Reviewby Theron Martin,
Sub.DVD - Darkness, the Hat, and the Travelers of the Books: Complete Collection
Tall, dark-haired beauty Hazuki has developed what she knows is an inappropriate type of love for her (adopted) mute older sister Hatsumi. Upon visiting Hazuki's room late at night to act on it, though, she is treated to a startling sight: Hatsumi speaks for the first time, then disappears in a burst of light. Soon thereafter a bulbous bird and a strange young woman in an even stranger hat magically arrive on the scene, claiming to have just missed someone that they were long looking for named Eve. That chance encounter leads Hazuki and newcomer Lilith on a world-hopping journey, while the alchemist Gargantua and his goblin-like minions are also on the lookout for a special woman for his own reasons – and that woman also bears a striking resemblance to the sibling that Hazuki and Lilith know by different names.
This 13-episode series is a true oddity in more than one way. It originally aired in 2003 but then languished for 9½ years before finally being picked up by Media Blasters in 2013. They originally solicited the title for a late 2013 release, but the title then languished again with unspecified delays – but never a formal cancellation! – for another nearly 2½ years before finally making it out at the end of March of this year. (Curiously, some other titles that Media Blasters licensed around the same time got vastly quicker releases.) Perhaps they should have taken a little longer still, as even accounting for the series' age the video transfer on the three included DVDs is not the greatest and the subtitles have the occasional grammar error. Still, at least it is finally now out.
The other major reason that the series is an oddity – and the main reason why something from the early 2000s might be of interest to newer anime fans – is because it does not much resemble anything else out there. The series has its origins in an adult visual novel (for hentai fans, it is from the same studio that originated Moonlit Lady), and while that explains a few things about how the series looks and feels, making too many assumptions based on that is dangerous. Unlike virtually all of its kin (and, indeed, the original game), this adaptation does not have a central male character; in fact, the most prominent recurring male cast member, the alchemist Gargantua, is only sporadically the focal point. The series instead focuses much more on Hazuki and Lilith and all of the strange situations they get into, but even they are not in every episode and they are not always the focal points even when they are present.
The storytelling approach is also most definitely not linear. The first episode might fool viewers into thinking otherwise, as it carefully lays out Hazuki's circumstances and feelings and leads up to Hatsumi's disappearance and Lilith's arrival, but after that it jumps all over the place. In one episode the girls are part of a cast of many on a Siberian train, where a dangerous spy game is playing out. In another they are in a prehistoric era where Lilith gets mistaken for a god because of her hat. In yet another they are on a colony spaceship in the future which seems to only be populated by children and a controlling AI. At other times it shifts to other characters, such as episodes laying out the origins of Gargantua and how he came to be the lord of an extradimensional castle and a situation involving him, a princess, and a female alchemist whom he knew in his childhood years. The mechanics for all of this world-shifting is an interdimensional library, where each of the books is the physical representation of a separate reality and which is Lilith's home base.
Each of the individual worlds has its own drama and self-contained story, but exactly how all of these story threads and worlds go together is far from clear at first. In fact, the overall effect is akin to a jigsaw puzzle, where the whole picture does not make much sense until a final piece is fit into place in episode 11. When that piece does get put into place, everything make sense almost instantly. But while the gimmick is relatively simple and straightforward, the consequences it spins off are not, and that results in the series spending most of its last two episodes dealing with those consequences. Though some aspects of the conclusion are bittersweet and others are perhaps oversimplified, it is nonetheless a very satisfying wrap-up to a broad and complicated tale.
While the storytelling generally works quite well, not all of the series does. A couple of recurring characters pop up whose natures are never really explored or explained in much detail, and the occasional attempts at humor (mostly involving the antics of Gargantua's goblins) are weak and mostly ineffectual. Some things are just inexplicably weird, too, like how the prehistoric girl Quill keeps introducing herself every 30 seconds. (And this probably is not much of an exaggeration on average.) And as for the action scenes? Let's just say that this is a cut-rate animation job by the same studio and director behind the original Fate/stay night TV series, and they chose to make the cuts most heavily in almost any scene with action in it. In fact, I only recall one action sequence in the entire series which has even a few seconds of sustained animation.
One thing that the series does not skimp on, though, is its character designs. It lavishly depicts both its male and female characters as great beauties, and all of the prominent female characters come off as either voluptuously sexy or cute in an early-moe-boom style. (The character design style has some traits similar to what would be seen in Air a year later.) While there is no fully-exposed nudity, the series is not short on milder doses of fan service or occasionally interesting costuming choices. The yuri element which is used as a prominent advertising point for the series does pop up from time to time, but it is not pervasive enough, or enough of a focal point, to accurately label this as a true yuri series. Besides, it does have a fair amount of heterosexual attraction, too.
Like with the storytelling, the musical score is all over the place. It freely samples from across the musical spectrum without ever really using any unifying themes, which makes for a musical score that is generally effective and quite adaptable but also rarely consistent; at times it may even be too eclectic for its own good. The only staples are the not-especially-memorable opener and closer.
Media Blasters opted not to dub the series or give it a spruced-up release, so this is a bare-bones, sub-only DVD version, one which uses different case artwork than the originally-advertised release from late 2013. No Extras are present beyond company trailers.
All-in-all, Yamibō is a series which requires some patience. Many (though admittedly not all) of its vignettes are stronger than what they may initially appear to be, enough so that they balance out the weaker elements, and the series does eventually make sense. Give it your trust and you should be rewarded.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : C
Art : B-
Music : B
+ Individual strong vignettes, elaborate character designs, main stories come together neatly in the end.
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