Review of Ah! My Goddess: The Movie
With the first Ah My Goddess TV series coming to a close, and a timely sale popping up, I felt the urge to complete all my Ah My Goddess gaps. If there is something wrong with a grown man seeking to overdose on the sweet and charming delights of the Goddess Belldandy, then I don`t want to know. Today there is more Ah My Goddess than you can shake a stick at, with 52 episodes of the recent television series adding to the canon. It has had a slow infancy though. Initially there were only five OVA episodes made in 1993. That was all that fans had in the animated medium for years, not counting the cute but irrelevant diversion of the Mini-Goddess spin-off. It took seven years for animators to return to the central story of Keiichi and Belldandy, and the movie was released in 2000. I`m more used to popular franchises being milked for all they`re worth in as quick a timeframe as possible. Surely such a long wait meant that the story could be honed to perfection, delivering a movie worthy of the original episodes…
Oh My Goddess takes its cue from the sitcoms of the sixties, shows like Bewitched and I Dream Of Jeannie, where an average Joe would meet the girl of his dreams, only there would be more to her than meets the eye, causing his life to change in unexpected ways. Here Keiichi Morisato is the average Joe, but Belldandy trumps the witch and genie by actually being a goddess, a celestial being who comes to Earth to grant one wish. We pick up the story three years after Belldandy first arrived, and her sisters Urd and Skuld joined the Morisato household at the Tariki Hongan temple. Life has literally been heavenly bliss for Keiichi, but you know what they say about all good things.
The Gods have used the heart of our moon as a celestial prison, holding for all eternity the spirit of one who tried to disrupt the delicate balance of reality. When a fairy like figure breaks the enchantment on the gates and releases the prisoner, it doesn`t bode well for Keiichi and Belldandy. The couple are currently celebrating the start of a new academic year, and helping recruit new members for the Nekomi Motor Club. After a raucous night of karaoke, which sees Belldandy get uncharacteristically jealous, her former mentor Celestin surprises her and Keiichi. Belldandy is ecstatic to see him again, but Keiichi is suspicious. Belldandy doesn`t remember why Celestin has been away for so long, and Keiichi`s suspicions are confirmed when he kisses her. It`s no ordinary kiss, as a virus is unleashed that infects Heaven`s systems. It`s the first step in Celestin`s plan to undo the delicate balance between Heaven and Earth. It`s what he got put in prison for originally. Meanwhile Keiichi has more immediate trouble, as Belldandy has lost her memory of him, and is essentially back at square one, the day she first came to grant his wish. Can Keiichi restore his lost love, and save the world?
Film to PAL. That sounds so sweet that I`m going to say it again, film to PAL. It`s practically a natural law that anime gets an NTSC-PAL conversion these days, which means putting up with a soft image, occasional ghosting artefacts and jerky pans and scrolls. But when it comes to an animated film rather than TV, then you get a proper PAL transfer, as the Ah My Goddess movie gets here.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is a revelation. The image is clear and sharp, and the level of detail that is visible is astounding (comparing it to the usual NTSC-PAL anime disc that is). Print damage is wholly absent, and I noticed neither compression artefacts nor the digital banding that normally accompanies anime transfers. Black levels could be stronger, as evidenced in the opening space sequence, and if you are especially looking for it, there is a slight judder in pans, which suggests that the PAL conversion wasn`t perfect. You`d have to be looking for it though, and it in no way affects your enjoyment of the disc.
Ah My Goddess looks as if it was made for the large screen, and coming back to the TV series afterwards is going to be something of a disappointment. The character designs are as attractive as ever, and the world design is more detailed and intricate for the big screen. Where the film excels is in the use of its scope. Now the settings are larger, the ideas bigger and more of the world of Ah My Goddess is explored. The opening lunar sequence is a case in point, which shows the sort of scale and scope that is never attempted in a television series. This film also takes the opportunity to show Belldandy`s world, to bring Heaven and the celestial spheres to the screen, and it is certainly done justice.
