Simoun DVD Review
Simoun is a complex anime. Its story takes place in a different world, a world with its own history and religions, a world that you will feel compelled to learn about and discover. The series revolves around several Sybillae – young girls who serve as priestesses and fly ancient relics called Simoun. At times of peace the Sybillae offer prayers to their god using elaborate air maneuvers they perform with the Simoun. Although the Sybillae have been trained only to serve the god the Simoun are also the most efficient and offensive planes found in the country of Kyuukoku. Kyuukoku has been locked in a war with its neighboring countries for more than 50 years and the Sybillae are consecutively forced to participate in aerial battles to protect their country. The story focuses on the Sybillae who form an aerial unit called Chor Tempest. At the heart of Chor tempest reside the charismatic leader Amuria and the gifted pilot Neviril. But when one of the neighboring counties launches a devastating attack on the Chor and kills Amuria Chor Tempest starts to break at the seams. Neviril enters a deep depression and the Chor’s duties are suspended. The remaining members lose their moral and start to question if them using the holy Simoun for war is not an act condemned by the god. To reinforce the Chor four new members are added: the highly trained Aer, the child genius Limone, the optimistic Morinas and the cunning Dominūra. The Sybillae soon discover that Aer is not only the most gifted pilot the country has ever seen, but also has valuable battle experience. However that might not be enough to save Kyuukoku from losing the war. The war is becoming direr by the day, and Chor Tempest is in no condition to operate. The new Chor Tempest must regain its former unified strength and lead the way to victory and peace between the feuding nations.
Simoun is all about the characters. Every character has her own desires, motivation and sometimes secrets. You’ll find that the inner struggles within Chor Tempest are the heart and soul of the series. All the characters have interesting personalities, and most of them are easy to relate to. The first ten episodes or so seem to focus too much on trying to persuade Neviril to fly again, but Neviril is perhaps to most alien character in the series and is very hard to understand or symphonize with. Aer is the complete opposite. She’s a great main character and seeing her stirring the cauldron that is Chor Tempest is a joy. Simoun manages to unify the Sybillae’s personal struggles and the county’ overarching struggle. While there certainly are a lot of personal interactions at hand the war takes precedence and is an everlasting shadow dictating the way the plot advances. This adds tension to a series. The war happens on the ground and in the air, and we follow the Sybillae wherever it takes them. When an enemy is detected the Sybillae are sent to fight in their Simoun. The fights are usually decided in a matter of minutes, and are not that exciting per se, but do provide a good change of pace from all the talking. The overall flow of the series is almost addictive. You get familiar with all the characters and follow their daily lives, only to witness them going to another dangerous mission. You want to see another episode just to find out what happened at the end of that battle, or who will be the next Sybillae to reveal her secrets. You want to because you care, because Simoun is crafted well enough to make you care.
There are no villains and heroes in the world of Simoun. Kyuukoku is fighting to protect its land, but also to protect the enigmatic engine that powers all the country’s vehicles – a pollution free device called the Helical Motor. One of the neighboring countries – Shoukoku – is suffering from the choking hazards of pollution caused from over-industrialization. The people of Shoukoku need the Helical Motor technology or else they’ll die from the pollution that surrounds them. They had no choice but to declare war on Kyuukoku to obtain it. Can you blame them for doing so?
Simoun offers a nice twist on the traditional boy-girl romance theme. In the world of Simoun everyone is born as a girl, and when they reach the age of 17 or 18 they must go to a special place called “the spring” to decide whether they would like to become a woman or a man. That is to say, while everyone is born as a girl not everyone has the mindset and feelings of a woman. This makes things much more interesting. Granted, that is the plot device that provides the reasoning behind the yuri theme of the series, but it also makes gender as a whole irrelevant. Since man in the world of Simoun are all born girls they have feminine voices and can also have male lovers at their side. Some of the Simoun have affinities for each other and their young age, as well as their enigmatic gender, spices the old conventions of romance pretty well. Kissing scenes are abundant in the series (because they are a required element in operating the Simoun) but there is no visual sexual content and except for two very specific characters the series avoids going in that direction altogether.
