing many of the atrocious dialogue, plot, and episode ideas that were thrown out. While welcome, the booklet is marred by an embarrassing mistake in which a large section of Uetake's commentary on Episode 10 is repeated.
Kannazuki isn't for all tastes. The purpose of melodrama is to give audiences an excuse to surrender to sentimentality, to wallow in a sea of vicarious emotion. Viewers who feel a cynical sneer surfacing whenever something delves into triple-hanky territory will want to give this show wide berth. Still others will find the show's excesses (both stylistic and narrative) annoying, unpleasant, or even unwholesome. But for a particular kind of viewer, watching this final volume will be like falling into heaven.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B-
Animation : C+
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ Strong, emotional conclusion that alters perceptions of previous episodes.
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