Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed this high-octane, trashy romance very much - but that still doesn't excuse the fact that Ayashi no Ceres is trashy. The script reads like something straight out of a Mills & Boon writer's guide, literally leaping from one contrived scenario to another, only to dive headfirst into a swirling vat of melodrama and sloppy romance. While this theatrical style makes Ayashi no Ceres somewhat addictive, it also has the unpleasant side effect of making me feel totally ashamed of myself for enjoying it.
Generally, Ayashi no Ceres has terrible pacing issues as the characters fall in and out of love too quickly, and events get cobbled together without much thought for consistency, timing, or logic. At its worst, there is Kanami Mikage's C-genome Project; I'm sure it's meant to bring about some kind of apocalypse or whatever, but his precise reasoning is swamped by a lot of pseudo-science jargon and a number of evil side plots which all seem rather pointless.
Despite this, I do think there are some good points which make this anime worth watching. For one, Ayashi no Ceres makes the effort of being disturbingly dark whenever possible, which means it tends to avoid the usual shoujo pitfall of seeming overly fluffy. Just casting a superficial eye at the themes and concepts on offer - rape, amnesia, abuses of science, and sexual obsession - you get the feeling Ayashi no Ceres has ambition for a shoujo romance. Moreover, while certain events may be rushed and inelegant, Ayashi no Ceres at least knows how to generate highly emotive situations with the least amount of effort. By the third episode, Aya has lost her entire family, is being hounded by the grandfather she trusted, and has fallen in love with a man who has no memories.
Still, the single most enjoyable element has to be the mystery of the angel and her robe - this ancient fable (reinterpreted across time and cultures) naturally hides a greater historical truth, which, once revealed, turns out to be not just interesting, but fully original to boot. Since the story crops up in nearly every episode, it acts like a focal point and keeps Ayashi no Ceres interesting even when the peripheral events get rather silly.
To enjoy Ayashi no Ceres, I think it would help to have some appreciation of context; while those used to a diet of post-2000 anime like Death Note and Fullmetal Alchemist will find the animation god-awful, I think older fans will see it as average for its time. Indeed, one or two of the action sequences still look quite cool (especially the first time Aya turns into Ceres), but most are rather mundane and/or poorly choreographed. Moreover, none of the character and background details come anywhere near the quality found in more recent works. Ayashi no Ceres certainly isn't scraping the same depths of the barrel as Neon Genesis Evangelion, but a few frames less here and there, and it pretty much would be.
Having mentioned rape earlier, I'd broadly describe listening to the American dub as a similar aural experience. Do yourself a favour and avoid it at all costs. The Japanese version, which is cheesy and theatrical but not necessarily grating, is far less traumatic.
As for the musical score, all of the themes are suitable, although, the only one that stands out for me is the opening theme. Melodic, beautiful, and with a fantastic piano introduction in the first couple of bars, it's worth owning in some form or other.
Possessing a wishy-washy resolve and no powers of her own, Aya Mikage just seems to hang around for most of the story; time and time again she is told to just ‘stay here', and I've lost count of the number of times she faints. Given that, I'm grateful that, unlike so many of her bubbly kind, she stops short of being totally annoying. Toya, on the other hand, is a man defined by his perpetual silence and pointless Gucci shades; and, just like Aya, he has no remarkable personal qualities to speak of. The only good thing about both of them being romantic clichés is that the sexual tension between them is instantly recognisable. While this may not compensate for their lack of depth, the constant hope of their love being fulfilled at least provides some reason to keep watching.
As if that weren't enough, there is also Kanami Mikage, Aya's evil uncle, who is nothing more than a plot device; he oppresses his own family and performs nasty experiments on countless innocent women because... well, because the script says so. To give you an insight into just how incomprehensible he is, his motivation randomly changes from ‘It's survival of the fittest!' to ‘If I hadn't, someone else would!' Apart from being the worst reasons for doing anything (let alone messing with angels), it's obvious that these explanations exist because neither Kanami nor anyone else really knows what he's talking about.
