August OWLS Tour – Believe.
In the month of Augiust, we OWLS will be discussing the many magnificent anime brought to us by Kyoto Animation. Our hearts and prayers go out to the survivors and the families who have lost loved ones. We believe Kyoto Animation will survive and someday again thrive.
How to review the first OVA of Munto, Kyoto Animation’s first child?
It reminds me of a science fiction story by Robert Heinlein where there are invisible islands in the sky populated by extremely sophisticated entities. Occasionally they look to Earth to collect pets. It is entitled “Goldfish Bowl“. It is a story from his collection of masterful short stories entitled “The Menace from Earth“.
Imagine… The sky we look at is really filled with floating islands. We can’t see
them because they are out of phase with the rest of the world and blocked by the space and time barrier. No science we have is able to reveal them to us. Rockets and aircraft can fly right through them.
They stay afloat by the use of a magical force called Akuto. Different races exist and each island is a separate kingdom. Akuto is needed for Heavenly beings to simply survive. because for “reasons” the Heavenly folk are sealed off from Earth, the Akuto cannot flow. Consequently the Akuto is running out.
The main Kingdom, known as the “Magical Kingdom” is using the remaining Akuto up quickly. The other Kingdoms go to war against it. The intent is to destroy the magical pillars that keep the kingdom floating in the sky. The island would then fall to earth, killing all its occupants and probably a large portion of the Earth’s people as well. The other islands would still fall eventually but with a lower rate of Akuto use they will last longer.
A seer for the Magical Kingdom has a vision of a girl who can restore the balance – our heroine and the real main character, Yumemi. The King of the Magical Kingdom is the incredibly powerful Munto. He decides that he must go to Earth to get the magic girl to restore the Akuto. The equally bad-ass dude he gets permission from is Gass, (some kind of guardian of the barrier) who allows him to do this despite it being a violation of the rules. So Munto drops off the edge and does a David Bowie.
Problem is that he’s leaving the supply of Akuto behind and the time-space barrier doesn’t allow him to replenish on Earth. He’ll die when he runs out and it is only a matter of time before all of the pillars are knocked out.
Yumemi Hidaka is really the central character here even though the title is Munto. She’s a 13 year old girl who has been able to see those floating islands her entire life. She never questioned that they were real until she tried pointing them out to her friends. She was immediately labeled a crackpot and a liar. But – lucky her – there were two girls at school who didn’t care and became her friends.
She doesn’t realize that she is the chosen one, the magical girl who can cross the time-space barrier and allow Akuto to flow up the the Heavens again. She is often seen carrying an umbrella to keep from being distracted by what she sees in the sky. Yumemi likes cloudy days so she can see the same sky as everyone else.
Munto is the King of the Magical Kingdom which is the heaviest user of Akuto. The King jumps off the edge of his island and lands with a crash on Earth in front of Yumimi. He is an an imperious douche-bag who just stands there and demands she give him her power and gripes at her because she isn’t addressing him formally as Lord Munto. This never changes, even when he is dying and fading out of existence. Of course nobody else can see him, leaving Yumemi to doubt her sanity.
He is oblivious to the problematic nature of his request. Imagine that you’ve had hallucinations your entire life. Then some jerk with flaming orange & yellow hair – that nobody else can see or hear – shows up and starts demanding you give him your power. You have no power that you are aware of and he offers no explanation. Being jostled by your friends causes him to disappear. This just reinforces the hallucination theory.
Ichiko Ono is one of Yumemi’s friends who accepted her despite her seeing things. She supportive and always encouraging of Yumemi. Ichiko really wants to see Yumemi’s sky islands but can’t and doesn’t really believe in them. When Yumemi is transfixed by the appearance of Munto, it is she who pulls her back to our reality.
Her personality makes her popular at school and she is an athlete. She can be a bit controlling of her friend at times. She could possibly develop romantic feelings for Yumemi but at this point it is reading more into the script that is actually there.
Ichiko does NOT like this red haired man Yumemi sees.
