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.
There is a legend of an angel who fell to Earth many years ago, and was forced to marry a man because he held the key to her only way home. Hundreds of years later, sixteen year old Mikage Aya is the reincarnation of Ceres, the vengeful angel, who must now fight for her life against her family and her own twin brother Aki, the reincarnation of her past evil husband...
I'll review anything as long as there are words in the dictionary to describe it. Disagree with me? Want to leave feedback? Please do, but take a look at my personal rating scale first.