Add to the above a host of supporting characters that have no real point (Suzumi Aogiri, Chidori Kuruma, the guy in the lab coat), and this miserable cast comes out at a 4 or 4.5; incidentally, I settled for a slightly higher score because of Ceres, the angel. Not only is she believably angelic and wise, but she's also believably powerful and fearsome. What's more, in stark contrast to Aya and her onslaught of melodrama, Ceres exudes the mature patience and quiet tragedy that only an immortal could (if anything, I commend Ceres for not losing her composure even when - having waited centuries for her well-deserved revenge - she gets stuck in the body of a girl with less common sense than a lemming). By no means is her performance exceptional, but I certainly liked her a lot more than Aya, or anyone else for that matter.
I believe there are enough decent elements on offer to make Ayashi no Ceres enjoyable on a basic level, especially for the more tolerant fans out there. For example, many of the dilemmas are instantly emotive and the series has a very interesting fable to tell about obsessive love. Moreover, for those who like their shoujo with a little creative flare, the heavy mix of fantasy action and dark themes should be a welcome boon. In the end, however, Ayashi no Ceres is riddled with too many clichés to be anything more than average.
Romance is a very specific genre. There is not much variation to how “boy and girl meet” and usually everyone expects the exact same thing to happen in the conclusion. That is why to spice things up, the conditions under which the boy and the girl meet or the ordeals they are going through need to be different each time, in order to at least make the world around the otherwise one-track romance to appear interesting.
Take this series for example. We have quite the usual fuss. Naive good girl meets mysterious pretty bad boy and falls in love with it 0.13 seconds after they first meet. Why? Well, she is naive, he is a boy, he is pretty, and apparently being bad is quite fascinating if you spent your life pampered and see this as a way to get wild before you grow old and wither away in boredom with some fat, bald poor business man who cares more about football than you. Ok, I understand; it’s been like that in most corny shoujo and it still sells today no matter the stupidity of the whole deal. For more information, check out the success of frakking Twilight .
STORY SECTION: 6/10
Analysis: Premise 2/2, Pacing 1/2, Complexity 1/2, Plausibility 0/2, Conclusion 2/2
But that is now and this is, what, twenty years ago; a time when romances were to the most part not happening in space, in the past, or in magic fairylands. Very common today, very rare back then. This anime did not receive its fame because of its romance, which to be honest is following the book of corny romances to the letter. It is about the world around that romance.
-Let’s have the girl being the reincarnation of a celestial being, whose death during adulthood magically signals the prosperity of her family.
-Let’s have her knight in shining armor be a super mercenary of some shady secret organization performing inhuman experiments.
-Let’s have her twin brother being possessed by her ancestor and have him try to rape her.
-Let’s add a hundred other people trying to exploit, survive or just have fun with all that.
-Let’s add carnage. Lots of it.
-And tears. Lots of tears.
-And let’s always end the most important episodes with a cliffhanger.
Yeah, sounds great already.
So I’m not going to lie, the premise of this anime is amazing, despite being so old. You can focus on different aspects to it instead of just seeing it as yet another corny romance (which it is by the way).
But let’s try to see a bit deeper than that and check out some things most fangirls … err… viewers don’t notice. The pacing for example has always been the most overlooked aspect of most stories, being left alone in a cold dark corner while bijinism and extravagant are dancing like crazy with naivety and suspended disbelief. If this poor champ would be noticed for some weird to imagine reason, he would tell you that this series (as well as most others for the same matter) is suffering from tuberculosis. It has no smooth unraveling of its plot, some parts are damn boring, some others are hardly affecting the overall, and the finale is a drunken old man writing poetry on a serial box… with a toothpick.
Of course, nobody ever listens to poor old pacing as the fang… fans of such shows are too busy yelling “Kyaaa, Toya is so dreamyyyyy!” This example can expand to pretty much any romance by the way, with the only difference being the name yelled. But in some alternative reality of the multiverse where his voice is heard, everyone would agree that the way the story unravels is far from “as dreamy as Toya”.
-Most side stories are hardly affecting the overall plot and yet they are there to force more drama on our consciousness.
