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Anime Reviews: Seraphim Call
This obscure and rather surprising shoujo anime outing by Sunrise delivers some wonderful and unique postmodern material.
Title: Seraphim Call
Series Length: 12 episodes
Air Dates: 10/6/1999 to 12/22/1999
Age Rating: 7+ (some mature themes)
Summary: The year is 2010. Silently sitting upon the Pacific Ocean, the floating city of Neo Acropolis stands as a marvel of human architecture and engineering, where normal people lead their normal lives in a world of amazing technological advancement. However, in the careful observation of 11 specific young women whose lives are intertwined by ties both intimate and distant, it is evident that within the ordinary, the extraordinary can be found.
The Good: Unique premise; deep and likable characters; most of the stories are compelling
The Bad: A few stories are weak; the last episode could have been handled better
The Ugly: How do Kurumi and Chinami maintain those hairstyles?
Here's a fun fact: This anime was produced by Sunrise, the same studio who brought us Cowboy Bebop, Outlaw Star, and roughly 99% of all the Gundam TV series and movies to have ever been released.
Much like Last Exile, this show and I go way back, long before I ever saw it. When I was a wee lad of 14 years, I stumbled across a website called Anime Academy, which became (and was, until its untimely demise) my favored source of anime reviews. Among the many titles reviewed there, I spotted one that caught my eye: Seraphim Call. The review was written by a guy called Mugs, who lives for ultra-violent anime like Berserk and Devilman, but yet gave an obscure little shoujo anime a high rating (86%, if I recall correctly). This, I decided, was worth investigating. However, no matter where I looked, I couldn't find it anywhere--until now, that is. Took a damn long time, if you ask me. While I was a little disappointed that this wasn't the next big thing to blow my mind, I still was rewarded with a perfectly competent series with a lot of originality.
The very first thing you'll notice about Seraphim Call (aside from the art and animation, which are good but nothing spectacular) is that there is no real story arc to speak of. Each episode consists of a series of events pertaining to the girl who happens to be the main character for those 23 minutes, which means that the focus of the series is not on narrative, but on character. One could say Seraphim Call is a perfect example of postmodernism in anime, given that elements of other genres and various references to other works manage to squeeze themselves into the narrative--for example, Yukina's giant, suspiciously Gundam-like robot and Ayaka's Thunderbirds-esque crime-fighting vehicle team are both very funny jabs at mecha anime. Many of the classic themes of postmodernism are at play here, as well. We have the question of reality vs. fiction as a source of truth (Sakura/Shion's stories, Kurumi's story), the rejection of cultural norms and fashions (Tanpopo's story), the disjointed nature of reality itself and how we perceive it (Saeno's story, Urara's story), metafiction (Yukina's story, Kurumi's story), questions of gender and beauty (Sakura's story, Hatsumi's story), and I could go on and on. The point is that the premise of the show allows it to be deep and engaging without having a long and continuous story to follow.
While having a unique postmodern framework is interesting enough, it also helps that it's anchored in place by characters we come to care about through their struggles or their lack thereof. I can almost guarantee that there will be a character everyone can latch onto and identify with, whether it's the extremely socially awkward Yukina, the spoiled yet kind-hearted Ayaka, the pseudo tomboy Hatsumi, or any of the other members of this very down-to-earth cast. Most of their development comes from the trials they face in their stories, and it definitely helps that the majority of them are highly enjoyable. Whether it's overblown and dramatic like Yukina's story (she is a budding scientist who must help the local police diffuse a deadly bomb), or subtle and low-key like Urara's story (she tries to cope with both the death of her father and the sudden confession of love from her childhood friend in the form of a one-man play), each tale brings something new to the table; dramatic or hilarious, poignant or outright silly, one of them is bound to stick with you long after the final credits roll.
Unfortunately, because of the wide range of topics each story covers, it's inevitable that a few of them would be weaker than the rest. Maybe it's just me, but I found Chinami's story (where she attempts to maintain a normal home life while preventing her divorced mother from remarrying) to be an absolute bore. Like I said, it's probably just because I've seen this kind of story done to death, but it didn't resonate with me at all. It also doesn't help that the final episode failed to deliver the epic finale this series deserves. To be fair, we do get some nice closure on the characters' stories and we see them interacting for the first time, but I was expecting their tales to intersect in a grand fashion. Instead, we get a slide show. No joke. Maybe this was an artistic choice, based on the postmodern tradition of betraying expectations, but...no, I think the folks at Sunrise just wanted to move onto their next Gundam series.
Sadly, Seraphim Call was not the 'all that and a bag of chips' I was expecting it to be, but I blame my expectations being unreasonable rather than the show itself. If you want to see an anime that delves deep into the minds of its characters while also being one of the most creative shows out there, then I would give this series the highest recommendation. Just be warned that the ending will be a mild, pleasant anticlimax where a profound and moving grand finale should have been.
Final Score: 8 out of 10. This unexpected shoujo anime by Sunrise proves that a series can indeed be carried by its characters alone, but a weak episode here and there as well as a subdued finale serve only to dampen its brilliance.