For all the positive hype fansubs are claimed to generate (and please don’t take this as an opportunity to discuss!), they also have a habit of generate a fair amount of negative hype, and often unjustly at that. Satelight get more then their fare share of negative hype, and certainly most of it is unjust – Heat Guy J, probably the most ‘normal’ title they’ve produced, was panned by many as having mediocre animation and no plot right up until the DVD release (at which point people realised it was actually a superior example of the genre), but the likes of Aquarion has been slated repeatedly for being, well, spaztastic.
The most negatively received Satelight series is undoubtedly Earth Maiden Arjuna. Given I wasn’t hearing anything remotely positive back when it was first hitting R1 I was pretty much ready to skip on it until Bluwackys obsessive fanboyism persuaded me it might actually be worth a look.
Arjuna gets off to a fairly interesting start, actually. Juna, a would be archer (who sucks, badly) is hanging about with her boyfriend Tokio when she suggests they go off to the sea – the ‘proper’ sea, not the gunked up one where their city is built. Five minutes later, Juna is dead – the result of a motorcycle accident. During an out-of-body experience, she meets the spiritual form of Chris, who tells her he’ll restore her life if she agrees to help him save the earth (a process which involves her being blatted across the head with visuals of mankinds follies).
So, obviously agreeing (because, like, being dead sucks), Juna is brought back to life, and joins up with an organisation called SEED (nothing to do with Gundams ^^;), who sticks a magatama on her forehead and call her the Avatar of Time, or more commonly TI-2. From this point onwards, she can clearly see the misdoings of mankind – for example, every time she tries to eat a burger she see nothings but images of the pesticides and the crappy leftover meat what goes into it. Aside from that, Chris introduces her to the Raaja, mysterious wormlike creatures, apparently born from the injured earth, and who will eventually end it. Despite providing Juna with a magic bow, he is incredibly vague about what he actually intends Juna to do about the whole situation…
Junas new found situation kind of puts her at odds with Tokio – a thoroughly modern guy who likes to eat nothing more than Meriken Burgers, who starts to find Junas preaching about everything straining.
I kind of understand why Arjuna gets panned to a certain degree – the opening episodes are really rather heavy handed, showing you images of dead fish, unnecessary air conditioners, land fills and people wasting food. The worst is probably the fifth episode, where Tokio contracts a potentially fatal illness from eating a burger manufactured with genetically modified crops. From that point onwards, it mellows somewhat and gets more towards modern society being lazy than the heavy handed environmental issues, and this comes across as somewhat less grating. Honestly, I don’t really find it all that preachy anyway – whilst some claim the show to be anti-technology, its hard for me to agree with given SEEDs army of helicopters or the huge computer installations they use. The show is less about extremism than it is about moderation – technology is fine, as long as people aren’t too lazy about things.
Regardless of if you find the show preachy or not, I don’t really think people have a right to complain about all anime being generic if they don’t give this (or anything else Satelight produces for that matter) a look, and whilst you may disagree with some of the points they are trying to make, the show does at least give you something substantial to get your teeth into in terms of plot. Even if you were to completely disregard any of the messages they try to put forth, there is still quite a bit to get your teeth into here – there aren’t that many characters in the show, but those who do get screentime are at least well developed or interesting. The main relationship between Juna and Tokio, arguably the main ongoing plot concern, is definitely well handled.
Plot certainly isn’t the only thing good about Arjuna. I think after some of the stuff pulled in the recent Aquarion most people agree that director Kawamori has either gone insane or is smoking some pretty strong stuff these days. Arjuna definitely shows some of the kind of spazz that Aquarion does, and whilst the content of the show is more subdued, it doesn’t stop him doing zany things like inserting live action adverts for some of the (fictional) products featured in the series in place of the adbreak eyecatches. The fact that Kawamori is a genuinely good director anyway helps a lot as well – the pacing is good, and the action scenes have a good deal of pop to them.
The animation in Arjuna is good – really good. Ashura may look like crap, but otherwise the CG work actually looks far more mature than in a lot of more recent shows, and is integrated with the rest of the show really well. Apart from Ashura. The character designs are by Takahiro Kishida, who recently worked on Noein. It has a similar feel to a lot of the designs in Noein – the eyes have a similar look, and the lines are fairly simple but distinctive. In Arjuna they throw the characters around in the same dynamic ashion as Noein, which the same complete lack of intention to stick to model, whenever the need arises. It, kind of surprisingly, works well – the motion comse across as being very kinetic.
Oh, and the music is one of Kannos better works – which is really saying something.