Visually Simoun is a mixed bag. The character designs all look great. Each character has tons of personality and is easy to recognize. The Simoun and the airships in the series are rendered in CG. This is done in good taste and blends very well with the artwork. However, the backgrounds used in the series are very poorly drawn. They have a lot of details in them, but they are drawn very simplistic and feel cheap. You’ll see characters with detailed shadings and elaborate clothes standing in rooms that look like they were drawn by a little kid. And since the series recycles a lot of rooms over and over you will notice the ugly background pretty early on. The backgrounds used in the most important scenes are drawn better than the rest, but don’t quite manage to compensate for the overall problem. Simoun also has art inconsistency issues. For example Wauf – the captain of the ship Messis – is drawn as an old man with a round belly. But in some brief scenes he appears as a young slim man. Wapōrif is a man who had big breasts as a girl and because two years have passed since he went to the spring and became a man he is gradually losing his womanly features. In one of the later episodes he appears to have finally lost his breasts entirely (a fact that the crew doesn’t neglect to mention), only to appear with big breasts again an episode later. These little character inconsistencies are minor, yet obvious enough to catch the eye. Animation is very limited in Simoun, but when the chance arises and swift movement is needed the animation doesn’t disappoint. The music of Simoun makes up for any problems in the art. The series music is fluid and highly adaptable. It never feels out of place and usually fits perfectly. In fact the soundtrack of Simoun is so solid that some of these beautiful songs might steal your attention at times, tempting you to close your eyes and just enjoy them on their own.
For this review I watched the Simoun DVD Complete Collection from Media Blasters, which is also refered to as the Simoun Endless Melody Collection. The DVD case contains 5 DVDs, some of which are packed on top of each other. It’s not the prettiest packaged series out there, but it gets the job done. The DVDs’ menu is not very functional. For once, there is a setup sub-menu for the audio and subtitles, but this series only comes in Japanese with English subtitles so upon entering this sub-menu you will find only one option in there – Japanese with English subtitles. The episode selection sub-menu is also annoying because you have to press forward almost five times just to pass over one episode. The visual and audio qualities of the DVDs are very good, and I would advise you to watch this series upscaled since it was made for widescreen TVs.
The English subtitles are somewhat lacking. Simoun is a text-heavy series and the translator did a great job most of the time. That said, there are a lot of mistranslations to be found (I stopped counting after I reached ten mistranslations and that was around the halfway point of the series). These mistranslations are of the worst kind – the kind that a person who doesn’t know Japanese wouldn’t notice at all. For example, in one episode Neviril tell Paraietta “I’ve leaned on you all for too long” but the English translation reads “I’ve allowed you all to humor me for too long”. Another episode has one character saying to the other “you are pure” (as in pure of sins), but in the English subtitles this is mistranslated as “you are beautiful”. You will also find the series opening theme’s translation to be lacking, and for some reason a person called Roadreamon is consistently mentioned as Roatreamon. These mistranslations would have been neglectable were they just light grammar errors, but considering that they can actually have an impact on the story and characters they are inexcusable. I also didn’t like the fact that every time someone from Shoukoku talks the word foreign appear on the bottom of the screen. It’s easy enough for the viewer to understand that the language used in Shoukoku is not Japanese (or any other language in our world) so writing the word foreign every time it is used only serve to divert our attention from watching the art on the screen.
The DVD extras are nice and entertaining. There are three types of extra features: a competition between all the Japanese voice actresses (presented on the first DVD only), a private session with two voice actresses at a time (every DVD feature a different set of actresses) and an intriguing commentary track by the director and art/animation director (found on all the DVDs except the first). All were quite enjoyable and are a worthy additions.
Despite some obvious drawbacks Simoun is a fantastic series. It has a rich story to tell, and will draw you in with its memorable and lovable cast. It is also a bit addictive and I found myself enjoying watching several episodes at a time. You’ll be hard-pressed to find many series which outperforms Simoun in the music department, and the character designs, while inconsistent at times, are attractive as well. After I finished watching the series I genuinely felt sad that I had to say goodbye to the world and characters I’ve grown so attached to. Finishing the series made me seriously consider watching it again from the start. Simoun has that kind of replay value and sentimental value. It definitely deserves a respectful place in your anime collection.
- Excellent music.
- Loveable and memorable characters.
- Interesting plot with potential for addiction.
- Crucial English mistranslations harm the story.
- Backgrounds are too plain.
Final Score: 9.5/10
Product Information: Simoun DVD Complete Collection. Published by Media Blasters (under the Anime Works label). Release Date: June 16, 2009.
Review Equipment: Samsung 32-Inch LCD HDTV (LA32B530) connected to a Premier DVX131 DVD player using an HDMI cable.