No matter the format, truly effective persuasive literature has usually attempted to simultaneously accomplish two completely different things. As a general rule, each work will appeal to your base emotions while at the same time submitting composed facts to convince you on a purely intellectual level. To work properly, the author must then combine these seemingly opposing forces into a single cohesive argument. For instance, Jonathan Swifts "A Modest Proposal" appears to be using nothing but impartial facts, but presents them in such a way as to illicit an incredibly strong emotional response. Michael Moore, on the other hand, is probably the richest "proletariat" on the face of the planet thanks to the cleverly manipulative outrage mixed into every one of his documentaries.
One of the biggest problems with Earth Girl Arjuna is that the series attempts to meld this dichotomy into something that simply does not work. Due to this inherent flaw in the anime's design, the entire project fails to be either convincing or engaging. Although the show is certainly not without merit, what the anime does wrong far outweighs what the anime manages to do right.
To accomplish the "fact" portion of the show, Arjuna opts to present us with heavy doses of modern-day preaching delivered in little more than monologue. Countless characters will wax and wane on real world issues like DNA splicing, "unnatural" childbirth and our ever-growing dependency on antibiotics. These speeches by themselves come across as heavy-handed and suspiciously selective in the facts that are presented, but could very well have worked in an infomercial, documentary or even a "slice-of-life" anime more grounded in reality.
Unfortunately, alongside these factual parts of the show are moments of pure and utter fantasy - the "feeling." Deadly-tentacle-bearing-earth-spawn-of-doom are present in just about every episode, people communicate telepathically to each other on a regular basis, and the protagonist periodically shoots magical arrows at her enemies.
The two elements of the anime not only fail to work together with any sort of harmony, they actually serve to make each other worse. Next to the serious discussions about various real-life environmental issues, the mahou-shoujo elements seem hokey, fake and manipulative. Likewise, when placed next to otherworldly battles and spiritual "one with Earth" mantra, the informative and supposedly convincing facts presented feel one-sided, exaggerated and dull. The ending is particularly horrible. While guilt and fear of spoiler-hating Nazis (you know who you are) prevent me from revealing it, this may not matter; explaining the manipulative and tedious crapfest that was the final three episodes may well be beyond the scope of words.
In the end, its entirely possible that what Arjuna attempts to do is simply impossible for the medium. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke are arguably the two most effective environmentalist anime out there, and a common theme between both of them is that they do not attempt to be self-contained persuasive works. Instead, both movies choose to forgo facts in the hopes that viewers will be compelled to seek out information independently. In the end, there are limitations to every mode of creativity, and animes could very well be the inability present facts about actual reality. However, whether or not this is true, Arjuna certainly doesnt succeed at its attempt.
This project has some of the nicer animation that Ive happened upon in recent memory. Aside from the somewhat jarring live-action mixed into the series, the competent CGI work and fantastic character designs were more than enough to keep me satisfied on a visual level. Although the animation is almost always good, there are also a few isolated moments of stunning beauty, including a fantastic scene where the protagonist stands alone in a rice-paddy and goes into an epiphany about the cyclical nature of life itself. Action scenes arent really the focus of the show, but are above-average when they occur.
Although the OSTs to Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuiokuhen, Cowboy Bebop and Noir are close competitors, Earth Girl Arjuna is probably my favorite soundtrack of all time. I actually listened to Arjuna's OST about two years before I saw the show, and have since lost count of the number of times Ive queued up the album on WinAmp. Seriously, if you have any respect whatsoever for Yoko Kannos work, check this out. In my opinion, its the best she has to offer.
In terms of voice acting, I intensely disliked the seiyuu they assigned for the protagonist. Her whiny, air-headed voice made the character seem very shallow and unsympathetic. Furthermore, although she was undoubtedly the worst of the cast, I didnt feel like any of the rest of the cast was doing a particularly good job, either. I was so irritated by the voice acting, in fact, that halfway through the first episode I actually switched to the dub to see if it was any better.
To my extreme surprise, it was. Each character was able to deliver their lines convincingly, and the "haha, that was so bad" moments that are usually so common in American dubbing were limited to infrequent outbursts from minor characters. For the remaining 12.5 episodes, I watched the series dubbed and didnt even look back. All in all, I was extremely impressed by the overall sound. The dubbing is the best Ive heard since Cowboy Bebop (although I admit I dont listen to a lot of dubbing), and the OST is truly excellent.
All of this is rounded out by competent editing and sound effects, and in the end theres very little I can say against Arjunas sound as a whole. My enthusiasm for this category is definitely dampened, however, if you insist on watching the work subbed.
In all likelihood, the worst character of the bunch is the protagonists love interest, Tokio. Throughout the anime, he is continually meant to act as a foil to the "correct" way; on one such occasion, when the anime is decrying the horrors of fast food, hes shown gobbling down hamburgers as if he were going to die tomorrow. As an apathetic teen who doesnt believe that any one individual can make a difference for our planet, he represents the views of the majority of Arjunas target demographic. Unfortunately, in a decidedly shameless move, the creators effectively alienate this group of viewers by making Tokio lazy, stupid and naive. What we are left with is basically a caricature, a worthless shadow of what should have been the animes strongest personality.
This leads to the romance between Tokio and Juna, which is extremely unconvincing. There is nothing throughout the show to suggest that the two would like each other at all; instead, the anime seems to go out of its way to say that the two have nothing in common. Given how much the romance is neglected in the show, Im actually puzzled why the creators decided to put one in at all.
The supporting cast does little to help or hurt the show, with two exceptions. The first is a jaded and bitter teacher who angrily speaks on flaws in the school system, Japanese society, and the world. His episode is probably the best in the entire bunch, and its a shame that the series didnt use him more. The second is Chris, Junas wheelchair-bound mentor, who continually intrudes on fight scenes to condescendingly tell Juna that fighting is wrong. This would be fine, except he provides absolutely no justification to back his statements up, instead opting to repeat himself over and over and over. All in all, hes extremely irritating; this is the first time in a while that Ive wanted to sucker-punch a cripple.
Although Arjuna puts forth an effort to develop its characters, the end result seems decidedly neutered by the animes "vision." What could have easily been a strong cast is reduced to a mediocre one.
Even with what the undeniably ambitious project has going for it, Im convinced that this was pretty much doomed from the moment it went into production; no amount of budget, creativity or character development can save a project from being wrong on such a basic level. Although the series may do a good job of preaching to the individuals out there who are already avid environmentalists (I wouldnt know), the series will most likely frustrate those who arent already converted. Isolated episodes in the anime manage to be intermittently interesting, but in the end, this is a series that few will actually enjoy.
Juna didn't think much about daily life beyond the archery club, high school, and boys. But when an accident sent her spiraling towards the arms of death, fate intervened by giving her a second chance at life, under one condition: humanity is recklessly polluting and destroying the world, and Juna, with newfound powers of the Earth, must dedicate her life to saving it. Now, an unthinkable evil she can see with her powers is threatening Earth's very existence, and only she has the power to stop it...