by Carlo Santos,

Oh My Goddess!

GN 31

Oh My Goddess! GN 31
Most mortal men have a hard enough time saying the words "I love you"—and Keiichi Morisato's got it even harder, since he's in love with a literal goddess. But divine intervention is on Keiichi's side, with celestial beauties Urd and Peorth all too happy to help Keiichi express his feelings toward Belldandy. But maybe having them around is just making it worse. In any case, Peorth's scheming is cut short when she receives an order to return to heaven. There's just one problem with that: she can't get back in! Much to Keiichi's surprise, the gate to heaven is an actual spiritual being, and she refuses to open up until she learns the meaning of "love." Luckily, it looks like she's met just the right people to explain it to her...

Despite its humble beginnings as a magic-tinged romantic comedy for guys, Oh My Goddess! has spent the last 20-odd years venturing into all sorts of genres along the way. Open up a random volume, and there's no telling what will come out: epic mythological fantasy, gentle slice-of-life drama, maybe even a gearhead's paradise of science and engineering trivia. So it comes almost as a shock that this installment actually manages to dig into some traditional romantic comedy material, carrying over from the "get Keiichi to say 'I love you'" antics of Volume 30. At the same time, it offers up some of the series' fantastical side as the Gate comes tumbling down from heaven and demands to know the meaning of love. It's some fun, lighthearted stuff—which, unfortunately, also makes it feel unsatisfyingly short.

Maybe the organization of chapters has something to do with it. This volume opens with an intense cliffhanger moment, and if it's been a few months since reading the previous one, then the first few pages are going to be highly disorienting. Even after getting one's bearings, the story content in the early chapters feels too lightweight—oh look, here's Keiichi trying to be romantic with Belldandy, and here's Urd and Peorth screwing things up for him, which is exactly like 70% of the rest of the series and just as predictable.

Fortunately, this fluff-laden storyline is quickly saved by a burst from the heavens: Peorth's botched attempt to return home, followed by the resulting interference from the Gate. Now this is where the fun starts: Urd's love spell on Keiichi still hasn't worn off, and at the same the Gate is inquiring persistently about love, and by the way, Peorth still needs to get home. As a result, we get several chapters of highly entertaining, tried-and-true Goddess material: some slapstick humor here (the Gate goes on a kissing rampage), some fancy sorcery there (the other goddesses try to pin her down with a magic circle), and even some bawdy winking and nudging when Keiichi tries to insert the "key" into the Gate's "lock." (Yes, this is exactly what it sounds like.) It also doesn't hurt that the Gate's wild, petulant personality keeps everyone on their toes.

There are two major criticism of this storyline, though: firstly, as a comedy-centric arc, it lacks the weight of the epic fantasy segments or even those racing tournaments that Keiichi and his old college pals used to have. Secondly, the focus on love means we have to sit through Belldandy's sappy aphorisms, her vacuous good-girl smile, and Keiichi's wimpy attempts at affection. Anyone ever notice that the side characters are the only things that make this series interesting anymore?

In fact, even Kosuke Fujishima's art seems to have taken a turn for the lackadaisical; there are times when entire dialogue sequences go by with nary a background illustration. It's a bit disappointing, because Fujishima has built his reputation on being able to sketch out stunning landscapes and dazzling displays of magic and ridiculously intricate machinery—yet the mood doesn't seem to strike him very much in this volume. Sure, some of that can be blamed on the story content, but with the Gate running around making all sorts of magical mischief, shouldn't there be more fireworks? If the visual complexity should seem lacking, though, at least there are other features that can be counted on: the cleanliness of line, the dynamically spaced layouts (particularly in the use of vertical panels that go right down the page), and just enough screentone to balance things out between light and shadow. Of course, the attractive characters are also still a major draw for the series; the Gate is a particularly well-calculated feat of moe design.

Another well-calculated feat of design shows up in the way sound effects are handled. Although this volume follows the right-to-left layout of the series' 2nd edition, the translation and touch-up staff have decided to keep on converting the sound effects to pure English—and they manage to actually make it work. The stylish lettering fits quite neatly into the artwork, especially among all the comedy and action sequences. The dialogue also benefits from deft translation work, with puns and personality and Peorth's outbursts of French all helping to make the text more colorful. What a shame, then, that after all this effort there's no cultural glossary and only a meager "letters to the editor" section in the back, and the full volume clocks in at about 150 pages. (Maybe that's the real reason it feels so short?) At ¥500 each for the Japanese edition, buyers are probably quite forgiving about the page count. But at $10.95 ... maybe less so.

With its long tenure and wide range of story material, there are probably plenty of reasons for fans to enjoy Oh My Goddess!. Now, if those reasons revolve around raging Norse mythological battles or deep personal crises or even wacky concept-vehicle races, then this volume is almost guaranteed to disappoint. True, it's one of the less profound offerings in the series, with romantic buffoonery at the outset, vapid sentimentality on Belldandy's part, and a drop-in character whose idea of stirring up the storyline involves trying to kiss Keiichi and all his ladies. Yet for some, that's exactly what makes this installment so enjoyable, harkening back to the series' early days with well-timed slapstick and just a pinch of magic. And no matter what kind of mood the series is in, at least one constant holds true: Kosuke Fujishima sure draws 'em pretty. Can't argue with that.

Overall : B-
Story : C
Art : B

+ Goes for the pure entertainment factor with slapstick humor, magical action, and a feisty side character. (Plus, she's cute. Of course.)
Fluffy romantic-comedy situation lacks any story depth, and the lead characters do little to make things interesting.

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Story & Art: Kosuke Fujishima

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