If you have watched much anime you probably have a pretty good idea of what will happen if some Japanese high school students are suddenly transported to a strange and dangerous new world. They will quickly bond with each other even if they didn’t know each other previously. They may be frightened, but they will face the unfamiliar threats and challenges with courage and integrity. They will stick together, fiercely resisting any attempts to turn them against each other. They will never, ever let each other down.
It is easy to poke fun at the gambatte spirit, but it is a standard part of the genre, and one that gives it a great deal of its charm. To find it missing would be disconcerting.
But what if it does appear to be missing? What if the characters, placed in a frightening situation that they could not have anticipated, behaved less like the people that we wish we were, and more like the people that we fear that we actually are? Could this still be a good story? Actually the answer is “Yes.”
Original TitleJuuni Kokki
GenresFantasy, Drama, Adventure
Contents45 Episodes on 10 DVDs (2 box sets)
LanguagesEnglish, Japanese with subtitles
Based onA series of novels by Fuyumi Ono
Character DesignAkihiro Yamada
Animation DirectorHiroto Tanaka
Animation StudioStudio Pierrot
Region 1 PublisherMedia Blasters
I don’t mean to suggest that this is some sort of dreary postmodern exercise in moral relativism. This is a fascinating adventure story set in a richly imaginative (and beautifully drawn) fantasy world. There are real heroes and real villains and acts that are definitely good or definitely evil.
However the evil springs mostly from ordinary human weakness and the line that separates the heroes from the villains is sometimes disturbingly thin. This is a thoughtful adventure story that raises interesting and troubling questions. What is the source of evil? What is it exactly that distinguishes a hero from a villain? If you had the power to create a world with whatever natural laws you wished, could you design one that would encourage people to behave virtuously? Or would they keep on being as cruel and wicked as ever in spite of your best efforts?
The series does not offer definitive answers to these questions, and to the extent that it does suggest answers they are not necessarily ones that will appeal to Western viewers. There is a strong element of Confucianism here. Still it is possible to ignore the questions and just enjoy the adventure story.
The greatest weakness of this series is in its dramatic structure. There are four major story arcs. The first, third and fourth arcs all have reasonably satisfactory endings, but the second arc ends abruptly leaving most of its questions unanswered. Apparently this was intended to lay the groundwork for a third season of the anime which was never made (and at this point probably never will be made.)
Though I would like to see the missing third season, I think the series as a whole is pretty satisfactory. We are not dealing with an “InuYasha ending” here; most of the story lines are wrapped up in an appropriate way. In spite of its imperfections, this is still a great work of high fantasy.
This series is too dark and violent for young children. The violence is necessary to the story and is not excessively graphic. Nevertheless there are a number a scenes that I would not want to expose a young child to.
I would say that age 10 is the absolute minimum, and it would have to be a fairly tough-minded ten year old at that. Teenagers should be able to handle it without much difficulty, and most will probably enjoy the series.
The box sets are beautifully packaged with cases designed to resemble hardcover books, complete with replicas of the original cover art.
The liner notes don’t contain too many spoilers but I would still suggest watching the anime before reading them. This is a world best discovered without too many preconceptions. For that reason I am not going to go into a lot of detail about it.
The first DVD box set, which ends with the incomplete story arc, is not very satisfactory by itself.