-And the way the fated couple keeps copping with their ordeals looks too silly at best.
-And as the episodes keep increasing, the plot keeps decreasing to the point you mistake this for the Hueco Mundo arc.
-And then comes the ending where the plot suddenly becomes supersonic and ends everything in 10 minutes. What a crock!
But it’s not like the story is complete boinkers either. Its main idea expands further beyond the main duo and shows how one person can indirectly affect thousands of others by simply not … being killed the designated day. I could always nag about it by saying it is just another silly take on fighting your fate or having a super powerful dark side coming out to save your ass in the nick of time, but I will be a bit lenient considering the age it came out, long before crappy shounen like Naruto or Bleach turned such tropes to manure. And to be honest, it still feels more original in its experimentation that those two. And to its core, it is still a romance, ideal and corny enough to follow with your ears gone out of order because of the constant screams of those fang… fans of romances.
Bottom line, it is a good story with a bad presentation. It may sound far-fetched but with all the death and gore it has at its key events, I consider this anime the forefather of Elfen Lied, which a decade later managed to gain in far less episodes, far more fans by having far more exaggerated plot and above all, far better looks (fan-wise that is).
ART SECTION: 5/10
Analysis: General Artwork 1/2, Character Figures 1/2, Backgrounds 1/2, Animation 1/2, Visual Effects 1/2
Yup, the visuals are as weak as Superman next to kryptonite. All the attempts at showing cinematics seem poor even considering the age they were made. And the character figures have quite simplistic anatomy and facial structure, being separated only by their hair color or clothes. Of course, this being a romance most will probably only care about how pretty the guys and the gals look (or better say the same guy and gal with different wig and uniform) and won’t give a frakk about the awful way they move… or don’t move at all and stay frozen with a flapping mouth. The manga version could get away with its fluent lining and rather stiff body positions but the anime version is guilty as charged.
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Analysis: Voice Acting 2/3, Music Themes 3/4, Sound Effects 2/3
This part is rather ok. Voice acting is fine (considering how annoyingly sappy the characters are meant to sound) and the songs are ok to listen to many times without feeling fed up with them. At the same time, there is nothing amazing about it either.
CHARACTER SECTION: 7/10
Analysis: Presence 1/2, Personality 1/2, Backdrop 1/2, Development 2/2, Catharsis 2/2
The cast is actually quite interesting on paper as there is a plethora of different people with different goals and demeanors and most of them do change or mature or simply get killed. As far as variety goes, there is lots of it and their behaviors are very well excused through their backdrop stories.
What ruins it is the way they mature / develop, etc. It feels so… silly in the least. A monologue by some good guy is enough to change one’s worldview immediately while inhuman villains try to look sympathetic to us ten minutes before they kick the bucket. I’m sorry; it’s too sudden to mean anything. As it is with all those characters who appear for one or two episodes and are disposed of like they didn’t matter at all.
Some minor bickering can be said about the main characters as well for being to the most part irritating stereotypes. They do eventually develop of course but considering the amount of air time they get, it feels slow and vein popping to the most part. The secondary cast who appear every now and then feel better as their changes are shown with less staling.
-Aya for example will be remembered for her crying. That’s her most distinctive feature; crying over the cruelness of the world every 5 minutes. Until the finale, she otherwise feels like a generic naive girl in constant urge to be saved or kissed by a random bijin she fell in love within a fraction of a second.
-Toya is to the most part as cold and bitter as a half-drank cup of black coffee, hardly able to relate to and probably done deliberately so my ear drums will explode from the sound attacks.
-Aki is hardly a character. He is just there… and then he is no more; absorbed completely by Mikage before offering nothing to the story.
But to be honest, this anime has the title for the most developed and interesting hidden dark selves I know of. Ceres and Mikage are originally shown to be monsters but eventually you get to see why they are as they are and how they develop wonderfully throughout the series. It may feel rushed when it actually happens but it is still good.
