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Anime Reviews: Seraphim Call
Some Basic Information About the Series
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 and each struggling to overcome the weaknesses and insecurities that haunt them, it may very well be true that, within the ordinary, the extraordinary can be found.
The Good: Engrossing, episodic narratives create attaching and interesting characters filled to the brim with thematic depth
The Bad: Not every episode's a winner; the last episode is a let-down
The Ugly: Anime hairstyles of the 90s were certainly...interesting
How in the world did I come across something THIS obscure?
So, as I may have mentioned before, I used to visit a now-defunct anime review site called Anime Academy. From the hundreds of titles in the library, I would read every single review and that's how I came to discover many of my early favorites. And then I stumbled upon the page for Seraphim Call, a series that I and just about everyone else had never heard of, which was given a high score (an 86%, which is pretty damn good) by a reviewer called Mugs, infamous around the site for his love of ultra-violent action series like Berserk and Devilman. How in the world did this super-girly-looking show get such a good rep from this guy? Well, I wasn't about to find out--this series is incredibly rare, after all--until over a decade later.
Now that I've seen Seraphim Call for myself, I have to say Mugs was right on the money. While certainly not perfect, there is nonetheless plenty of value to be found here, especially considering the series was created by Sunrise--a studio who made its name with manly action series--who clearly were operating out of their comfort zone. I just found that interesting.
Where does Seraphim Call live up to its angelic moniker?
The first thing you might notice--aside from the art and animation, which are perfectly fine but not particularly noteworthy--is the episodic nature of the series. Each new episode typically centers around an entirely new character as we see them in their daily lives before coming to learn about their personal struggles. Meaning, of course, this series puts more emphasis on character development than on any overarching narrative (and boy, will that be obvious later). Episodic anime aren't exactly rare, but Seraphim Call uses this structure to inject some insightful and interesting themes into each episode.
Most of the thematic elements are postmodern in nature--the twins Sakura and Shion wrestle with the question of whether reality is the only source of truth, Tanpopo's story is all about the effects (and rejection of) cultural norms, Saeno deals with the subjective nature of how we perceive reality, both Kurumi and Urara's stories play with the idea of metafiction and how fiction can shape our ideas of reality...so the series is really big on the whole subjectivity of reality thing, which is postmodernism's bread and butter. It's one thing for these kinds of themes and ideas to be present, but if the story they're being used to tell isn't any good, then, well, it isn't any good. But it is!
For most of the show's run, I was glued to the screen. Everything about the series' direction and writing made it easy to get attached to each new character (even if the voice acting wasn't always on point...lookin' at you, Hatsumi...), and so their individual arcs were a joy to watch. Personally, I found Hatsumi and Urara's stories to be the most engrossing--themes of authenticity, loneliness, self-doubt, and alienating escapism run rampant through those episodes, and neither tale is told in a conventional manner, making these two stories a treat for the brain as well as the heart. Whether it's a comedic action set piece or a somber reflection on what it means to lose yourself, there's very few bases Seraphim Call doesn't cover. Honestly, there's something for everyone to be found here, as long as you're willing to look for it.
Are there any flaws threatening to condemn this series?
Unfortunately, because the thematic net being cast by the series is so broad, it's only natural that there's an episode here and there that doesn't quite match up to its peers. For me, it would be Shion's episode--it was already going to be shaky from the start, as each of the twins gets their own episode and both episodes are a little too similar to each other. Sakura's episode came second, but I think Sakura's character arc had a lot more to latch onto and enjoy, whereas Shion's arc was a little tougher to swallow. I feel like both arcs could've been resolved in a single episode (the pacing was a little glacial for them both), and so I didn't enjoy this one as much as the other stories. I also didn't find Chinami's story, where she tries to balance a normal home life while trying to keep her mother from remarrying, to be all that particularly engaging, but that's less a flaw with the show and more a flaw with my taste in narratives.
The other thing that really fries my biscuits about Seraphim Call is its finale. Some of the characters get a bit of closure to their stories, and we also see several of them interacting for the first time, which is nice and all, but when you have an episodic series like this that deals with poignant themes and dramatic conclusions, it's only natural to expect the last episode to be something truly spectacular, but it wasn't. We get a slide show. I'm not even kidding. I would say this might be a brilliant stroke of storytelling genius, as the betrayal of expectations and subverting norms is a key component of postmodernism...but I think, this time, it was just the result of Sunrise itching to move on to their next Gundam series.
So, did Seraphim Call deserve to be lost to the ages?
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. However, there's absolutely no reason at all that this profound little show should have been relegated to the bargain bin of history. If you want to see an anime that delves deep into the minds of its characters while also being one of the most creative and thematic 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 poignant 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 Seraphim Call's brilliance.