Having had no clue about the story or anything about this title, I have to admit, to confusion. Based on the manga by Sakurano Minene, and with a TV series already released, the OAV series does assume a certain familiarity with the title. Those who are not so fortunate however are likely to end up somewhat confused. Very quickly in this first episode, we get the feel that there is a fair amount of background information behind the story. Unfortunately, little is done to enlighten us either. Don't get me wrong, they only had 30 mins for the entire first volume, so it's not like there's a lot of time to introduce everything, but even so, the feel that one gets as a result is of confusion especially regarding the major characters Shaolin and Tasuke, her "master".
While a certain amount of the past history of how Shao appeared and why she is with Tasuke was covered in a flashback sequence, many questions remain. With a story concept similar to Aa! Megamisama!, we have a beautiful young lady who is in love with an Earthling male who is also her lord/master. How and why this happened is unknown and untouched other than mentioning their relationship to each other in the episode. Indeed Shao's inability to separate her identity as Shugogetten from the play's main character Kaguya Hime while sweet to watch, remains a mystery for uninitiated viewers.
With so many scenes revolving around rehearsals and scenes from the play, the episode tends to meander from insanity and childishness during rehearsals to sappy sentimentality as Shao and Kouichiro talk as Kouichiro continues to practise his lines afterwards. Likewise, overdramatisation through both animation, music and character lines tends to make things overly sentimental and leaves a sense of not understanding what's happening. However, it is through these very same scenes that intercharacter relations are revealed to viewers. It's a shame that the characters could not have been introduced more effectively and with more meaning than was done. Perhaps all of this is in fact revealed in either the manga or the TV series, however, for those jumping directly into the OAV series, it merely results in confusion.
I think the weakest part of the story is that the sentimentality tends to be overpowering too soon. As the characters have barely even been introduced and we're only beginning to understand their inter-relations, jumping into so much sentimentality leaves viewers with little to go from. Likewise, parallels to the very popular Aa! Megamisama cannot be helped given the spirit nature of Shao and her appearance before Tasuke.
What I enjoyed in this first episode however was the development of the voice acting of the characters, especially during rehearsals. In the earlier stages during rehearsal, the lines are clearly just that, lines. Much as you'd expect in any school play, but as things progress, it improves and becomes better acted. However, there is still that difference between the voice actor being "in character" compared to "acting" for the school play. Acting at acting?! Indeed, the voice acting by Kunifuda Mariko, Shao's voice actress is solidly done even though as viewers we're left wondering as to where things are coming from. All in all the voice cast is well into character.
On the otherhand, the animation quality itself is not particularly strong, and even within this first episode, we see certain sequences being recycled. Likewise, while the music does have its moments, it's rather nondescript overall. Timings of certain lines and music seems to be a touch off from time to time as well. However, as is typical of most anime series, there is a fun j-pop ending theme.
Perhaps the main strength of this episode is that while so much of the history that has likely happened in the manga is untouched upon, I found myself wondering about that past history in a semi-positive way. As much as I'd have liked to see the characters introduced and developed more naturally here in the anime, I'm somewhat curious of the manga and TV series. However, it's still not a good way to start an OVA series, and definitely confusing for those who have not read the manga.
- JYN, 2001.02.28