'Person in a Strange Land' series are pretty stupid. Having said that, Strange Dawn is one of the least cliché of these that I've come across. In most stories of this genre, our intrepid protagonist gets whisked away to a fantastical land. Upon arriving, they are given magical powers, and discover that the first person they chanced upon was the benevolent, handsome (and single!) prince who has fallen desperately in love with them. What luck! Or maybe they have awakened with some wonderful heretofore-unknown combat prowess, and, after being awarded an impossibly large sword, embark on a journey with their newly assembled posse of best friends to slay dragons. How heroic! Strange Dawn has none of this.
Eri and Yuko find themselves, unchanged, in an alien world, but since all the inhabitants are so diminutive, even the girls' ordinary heights and strengths are huge assets. Despite this, they rarely participate in the battles raging around them, usually choosing instead to watch passively or go about their day-to-day lives as normally as possible, given the circumstances. Perhaps that's a little boring. Fantasy is generally a means of escape from mundanity, so watching two teenage girls gather firewood, deal with culture shock, and discuss their periods when you're expecting Epic Dragon Battles of Doom could be disappointing. Strange Dawn does eventually get more exciting- despite it's childish art style, the latter half doesn't shy away from political scheming, blood, on-screen deaths, and scenes of pseudo-sexual perversion. However, Strange Dawn prioritizes buildup over entertainment so before you can feast on the political and martial meat of the story, you must first be force-fed episode after episode of very slow world building.
Now, I love a fully realized setting as much as the next guy, but amidst all the oodles of cooking and cleaning scenes and musings over the difficulties of being stranded in a different world with only one set of clothes and no bathrooms your size, the series also saw fit to call attention to the most unrealistic elements of its setting. Yes, it's nice that they realize how lucky it is that the composition of this world's atmosphere is comparable to Earth's, and how wonderful that all the inhabitants understand Japanese, but when the tone isn't humorous enough to pass these things off as a joke, calling them out is disastrous for the audience's suspension of disbelief.
Once the plot finally gets around to moving along, half the episodes have come and gone, and there simply isn't enough time to comfortably fit the bulk of the narrative, making it feel rushed. This is a shame, as the story has a solid foundation- a small-scale epic (pretend for a moment that makes sense) about a village whose province is, due to a schism, torn between loyalties to two different countries. The role of the Earthlings in the story has potential as well- they are viewed as beneficial political tools. Strange Dawn also does a stand-up job at subverting most of the genre's tropes: though the main characters don't have superpowers, they can still impose their will by screaming, flailing their limbs, or acting like hulking giants. And even when a cliché starts to sneak in (Oh, these two random girls are clearly the Great Protectors all these legends talk about), it is quickly rectified (lol, jk that story is pretty dumb).
Strange Dawn's animation lacks the charm of older series and the technical merits of current offerings, landing it smack in the middle of 'Decent'. Settings are pleasant and movements are smooth enough, but the character designs deserve special mention. Instead of animating the tiny humans that Eri and Yuko encounter realistically, they are given stylized, simplistic designs that resemble "chibi" characters. Unfortunately modern anime viewers associate chibi style people with cheap gags and simplistic emotions, which makes taking the vast majority of the cast seriously extremely difficult.
The OP is an excellent sweeping tune, but seems like a set up for a much more adventuresome yarn than what is delivered. Background music consists typically of unobtrusive instrumental tracks, and while the vocal work is apt, it's not particularly memorable.
The cast was pleasantly free from major anime archetypes. None of the characters could be written off as "the dumb one" or "the tsundere". Eri is polite, and Yuko is brasher and finds everything about their new situation distasteful, but no one is overshadowed by their traits. However, in making the cast unique and realistic, Strange Dawn forgot to make them interesting as well. Watching Eri and Yuko deal with culture shock and have conversations about their hobbies and aspirations could have been interesting, had the show bothered to give me a reason to care about them.
I appreciate Strange Dawn. I think it tries to do interesting things with a genre that I find vapid. However, I don't particularly like it. Slow scenes were too slow and fast scenes were too fast and even the resulting whiplash couldn't distract from the fact that it didn't allot enough time to important developments. For those looking to test the genre out, this may be a good option- it's manageably short, and appropriate for most audiences without skimping on depth. However, most people will find that the series is too nuanced to be exciting, yet doesn't explore its heavier themes with enough time or intensity to be intellectually stimulating.
Emi and Yuko are two middle school girls who, with a flash of light, have suddenly found themselves in a place much farther than home, where all the people are only about a foot tall. Without further ado, they are named the Great Protectors, who were destined to appear. With war in the air and tensions on the rise, all the girls want to do is go home. But will they find a way back, even though they don't know how they arrived?
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