You have a choice of DD 5.1 English and Japanese along with a sole translated subtitle track. I went with the Japanese as always, and it`s a strong surround track, making robust use of the soundstage to convey the film`s effects and the music. This film gets a full orchestral soundtrack, heavy on the melancholy and emotions. It`s a change from the quirkiness of the OVA`s music, and certainly not as fun, but it is evocative and suits the story well. I`m still not a fan of the dub, but it`s there if you prefer.
Not a lot to see here. There is the usual jacket picture and animated menus. There are four trailers in all for the film, and an Art Gallery containing 12 images, but it is one where the images are postage stamps in the middle of the screen surrounded by a hefty border.
Most interesting will be the bonus Mini-Goddess episode. The Adventures of Mini-Goddess was a series aimed more at a younger audience, and you can read the review for the discs elsewhere on the site. This first episode lasts 9 minutes.
Belldandy`s big screen adventure is just adorable. It has everything that a movie needs. The stakes are higher, the scale is larger and it all feels a sight more epic. Yet at the heart of it is the relationship between Keiichi and Belldandy, and that continues to develop and grow. It`s all that fans of vicarious anime romance ask for, and this film delivers and then some. Having watched the OVAs recently and then this film, it puts the television series into perspective, and in a certain frame of mind invites negative comparisons. After all the television series is about establishing a relationship and having fun with it as long as the budget lasts. It`s unwise to spend all your relationship ideas in the first five episodes when you have 52 episodes to fill, so on occasion the series can feel padded out with filler, or even take a step back at times. Not so with the OVA, and certainly not with the movie. Here, the relationship is at the centre of the story, and it grows and develops. Having a limited amount of time to tell the story invites a welcome efficiency.
This film moves things along from the OVA by switching the roles. When we begin the story, Keiichi and Belldandy are obviously a couple, and have certainly moved on from the stumbling towards romance phase of their relationship. Now it is Belldandy`s devotion to Keiichi that is tested. We get an inkling that something isn`t right when she becomes jealous, and then we see her devotion to her former mentor, a little too affectionate for Keiichi`s liking. I wondered if the filmmakers weren`t trying to have their cake and eat it, when Belldandy`s memory is erased. She`s back to the Goddess that first came to grant Keiichi`s wish, and she`s offering to do the same again. It could have been a chance for more of the same relationship antics from the start of the story, but Keiichi is understandably heartbroken at having lost the woman he loves, and he can`t help but deal with Belldandy with a melancholic attitude. This time we get to see Belldandy fall in love with Keiichi all over again, and seeing it from her point of view adds dimension to the story.
All the while, Celestin is plotting the overthrow of Heaven and rewriting the rules that govern living beings. His desire to act comes from the simplest, and most asked of questions, `If God exists, why is there cruelty and injustice?` He has a dark past with Belldandy, one that she has forgotten, and he needs her to remember if his plan is to be put into effect. It`s a grand plan that gets a suitable big screen climax. Celestin carries the narrative heart of the film, Keiichi and Belldandy, the emotional heart, and it all comes together to make a sum greater than its parts.
If there is one contrivance that niggles me, it`s the Judgement Gate. It`s introduced in flashback when Celestin first rebelled. Apparently people from different planes of existence shouldn`t fall in love. But if they do, the purity of their love must be tested by having them walk through the gate. If their love is imperfect, then the two will be torn apart forever. It`s a symbol of Heaven`s injustice, and a reason why Celestin acts the way he does. But the first time I saw the Judgement Gate, it was obvious that Keiichi and Belldandy would wind up at its threshold. But it`s a minor thing, and a gift really for those fans invested in the relationship.
As is typical for anime movies spun-off from series, it becomes hard to recommend it to newcomers, but Ah My Goddess: The Movie relies less on back-story than most. It`s a delightful romantic adventure, and if you aren`t cheering for the couple by the end of the film, then you`re just mean!