Is that an OVA in your pocket, or are you just happy to see Judge Joel Pearce?
…Every hapless college boy's dream come true!
Although I generally try to avoid overused expressions (like the plague) in my reviews, the first volume of the new Ah! My Goddess series is a stark reminder that size isn't everything.
The original Ah! My Goddess series has aged so well that I'm not sure we really need a longer series. I really enjoyed the original series, as well as the movie that followed. They had fine animation for the time, and managed to maintain an innocence and restraint that I have rarely seen since. For those familiar with the old OVA series, not much has changed. Keiichi is a young man living in an all-male dorm, and a member of the auto club. He laments his ongoing failures with women until one day he gets a wrong number and reaches the goddess hotline. When a beautiful goddess named Belldandy emerges and promises Keiichi a wish, he goes against his better judgment and asks to be able to stay with her forever.
The potential benefit of reworking Ah! My Goddess into a full length series is an increase in character and plot depth. And yet, somehow, the original series feels deeper and more thoughtful. The sensitivity and simplicity of the original has given way to a focus on silly humor and generic supporting characters. Clearly, some of this comes from the fact that Ah! My Goddess is based on a manga series that has run for well over a decade and pioneered the whole "nerdy boy hooking up with an unattainable beauty" genre. What made the original OVA series so incredible was the way it cut through the conventions of the genre to find the heart of its characters. Now, with so much more running time, that heart often gets lost in the humor.
Apparently, this is the beginning of a television series that will run as long as fans are still clamoring for more of Keiichi and Belldandy. Since I have never read the manga series that the shows are based on, I can only guess that both this series and the original follow the book quite closely. The character art is definitely similar, as well as the basic plot structure. The focus is still on Keiichi's inability to make his move on the goddess he finds himself living with, as well as the assumptions made about their relationship by his peers. Their shock at his living with a girl doesn't seem realistic in North American society, but perhaps things are still different in Japan. Either way, fans who can't get enough of this brand of humor will be very happy with how this new series plays out. For the rest of us, though, it gets tiring after a few episodes. I find the plot too simple to sustain such a long series. Things try to pull Keiichi and Belldandy apart, and the system force acts in humorous ways to keep them together. Keiichi is hopelessly in love with Belldandy, but incapable of doing anything about it. This plot was great for a short OVA, but after watching this disc, I can't imagine maintaining interest in it for a full television run (or a long-running manga series, for that matter).
The animation is also somewhat underwhelming. It was clearly produced on a television budget, which means the animation has clean sharp lines, some well-produced CGI, and a lot of cheaply drawn, static backgrounds. There was no real attempt to make Ah! My Goddess look as though it had a larger budget than it did, either. The static animation is never hidden well, although it's never ugly. Media Blasters has done a fine job with the transfer. The video is sharp and clean, a stunning presentation of such bland animation.
The audio is also good, with a clean stereo mix in both English and Japanese. The English dub is quite lackluster, while the original language track is much stronger.
There isn't much in the way of extras. There are some parody scenes featuring the Japanese voice actors, which don't make much sense. There are also some interviews with the Japanese voice cast, at a press screening. It's really flaky, but I suppose that's no surprise.
If you, like me, are a fan of the original OVA but have never delved into the long-running manga series, you will want to give the first volume of Ah! My Goddess a spin before you buy it. That said, if you already love the manga and are committed to experiencing more of it in anime form, this is your chance. I just wish it still had the same level of heart.
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