Reviewby Christopher Macdonald,
Strange Dawn (TV)
While walking to school one day, middle school students Emi and Yuko find themselves strangely transported to another world. At first they are in denial about the experience, believing that they may be lost in some strange place near their home, but all too quickly it becomes apparent that they really are nowhere near home, perhaps on another planet.
What's more, it seems that the inhabitants of this strange world believe that Emi and Yuko are their saviors and protectors, sent to protect them in their time of war. While Emi and Yuko may seem gargantuan to the locals, who only come up to the girls' knees, what are two regular teenage girls to do against trained armies?
Emi and Yuko aren't even certain if they should help when what they want most is just to return home.
At only 13 episodes, and barely into the story by the end of the 4th, Strange Dawn seems as if will have a relatively simple, quick story. Although the story is primarily geared towards children, it has many fresh aspects that we're not used to in children's animation (even anime), and remains intelligent. Fortunately the scriptwriters for Strange Dawn realize that children's stories need not seem as if children wrote them. Adults may find the Strange Dawn story interesting and captivating.
Perhaps the biggest accomplishment of the writers is their successful attempt at good character development. None of the characters, not even supporting characters, come across as one-dimensional. Each character has a distinct personality and intelligence, and their own way of dealing with or hiding from their problems and emotions.
Parents should be aware that there are a couple occurrences in Strange Dawn that would not make their way into an American children's cartoon. Within the first volume we are treated to a death, an attempted sexual assault and several scenes of combat that involve blood. This may seem excessive for a cartoon, but everything is well treated and respectfully handled, there is nothing offensive or extreme about the way these topics are presented. Just be aware that they are present. And remember that anime has respectfully dealt with the facts of life since the very beginning when Osamu Tezuka decided to have Astro Boy die in the final episode of his long running children's series. So while the series is aimed at children and families, some may find certain aspects objectionable, these people should pick up the edited VHS version.
The English dub is a bit of a mixed bag; some of the actors did excellent jobs delivering their lines, and putting emotion into their characters voices, others are passable at best. The two leading actresses, Donna Burke as Yuko and Alison Noonan as Emi did a great job with their parts, but their accents may seem bit odd to North American viewers. Lip synch is something anime fans don't generally complain about, we're used to and accept the fact that the Japanese producers of anime don't put much effort into lip synch, and many anime fans would prefer that the English dubs do not use technologies such as WordFit to achieve lip synch. But in the case of Strange Dawn's English dub, where the characters' mouths can move for relatively long periods of time while there is complete silence on the audio side.
In terms of sounds quality, the English track is again a mixed bag; at times the Dolby Digital 5.1 mixing really shines through and puts the Japanese stereo track to shame, at other times the sound effects of the English track seem to lack any vibrancy whatsoever when compared to the Japanese track. While the English dub and track are very inconsistent in their quality, the Japanese track remains decent throughout. As the subtitles seem to be well done and are easy to read, the original Japanese version of this anime is recommended.
It's worth noting that the English dub was not produced by Urban Vision, but rather came with the title as a part of the licensing agreement.
With the exception of the Emi and Yuko, character designs are all very simple. The majority of the series cast is made up of the super deformed natives of the world that Emi and Yuko have found themselves in. These characters are very simply drawn and rely on simple but blatant differences to distinguish themselves from each other. Perhaps one disadvantage of these character designs is that it is hard to take the characters seriously as they are so cute. Emi and Yuko are however fairly detailed, and nicely designed.
The animation and art for this series are quite nice. Backgrounds, landscapes and scenery are particularly nicely drawn and the detail level is just right, they are not overly complicated, nor are they too simple. The animation for the action sequences however tends to be on the simple side, particularly when involving anyone other Emi or Yuko. Fortunately the animation isn't so excessively simple as to detract from the story, it's just nothing to rave about.
In addition to its intelligent story and character development, the aspect of Strange Dawn that stands out the most would be the soundtrack. Personally, the English OP reminded me too much of the juvenile opening songs on cartoons such as “Gummi Bears,” but the rest of the music, and the Japanese OP stands out from typical TV series fare. The music seems very reminiscent at time of the soundtracks that Jo Hisachi composed for various Ghibli films. Considering that Jo Hisachi is among the best composers in Japan, this is a compliment indeed.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : B
Animation : B-
Art : B+
Music : A
+ Character development and story light years beyond the usual kids fare. Amazing music
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