If you have ever read William Golding's Lord of the Flies, then you'll understand very quickly the classic theme this series is tapping into, namely survival of the fittest at the cost of humanity. However, Jyu Oh Sei swaps English schoolboys for convicts, and sticks and stones for beam-knives. As intense as it sounds, the show fails to reach its full potential; instead of capitalising on that brutal exposure of human nature, the ending falls back on an age old sci-fi cliché. The result is certainly surprising, but disappointing nonetheless.
At first it is a fish out of water story, with Thor learning to put aside airy fairy notions for the gritty realities of physical struggle, but then, at the last minute, it changes tack to form an awkward link to the abuses of science. I got the feeling the show had little faith in its own material, dumping the sophisticated stuff in the middle for the typical stuff at the end in an attempt to avoid ‘big', unanswerable questions.
Still, because Jyu Oh Sei is only eleven episodes long, it is ultimately difficult to feel cheated. One key achievement of the series is its ability to jump straight into the plot, introducing tragic elements that make a definite impact from the very first episode. Furthermore, Jyu Oh Sei is the kind of show that doesn't believe central characters have any special rights to survival, with the effect that conflicts instantly have a lot at stake. So, the ending aside, what you get overall are exciting set-pieces, brutal action scenes, and an engaging social experiment, all presented with a decent sense of pacing.
BONES should be congratulated on the fantastic concept for Chimera, and I mean this in all senses of the word. From the first few seconds Rai and Thor spend in the jungle, it is difficult not to be taken in by the detail and inventiveness of the plants. Moreover, Chimera's lush but deadly wildlife is a useful contrast to Juno's sterile, metallic environment, with Chimera washed in refreshing greens whilst Juno is cold silver and blues. As an aside, the character designs reminded me of Escaflowne the Movie, which I take to be a BONES influence.
Jyu Oh Sei has an excellent moody OP and a melodic ED but I'm unsure whether they are worth enjoying as singles in their own right (the rest of the soundtrack is certainly forgettable). Voice acting for almost all characters was suitable, with engaging performances from young Thor, Zagi, and notably Third, whose husky tone really stood out.
The series instantly gives us a good idea of the differences between Rai and Thor through their first stark experiences. Rai is annoying for no good reason, with whiny lines and a whiny voice. As Thor discovers, it is difficult at times to wish him anything but the worst. However, this allows the show to draw instant sympathy towards the tough and efficient Thor in order to make us care quickly about the events that follow. Unfortunately, the bright and colourful child personality is never developed (in fact, a convenient time jump stops us following his growth) so that Thor becomes bland and generic in adulthood.
Later, Rai's annoying traits are easily replaced by Thor's new friend, Tiz, whose constant pleading to be impregnated goes beyond animalistic rationality to just pure stupidity. In fact, not one female character can be said to have any meaningful aims beyond bedding a man. Apparently, when thrown into a state of nature, men want to kill things and women want meaningless romance.
Undoubtedly, my favourite character is Third, first and foremost because of his incredible voice, and secondly, because he is the most complex of a simple bunch. A less swashbuckling version of Allen Schezar (Escaflowne), a rogue seemingly incapable of deep emotion who clearly has ulterior motives, he provides for some of the best conflicts. Sadly, his lacklustre evolution is just one of the many casualties of the ending.
All things considered, each of the characters has simplistic motivations - Thor wants to become the Beast King so he can survive, Tiz wants his babies because she fancies him, etc. - but frankly, their minimal development is appropriate considering Jyu Oh Sei is such a short tale.
Making straightforward recommendations for this series is difficult, which isn't to say Jyu Oh Sei has any ‘new' ideas, but that it has a unique tone. If that's not enough, then its captivating milieu, action-oriented plot developments, and timeless subject matter should make it a worthwhile series for most anime fans.
Thor and Rai are twins who live on an advanced space colony called ‘Juno’. Things take a nasty turn one day when they are kidnapped by the Federal Army’s Special Forces and abandoned on the hostile prison planet Chimera. A cycle on Chimera consists of 181 days of scorching heat and 181 nights of below-freezing temperatures – not to mention it is populated almost entirely by carnivorous plants. The convicts on Chimera have found only one means of survival – reverting back to the law of beasts. For the strong-willed Thor adjustment comes naturally; but for his naive and weaker brother Rai, things do not go as well. Thor must now use all his wits, strength and courage to endure life as a member of Chimeran society, rise above the rest, and take the only ticket off this planet: becoming the Beast King.
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