Suzume Imamura is short, childlike, and innocent – even for 13. Despite this she is often wise well beyond her years. As Yumemi’s other friend, she has more confidence in her odd visions. Of the three girls, she has a boyfriend, a purported juvenile delinquent who she sees the good in. She “marries” said boyfriend in a strange ceremony that involves doing something very difficult and dangerous together.
Kazuya Takamori is an emotional basket case until meeting and
falling in love with Suzume. He lives without companionship and acts out for attention until he decides nobody wants or needs him. He is in the process of committing suicide by drowning when Suzume runs into the water to stop him. Seeing her, he realizes he’s found someone to hold his hand.
The “marriage” is really a test of faith and trust in one another. It proves pivotal in Yumemi’s change of heart towards Munto.
Back to the Heavens, Gass is the Guardian of Time and called an “outsider”. He allows Munto to drop to Earth through an opening in Time. His power level is Bad Ass. Gass is willing to break rules and excercise more free will than a Guardian is allowed to. A petite, kawaii, elflike girl named Irita likes to hang out with him and the two get on very well.
I think they both seem Arabic in costume and he in appearance. Djinn’s?
Lady Ryueri is the seer who sacrificed her eyesight in order to have the vision that told Munto there was a girl with the power to fix things. She has a very young acolyte with her by the name of Toche. Aside from being very beautiful and holy, she doesn’t have much more to do with the plot.
There are, of course, bad guys. Like the other Heavenly characters, they have smaller roles. Leica is an opponent but not an evil one. She is the commander of an opposing army. Gntarl is the bad guy, plotting war and destruction on the Magical Kingdom. He has ulterior motives and cards he ain’t showin’.
For first baby steps, this show is not half bad. The art is colorful and sharp. The battle sequenced are really good. I have heard the DVD suffers from shimmering caused by early CG and an all digital medium. Having not seen it the DVD myself, I cannot say.
The anime starts to fail at characterization. From my perspective, there are only the three Earthly girls who get any development at all.
Ichiko feels a bit flat. (Of course she is only 13 and KyoAnime hasn’t fallen into the “every
girl has to have a large bust or she’s a loli” rut yet. That’s a joke. Laugh.) She mostly serves to pull Yumemi back from “where ever” when she appears to turn spastic and is the supportive skeptic. I want to read a small possibility of feelings beyond friendship here but Yumemi is unresponsive. (It shows up clearly in the 2nd OVA.)
Suzume is a perpetual optimist, both wise and happy. Her arc serves to inspire Yumemi to believe she can do something to help the world. Again not much dynamic range here but I thought her romance with Kazuya was well done.
Yumemi shows most of the emotional dynamic range. When Munto shows up with his monotonous, imperial Give me your power! And it is LORD Munto. shtick I want to wring his neck for the unnecessary pain he’s causing Yumemi. Her arc is overcoming her self doubts despite the bizarre things she is seeing and her inability to confirm if it is real.
The Celestial characters up on those islands really didn’t get arcs. Things happened but even King Munto walked away in the end no different than when he started. If it weren’t for the fact that falling islands would have spelled the end for the Earth as well, I’m not really sure I’d care about their silly squabble.
There is a lot of preliminary explanation needed to really get an idea of what is going on. Much of that explanation is not in the anime or doesn’t show up until later. I haven’t even gotten into the background of how they got into this mess or the origin story of the Heavenly beings. There is so much exposition and world building to do that to do it all would suck up every minute of the movie. You end up going to other sources to learn what is going on.
They tried to do far too much in a 44 minute slot. As a result nothing was fully developed and vast amounts of backstory are just not there. I believe that is a common mistake for first time creators of anime but fortunately, as we all know, Kyoto persisted and went on to greatness.
Later in 2005 there is a second OVA that explains some of this. There is also a TV series and another OVA in 2009 with a lot more explanation. A manga was created for Munto after the fact. I am of the opinion that the first OVA must stand alone. You can’t promise a future.