Reviewby Amy McNulty,
Time Travel Girl
Episodes 1-12 Streaming
High schooler Mari Hayase hasn't seen her scientist father Eiji in three years, and it's not until she stumbles upon a secret book her father left to her friend Waka Mizuki's older brother Shun that she finally gets some answers. When wearing the armillary compass necklace her father left her, Mari can flip through the pages of the book about famous inventors throughout (Western) history and travel back in time to meet these men just as they're about to make their breakthroughs. With Shun and Waka back in the present at Eiji's laboratory to offer technical support throughout her adventures, Mari sets out to find her father, learn some history, and eventually, evade the scheming businessman who's out to steal all of her father's discoveries.
Time Travel Girl manages to make a not-incredibly-original premise into an enjoyable enough affair on the strength of its characters and the humanistic look at some of history's greatest achievers. The show requires the audience to overlook some necessarily unrealistic plot points, such as how, exactly, Eiji managed to make this time travel technology breakthrough, why he uses it entirely to meet famous inventors, and why he feels no guilt about going back in time and potentially messing with the history of the world as we know it. (There's a cursory explanation that his—or Mari's—guidance is needed to make sure history follows its proper path, but they often change it or cause history to veer off-track in the first place by boldly interacting with these men and declaring that they come from the future.) However, it's all in good fun and allows the audience to learn more about the kinds of challenges the most prominent scientists and engineers went through to come up with their game-changing inventions. Most of the men (but amusingly, not all, particularly in the case of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison) struggle with self-confidence or belief in their inventions in the face of naysayers, but persistence pays off. That's a great lesson for kids to learn.
Even without the educational live-action segments at the end of each episode that recreate some famous historical experiments explained in layperson terms by the heroines of the series, Time Travel Girl has some definite PBS educational vibes. That's far from a bad thing, depending on your inclinations, but there's no escaping the educational heart of the show. A similar premise would entirely be at home in a very young children's show in the US. It's not for the typical anime fan, as it has more in common with PBS educational shows than most anime, but there's definite crossover appeal thanks to the characters.
Time travel stories like this one always open up debate over paradoxes such as predestination (in which the events of the past only ever occurred because of the time traveler's visit) and bootstrap (in which objects have no point of origin because they were introduced both in the past by the future and the future by the past). That's definitely the case here, although the show doesn't want to be taken that seriously. However, having Mari meet Eiji multiple times along the way—only it turns out it's her past's version of Eiji, when he's still returning home between adventures and she's a little girl—makes for an interesting variant on the formula. As Mari works to discover whatever became of the version of her dad she last met, we're given more clues to piece it all together along the way—and these clues reveal that Mari's time traveling is predestined after all.
Bubbly and intelligent, Mari is a great main character to watch, especially for the younger crowd this show is aimed at. Her crush on Shun is evident but doesn't overwhelm the action, and even a subplot about Waka's crush at school doesn't feel out of place. Although the group isn't as essential to history as the inventors Mari meets, they're fleshed out just enough to make them great point-of-view characters during the various adventures. The story often goes to unexpected places with them—it even starts with Waka's crush getting whacked in the chest with a stray ball and needing a defibrillator—but that's a plus that keeps the show from sticking too closely to the educational formula. Eiji, always with his head in the clouds, is less admirable but his flaws make him more interesting. Since characterization only runs so deep in this show, it's nice to see a variety of different types of people, even among the heroes. The historical figures are especially amusing to watch and each display some traits associated with them in the history books. (Franklin is a womanizer, Edison a narcissist, etc.) It is strange, though, that a show set and produced in Japan focuses only on American and European inventors instead of choosing a more global selection.
The main drawback of the story is the credibility of the antagonist, Joe Mikage, although he actually brings a lot of unintentional humor to the proceedings and is therefore fun to watch. This ruthless rich businessman, who had an inkling of what Eiji was up to before he disappeared but had no idea of the full extent, displays many villain tropes and almost seems out of place during his wining and dining monologues before he comes into contact with Mari and her family. He does, of course, provide an added level of danger toward the end when he crosses paths with her at last, but he still seems to belong to another show. Another more suitable antagonist turns out to be Thomas Edison himself, whose obsession with his inventions makes him far more narcissistic and less amiable to Mari's and her father's visits compared to the other researchers. Fortunately, the show ends with both antagonists playing a role in the conflict.
The art is serviceable enough and especially shines in the details of the historical settings in the background. It's odd to see these inventors we've seen largely as elder, sullen gentlemen with gray beards in photos and paintings as mostly bishonen young men, but their attractiveness is not overdone and is often explained away by the fact that their inventions actually occurred much earlier in their lives than those photos we most associate with them were taken, which makes sense when you think about it. Animation is minimal, but usually not distractingly so. The music is slightly classical in sound, fitting for a show that spends so much time throughout history, but it mostly fades into the background as many soundtracks do.
Part mystery, part educational romp through history, and part the story of several friends bonding over their one-of-a-kind adventures, Time Travel Girl is worth watching for most anime fans, especially those of a younger age. Even adults may be surprised to learn a few new things about history and science, although Mari's interference means you can only trust the proceedings to an extent. Check it out for historical value, humor (unintentional and intentional), and a fun time.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : B
+ Educational without sacrificing entertainment, compelling characters.
Full encyclopedia details about
|discuss this in the forum (9 posts) ||