SECRET SANTA 2012 REVIEW
I got this (along with two other anime that I never got around to watching in time) recommended to me by my Secret Santa. I've been meaning to watch it for a while, and now I got the final push that I so desperately needed. And without further ado, let's get on with the review.
It is 1969, in an alternate Japan, although this isn't made clear until several episodes in. Another world, the eponymous Brigadoon, has suddenly appeared over Earth. Our heroine, the orphan girl Marin, finds an ampoule, which is kind of like a pokéball, except it's actually the mon in a miniature for, in an old shinto shrine. It turns out that the ampule is an alien Melan and he thinks Marin is the key to averting an incoming catastrophe that will affect both of their worlds. Sounds good, right? Well, it is an entertaining journey between worlds, with entertaining characters and is all in all a rather quirky, yet incredibly serious, take on the ”kid with a monster companion” type of entertainment.
The premise is pretty good, and the anime feels reasonably unique. While not mind-blowing, it sure provided me with a much-needed breath of fresh air. My only complaint is that Brigadoon itself is a rather boring world; being a mixture of some kind of immensely vast pink oceans, candy trees and stone architecture that is vaguely reminiscent of ancient civilizations. It just doesn't feel all that imaginative in 2012.
As for the story, it is basically a mixture of lighthearted moments and an overall dark, ominous storyline. This does not always work to its advantage, since at times it just feels as though the lighthearted moments are very misplaced and are just there for no particular purpose other than just, well, being there. Furthermore on this, to me, the series ultimately failed to convey any appropriate sense of urgency or that would be a given when the fate of two inhabited worlds are at stake. Sure, it is indeed mentioned several times that the imminent destruction of both worlds may happen soon, but a lot of time is instead used on comparitively minor battles between the monomakias, how cruel everyone is to poor Marin (which almost becomes too much and starts to look like a self-parody), and also showcasing how the relationship between Marin and Melan develops. Granted, the latter is also a crucial part of this anime, but at times it feels like they are ignoring the central premise of the story and the catalyst for their even meeting in the first place.
Thankfully, the underlying story of Brigadoon and its mysteries is very good, and is gradually uncovered throughout the anime. In some series this would be vexing, but for me, that was never the case. The series finale is also satisfying, with several climaxes and turns and twists that make it a fun watch throughout. My only complaint is that the final episode felt a little too cheesy at times.
The pacing of the story is good in general, but there are of course some exceptions. There was at least one instance of a flashback being shoehorned into a fighting scene. That was pretty hackneyed and it felt jarring and out of place. The series gets a little long-winded towards the final arc, with lots of new plot points being slowly introduced and the character development being put on the backburner. Then the focus shifts on character development while the plot is back to being alluded to in cryptic tones. Things pick up towards the end, and the final stretch is really entertaining and it more than made up for the shortcomings the middle part had.
'The major theme in this show is based around the cruelty that humans expose each other to, but also around the level of kindness and compassion that we are in turn capable of. In portraying this, most of the antagonistic characters are shown to be incredibly selfish and will try their utmost to inflict a bloody form of retribution for the plights to which they have been subjected. Conversely, the inhabitants in the nagaya are seen to be compassionate and more readily empathise with and defend each other. Humans are also shown to be bigoted and hold a collective hated toward those from Brigadoon. Although the story doesn't provide any running insight or deeper commentary on the human condition, the show is still decidedly better for the inclusion of these elements.
The visuals are a mixture of 'old school' and design styles/elements that were more common around the turn of the millenium, i.e. really big eyes, and animation executed in a manner strikingly reminiscent of works far older than this series. However, the colouring is very late 90's to early 00's, with a 'washed out' kind of appearance coupled with some very yucky pastel shades. The monster designs and colour schemes are more modern. The quality of the animation is certainly more than passable; with high frame rates and minimised use of 'cheap methods'. Sadly, the fights aren't very visually stimulating, even though the series features a lot of aerial combat, which should theoretically pave the way for some dramatic bouts. All in all, it is pretty robust in the animation department, and isn't too displeasing to the eye - with the exception of some of the 'washed out' colours. However, I can hardly recommend this series to people who want a spectacular visual experience - this is not exactly Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
The music, like the visuals, is also comprised of more 'timeless' elements along with contemporary stuff. The soundtrack features a collection of suggestive electronic tracks, and atmospheric pieces mainly featuring some acoustic guitars or ethereal female choir vocals. A few of the pieces are notably excellent - though most tracks are ”just” good. But the soundtrack itself is very fitting, for the most part. The voice acting feels a bit above average overall, but Marin's never-ending barrage of ”A-haaas” began to grate a little towards the latter half of the series. The only voice I found wholly unfitting was Moe's, Marin's best friend, who had a voice that sounded far too 'childish'.
Since I mentioned some of them, let's write about the characters more in depth. The best character in the show is, in my opinion, Melan, who is a real fish out of water, has a very basic sense of morality and is often far too zelous in accomplishing his tasks. It's up to Marin to control him and guide him. Can a child, or perhaps even humans in a general sense, handle that sort of responsibility? As the series continues he becomes Marin's protector and confidant. He also learns to show his emotions: he is incredibly stoic in the beginning of the show but this of course weakens as the show progresses.
Marin is a generally likeable character, due to her relative self-reliance, resourcefulness and consistent sense of determination. She is also honest and kind to a fault. There's not much else to her character apart from these central attributes, but it works well in concert with the story. But, all things considered, unfortunately, she's still a little too too straightforward, and ultimately proves not to be quite as interesting a character as Melan is.
The supporting cast is made up of a colourful assortment of characters: from Grandma Moto, the righteous delinquent Midori, to the quirky elderly inventor and the profoundly vicious antagonists. They all impart their roles well - but I do feel as though they should have recieved more focus, especially since some of them all but disappear towards the end. On the other hand, the alien characters, Melan excluded, are generally not given to much depth of character, and as a result, their motives and thoughts –when present– are mostly just hinted at in a rather offhanded manner.
In summary, I found Brigadoon to be a generally pleasant watch, and definitely has a good few things going for it. The only snags that hamper this good opinion are the fact that it drags out considerably during several episodes, and also that some of the characters can be seen to remain 'underused'. In addition, there we some things within this anime that simply didn't make any sense - but thankfully they are minor things. Everything taken into account, I'm pleased that I can say that I definitely enjoyed this series as a whole. And finally, I'd like to thank the Secret Santa who gave me this recommendation.
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