Reviewby Theron Martin,
The World is Still Beautiful
Sub.Blu-Ray - Complete Collection
Nike is the fourth and youngest princess of the Principality of Rain, a once-great-but-now-poor Eastern kingdom noted for its regular rain and for the fact that members of its Royal Family can manipulate the weather with their songs. When the principality cuts a deal with the all-conquering Sun Kingdom to maintain its independence, one condition is that one of its princesses be sent to the Sun Kingdom to be the Sun King's wife, and as the loser of a rock-paper-scissors match, Nike was the one chosen. After some misadventures, Nike arrives before the Sun King, only to discover that Livius I is actually quite young. She is struck, however, by how he does not have a child's eyes or demeanor despite having a child's appearance. Livius, for his part, soon discovers that in grasping to control rain-making power he has gotten much more than he bargained for, as Nike is not about to put up with being his plaything or obedient servant. Despite the tumultuous start to their relationship and opposition on several fronts, love may eventually blossom, for in the other each finds something that they were subconsciously searching for.
As shojo romantic dramedies go, this 12 episode series from the Spring 2014 season is one of the most accessible recent offerings. Even those who do not normally care for such fare could find this to be a pleasing viewing experience, as it takes great pains to avoid the most noxious of the common shojo stylistic elements (especially visually) and focuses on male and female leads who are both more lively and less grounded in typical genre archetypes than what is normally seen in such fare. The result is a fun and occasionally heartfelt series which achieves moments of greatness but falls short of consistently delivering at that level.
The keys to the series' success are its central couple. Almost the entirety of the first episode is spent introducing Nike, a vivacious, rambunctious young woman who may be a bit naïve but who is unafraid to take the initiative or speak her mind and is not easily cowed by a challenge, whether it be priests assigning a potentially deadly task for her to prove worthy of being the Sun King's bride or lashing back at a king who she feels is being unreasonable. Livius first appears at the end of episode 1 but gets fully introduced in episode 2, where we quickly learn that, despite his apparent youth, he is an enormously talented ruler who has spent the last three years since his mother's assassination ruthlessly securing power and conquering the world. That has left him bitter, jaded, and with a bit of a cruel streak, which results in him and the vastly more optimistic Nike initially locking horns. (More problematically, his apparent age of around 12 or 13 shakes the credibility of his behavior and actions.) However, from their first encounter Nike is also able to sense his loneliness, and her strong will and the way she can see the beauty in things that he no longer can soon makes an impression on Livius. That provides the groundwork for the emotional connection which Nike must have to work her most powerful magic (the rain-making song) for him, and over time and through various trials the connection gradually grows into love. Many of the series' best scenes involves that connection demonstrably being in full bloom, although both characters are also enjoyable to watch on their own.
The plot of the series mostly consists of 1-2 episode vignettes, with the longest being a three episode arc about Nike returning to the Principality of Rain with Livius in tow. Along the way both confront minor romantic complications (both of which seem designed to show how suitable Nike is for being Livius's mate) and assassination attempts, as well as some staunch opposition from different angles: some Sun Kingdom nationals do not like that Nike is a member of an ethnic minority, while some in Nike's family have completely unrelated concerns about her living apart from them. The parts of the series which are not explicitly about Nike and Livius falling in love are mostly about how they deal with these problems. For the most part that is a strength of the series, too, but the focus so firmly remaining on them also creates an “out of sight, out of mind” effect when it comes to dealing with the consequences of certain actions. The biggest instance of this is how the machinations behind the early opposition and assassination attempts just get swept under the rug once that scenario is no longer needed to help power the love story, though the series does a much more complete and satisfying job in the way it handles Nike's troublesome grandmother in the end.
For all that the series emphasizes its dramatic and romantic elements, it is also very distinctly a comedy, sometimes to the point of goofiness. While that element mostly works very well, it does come across as uncomfortably awkward in places, especially involving a pair of recurring bumbling criminals who make some fourth wall-breaking comments in the first episode which imply that they need to assault a young woman for sake of fan service. Fortunately that proves to be a singular moment of bad taste and is the only joke in the series which completely and unequivocally bombs.
The production effort from studio Pierrot results in a series which much more resembles something like Akame ga Kill! in visual style (especially the bold way that it uses color) than anything in the shojo realm. Backgrounds and clothing designs use a classic European theme with the Sun Kingdom, while the Principality of Rain gets a mix of oriental (for the architecture) and central/east Asian (for some of the clothing, especially Nike's formal wear in the next-to-last episode), although some of the apparel seen there also has a much more modern flair to it; certainly the standard short dress that Nike wears is a modern design. Over the course of the series both she and Livius get several other prettier outfits, too. Character designs cast Livius as a cutie sure to endear himself to shota fans, while Nike has more of a down-to-earth feel to her appearance. The animation regularly uses dramatically exaggerated expressions and SD artistry and takes a fair amount of shortcuts, though its highlight scenes do get much more detailed treatment. Overall it is not a top-level effort but does have its own appeal. Male-oriented fan service is basically nonexistent beyond one shot of Nike which only appears in the first episode's version of the opener.
The musical score defaults to a grandly dramatic orchestrated approach somewhat reminiscent of an old-school Disney movie or classic Hollywood romance, which was probably the intent. It does at times come across too heavily (especially in the first half of the series), but when not doing so it sets the mood effectively. The rain-making song used by Nike, which is sung by her seiyuu and comes in a couple of minor variations, feels a little out-of-place at times with its adult contemporary style but is a decent song overall. Much more impressive is the melancholic song of parting sung by her grandmother in the final episode. Opener “Beautiful World” is a boisterous song which matches the spirit of the heroine well; its visuals update several times (usually in minor ways) over the course of the series, with more characters being added in as they are introduced and other changes, too. Closer “Promise” by Nike's seiyuu is a gentler number which is basically a love song from Nike to an exclusively-featured (and naked) Livius.
Sentai Filmworks' release of the title lacks an English dub, which is a shame because seeing how they would have handled the casting here could have been very interesting. The Japanese dub makes the unusual move of having Livius voiced by an adult male seiyuu (Nobunaga Shimazaki, the voice of Haruka in Free!) using a normal voice rather than the more typical approach of having a boy his apparent age voiced by a woman. This was a quite effective choice, though, as it readily conveys the “old beyond his years” impression that the series was aiming for. Nike was the first lead role for Rena Maeda, who gives Nike a slightly huskier voice than might be expected and was definitely cast more for her singing than acting ability, though she does acquit herself well in some late scenes.
Even beyond lacking an English dub, this is a pretty basic release for Sentai. It comes in separate DVD and Blu-Ray versions, with all 12 episodes packed onto a single disc in the latter case. The only Extras are clean openers and closers, but all versions of the opener are included.
Director Hajime Kamegaki has a directorial career which includes some classic shojo manga adaptations (Fushigi Yugi, Ceres, Celestial Legend) but also some anime which are decidedly not shojo (Air Gear, KenIchi The Mightiest Disciple). That mix of experience serves well in bringing a balance between romance, comedy, and the more serious elements. Less expertly-handled is the pacing of the romantic developments, which do seem to move along too swiftly early on. Despite that, the series is well-capable of endearing itself to viewers of all stripes in the way that it presents its sweet love story.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B
+ Strong and interesting leads, especially Nike; humor often works well; at its best can have some emotional impact.
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