VALUE SECTION: 3/10
Analysis: Historical Value 1/3, Rewatchability 1/3, Memorability 1/4
Um, not much. It is ok the first time you watch it, with those cliffhangers constantly making you yearn for more. But the second time you will most likely skip most of it, especially towards the second half where the pacing-nobody-cares-about transforms into a turtle. And the premise in general has been used numerous times in later shows with better animation; so tough luck even there.
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 2/10
Good concept, bad pacing, bad animation, irritating personalities. Gets 1 out of 4. But if you are one of those Banshees, you will like it a looooooot more.
I have been watching a lot of anime with promising starts lately and this one is no exception. However it never quite reached the great heights of Escaflowne or even Sailor Moon in portraying star crossed lovers. Too much melodrama and side stories that go nowhere got in the way for that.
As it is though it is still a very enjoyable ride with aspects to do pay off in the end.
The animation for this series was nothing spectacular. The character design was on the attractive side of average with the boys the perfect definition of bishounen and the girls fairly sucessful too. The problem I had was that the designs were very similar, there were barely any variation in hair type and colour within the main cast and some minor characters. As a result no one really stood out from the pack.
The backgrounds were good too, with the cityscapes reminiscent of City Hunter with of course, more refined detail. What makes this series good in terms of animation is mostly the really beautiful beach sceneries and the application in making them almost an ethereality with the contrast in mood. The other aspect I enjoyed was the fight scenes. They are choreographed beautifully and never drag on too long. The characters come alive very successfully on that front.
The sound for this series is mostly successful. The intro and outros were great songs and conveyed both the romance and the action of the show very well. Some of the background tunes were also very beautiful and successful but others were average and cliched sound effects.
The voice acting is mostly a success here with the seiyuu for Aya the stand out performer. She portrayed Aya's range of emotions very subtly. Ceres was also very well executed and the Mikage voice actor was also very good. Then you get the ones between good and average and they would be Yuhi and Mrs.Q with enough range to portray the characters but nothing really out of the ordinary. The ones I did not like were Chidori and Touya's seiyuus. The seiyuu for Chidori was a bit too cutesy to get the real complexity of the character and the Touya seiyuu was overall a little too passive for me to connect with him.
The story is a mix bag in the big scheme of things. It has a great start and real potential that surprisingly did not get fully explored. Instead a lot of side characters are brought in to advance the plot but instead they take away the time that was needed to develop the main cast to make them more believable.
I recently viewed an interview with Yu Watase and she does reveal that they were planning on making the series longer than it is now but those plans got scrapped. This could be why a lot of these side stories go nowhere since they did not have the time to make them connect with the major plot. The ending is also a disappointment as it is very rushed and unconvincingly tries to please both fans of Touya/Aya and Yuhi/Aya with one last twist that just did not do the complexity of the characters justice.
The characters range from very interesting to really forced in this show. Aya is definitely an interesting lead who with more screen time would have been a big success on the character front. She instead gets used as a "vessel" for Ceres who tends to play too much on the one dimensional front. Towards the end though, Ceres starts to come out as an interesting character too but the timeframe did not allow the character to be convincing overall.
Touya was a bit of a disappointment. His role is played complaisantly most of the way through and comes to a satisfying conclusion. However they bring him back for one last hooray and the explanation for it seemed a little inconsistent with what else was happening in the story. Yuhi was an interesting choice for a possible love interest but he reaches background status as the story develops.
The biggest surprise for me was Mikage. At first he seemed like your perfect crazy psychopath but as we got to the end, his backstory comes along and shows you just how human and flawed he really was. His love for Ceres was real even if jealousy and misunderstanding got in the way.
Overall I think that the creators should have stuck to the main love story they were telling. With the inclusion of so many side stories that go nowhere by the time the series ended, it feels a bit disappointing. These side stories also create some inconsistencies and plot holes but they never truly take away so much from it all that you feel you have wasted your time.
This is probably not a title I would revisit in its entirety anytime soon but I think it has merits. It was also enjoyable and entertaining, but it never quite got to the requited viewing status.
I definitely feel that there is an audience out there for it though so if it sounds interesting to you, do give it a try it is worth it.