Reviewby Theron Martin,
Sub.DVD 2 - Orchestra of Betrayal
The transfers of sybillae Mamina and Yun finally brings Chor Tempest back up to full strength, but a fierce struggle over who is to be Neviril's Pair, and Neviril's continuing reluctance to step up, create such strong tensions within the team that its disbanding seems imminent. A peace conference with representatives of the country of Plumbum on the Arcus Prima ultimately turns out to be anything but peaceful when fanatics strike, an event which spurs Chor Tempest into unified and desperate action and finally provokes Neviril into making a decision. With Arcus Prima badly damaged but the team's standing secured, Chor Tempest transfers to a much older and less stately ship to continue its patrol duties, an action which requires some adjustments by the sybillae. It also results in them teaming up with a unit of male foot soldiers in order to retake a key city, which sets better with some of the sybillae than others.
It may have initially given off a lesbian flight school vibe, but as Simoun progresses through episodes 7-11 it becomes increasingly hard to classify within established sci fi subgenres. Always serious and dramatic but rarely heavy and never grim, these episodes reinforce a moderate, thoughtful, occasionally poetic attitude far different from other “teen pilot” series while also exploring interesting variations on standard anime concepts. Combined with plot advancements in the wake of the final character introductions, these factors allow the second volume to elevate the series from the level of a merely unusual yuri production to something extraordinary.
A key factor in the series' improvement is Neviril's emergence from her crippling funk in episode 8. Though episode 6 revealed that she had reasons for her behavior beyond just being shaken by losing her Pair, her unwillingness to make any kind of commitment, or take any real action, had begun to grate on the nerves, but beginning in episode 8 she shows that she was not called Sybilla Aurea (i.e. first among sybillae), and her Chor Tempest team was not regarded as the elite of the Chors, just because of her great feminine beauty or Vice-Chancellor father. True charisma is extremely difficult to convincingly portray in animation, but when Neviril finally decides to assert herself she projects a presence that is difficult to resist and impossible to deny, the kind that makes people eager to follow her and inclined to accede to her will without the need for her to pull rank, and she does so without the brash behavior or aggrandized effects normally used to convey such an impression. That alone gives the series major points in its favor.
As much as Neviril plays a critical role in events, however, the second volume is not all about her. The broad cast of characters does not allow for thorough development of any of them, but by shifting the focus around the writing allows several of the girls to develop at least a bit and solidifies the relationships between them. As a result, the series manages to juggle a dozen girls with distinct personalities that are not just one-note cookie-cutter portrayals; no one here is just purely moe, annoyingly bratty, or cutely spunky, for instance, although many characters have elements of at least one such archetype. Nor do any of them lack character, as viewers can easily tell the girls apart by behavior alone.
Throughout the content presented here, the intriguing gender and religious issues raised by the series remain ever-present. The ongoing debates among the sybillae over which gender to choose (and, in some cases, how they can avoid having to choose) continue to provide a fascinating variation on common teen angst about future plans that cannot be found in any other anime series. Which way certain characters might lean on that issue subtly infuses into their behavior, rarely resulting in any surprise when one girl or another declares her preference or lack thereof. The conflict between the status of the sybillae as both priestesses and warriors also continues to be both a prominent recurring theme and a plot point, with opinions on the issue ranging the spectrum from one extreme to the other, but other issues about faith also creep in from time to time, too.
For all its noble aspirations, these episodes never entirely let the viewer forget that this is a yuri series designed to give male viewers ample opportunities to ogle a vast variety of pretty girls. Blatant fan service is sparse, but the selection of certain shots (such as regular panning shots of girls' figures) displays a decided effort to emphasize the femininity of even its more macho female characters and the mechanics of the Simouns' activation allows regular opportunities to see girls kissing. The lesbianism that would normally be inherent in the girl-girl relationships seems so natural and ordinary that it becomes a non-issue much of the time, however. Those looking for action and flashy displays of Ri Mājon power to help keep their interest will find some of it here, but if that is your main motivation for watching this series then you will probably not enjoy or appreciate it.
As with the first volume, the strengths of the artistry lie in the vast and diverse array (even in the eyes!) of pretty female character designs and costume choices and in its exquisite CG renditions of ships, especially the Arcus Prima and the Simouns. Most of the background art provides a sharp contrast in both style and quality, although occasionally even foreground art shows lapses, too. The animation and vocals continue their bad habit of sometimes being easily noticeably off in timing and the animation relies a little too much on artistic still shots as a short cut, but it generally looks good elsewhere and shines in the purely CG content.
The primarily orchestrated musical score occasionally mixes in some odd musical selections, including the infusion of accordion-based Italian bistro themes, but when it works, it works beautifully. The series is what it is because of how effectively the score enhances the drama and poignancy of its key scenes, and regular applications of variations on the haunting opening theme only contribute to that impression. The closer remains unchanged, and the Japanese voice work maintains the curious (but appropriate) standard set by the first volume: even the male roles and occasional narration are performed by female seiyuu.
Concerns that some fans voiced about whether or not the interpretation of Aer's name in Anime Works' subtitles would retain the significance its meaning has in one crucial point in episode 8 prove entirely unfounded, as the subtitles progress through that episode without losing a beat. The irregularities between the naming of the country of the sybillae in the advertising and subtitles get partly dealt with, as in some places both names are used simultaneously. (But in such cases it sure sounds like the Japanese actors are saying both names, too.) Actual Extras on the volume include another silly Cast Interview segment and a highly insightful Staff Commentary, which features the director and character designer in a discussion against clips from throughout the first 11 episodes.
If the first volume caught your interest then the second volume should only draw you in further. Those tired of the macho bravado, silliness, and hyperactivity which typically pervade these kind of series should find this approach a refreshing change of pace.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Character and CG designs, intriguing variations on common themes.
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