by Carlo Santos,



Munto DVD
Ever since she was a child, 13-year-old Yumemi has been able to see strange islands floating in the sky. What she doesn't know is that these islands form an alternate fantasy universe where an Elven culture is headed towards self-destruction. On the largest island is a Magical Kingdom headed by Lord Munto, who descends to Earth in search of the magical "Akuto" energy that will save his world. Only Yumemi has the power that the Magical Kingdom needs, but is she willing to trust this foreign visitor that no one else can see? As if that weren't enough, she also has to stay true to her friends Ichiko and Suzume, who each have their own problems—even if they're not apocalyptic ones like Yumemi's dilemma.
Ah, what would anime be without its roster of supernaturally powered schoolchildren? Munto continues that proud tradition by giving us a protagonist in the mold of Hitomi from Escaflowne, or Kazuki from Dual. Instead of traveling to an alternate dimension, however, Yumemi stays right at home—and because of this, we get a surprisingly honest, down-to-earth story about an extraordinary girl. It's a unique approach that almost succeeds, if not for that dying world in the sky that really isn't worth caring about.

Munto's biggest flaw is that it plays tug-of-war between two storylines that could each work well alone, but feel out-of-place when they try to cross paths. On one hand there's Lord Munto trying to save his people, and we learn the history of his doomed Elven race through a series of contrived flashbacks and dry explanations. Meanwhile, Yumemi's side of the story is a heartfelt, slice-of-life schoolyard tale—but every time it takes an emotional turn, down comes Lord Munto with his annoying pleas for help! With the fantasy plot going nowhere for 40 minutes, Munto could just as well give up on his homeland for all we care. Yumemi, at the very least, has this thing called character development.

Admittedly, these interlocking story threads aren't the most original, but it's the tone of the OAV that sets it apart. Instead of highlighting the elements of apocalyptic adventure, Munto is a low-key, personal story of how Yumemi copes with such an improbable destiny. Okay, so maybe the part where her friend Suzume runs off to "marry" a boy is beyond all logic, but there are plenty of other touching moments within. When Yumemi and her mother talk about a child's responsibilities, it's more sincere than any speech about the fate of the universe. What a shame, then, that Lord Munto keeps butting in with pompous speeches of his own. This anime tries so hard to play up the epic fantasy angle, but you just can't do that in a 50-minute production, and in the end, Yumemi's story is the more interesting one.

The visual style of Munto isn't quite as cheesy as the DVD cover suggests. Yes, the schoolgirls look exactly like that and Lord Munto (pictured on the back) does wear a ridiculous pseudo-glam-rock outfit, but character design isn't everything. The opening sequence of floating islands almost captures the feel of Miyazaki's grand vistas, while many of the day-to-day scenes are accented by soft lighting for a pastoral effect, and the use of wet, reflective streets—although somewhat excessive—highlights Yumemi's dual role between two worlds. While the artwork is rendered crisply, the animation itself is fairly average. Kyoto Animation resists the lure of 3-D CGI throughout most of the production and gives us a visually consistent result, but the finale ultimately succumbs to quick-and-cheap computer effects.

Like the story, the background music in Munto exists in two very different worlds. The action and fight scenes in the Elven fantasyland are punctuated by generic hard rock instrumentals, while daily life in Yumemi's world moves to the tune of soft piano ballads. The only time these musical moods seem to converge successfully is in the end credits, where a gentle melody is carried by a pulsating, urgent beat. Otherwise, the music is just as schizophrenic as the plot itself.

The English dub of Munto stays remarkably faithful to the subtitled translation, with the only major changes being made for timing and mouth-flaps. Sadly, this is wasted on a dubbing cast that lacks both the tone of voice and the rhythm to enliven these characters. Only Yumemi sounds convincing, and Lord Munto—arguably the second most important character—is the epitome of the poorly acted male anime lead. To its credit, however, the DVD comes with more extras than expected, including a large art gallery that consists of stills, character sketches, and backgrounds.

Munto teaches us a very important lesson about storytelling: you can't win audience sympathy for a fictional civilization just by saying that it's doomed. Setting up a good fantasy world often takes lots of back-story, and there just isn't enough room in this OAV to do it. The mundane worries of a middle-school girl are far more accessible, and that's the part of Munto that shines. The story may be cliché, but the approach is unexpected, and the end result isn't incredibly bad—it's just that it could have been a lot better if the producers had picked one storyline and stuck to it.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C-
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B+

+ Charming (although sometimes nonsensical) slice-of-life tale about middle school kids.
Keeps getting interrupted by unappealing storyline about Munto and his Magical Kingdom.

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Production Info:
Director: Yoshiji Kigami
Character Design: Tomoe Aratani
Art Director: Seiki Tamura
Producer: Yoko Hatta

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Munto (OAV)

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Munto (DVD)

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