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.
Excuse me for missing innovation in my comparison skills but Arjuna really IS the Japanese counterpart of the American Captain Planet cartoon. Its prime directive is to teach the target audience how to respect nature and the basics of ecology. Of course it is far more mature than Captain Planet, as it has a lot of violent, tragic and even slightly horror aspects to it. That does not make it a better show by the way; only more mature. Because just like the cartoon, all its morality is thrown at you with long serious monologues which can easily pass as preachy. Learning stuff through anime can be fun but not when the characters are telling you to open your textbook on page 123.
Animated by Studio Satelight which for me never made many good shows (I personally only like Noein from their roster). This is amongst their better works since it went all out with the aesthetics. Directed by Kawamori Shouji, who made the cool Macross - Do You Remember Love? film but otherwise never managed to score high in any of his other works (later Macross series and Basquash).
What Arjuna is about has a lot to do with a coming of age adventure for its lead girl. It may easily pass as yet another mahou shoujo show, as she is at first just a normal teenager who wants to have fun with her friends and romance with her boyfriend. But as it usually happens, all of a sudden she is given super powers to protect the world from monsters who want to destroy civilization. Yes, very typical on its initial premise.
After that, the show becomes more and more unorthodox to the point you have no clear idea of what it’s all about. It simply has too many themes in it, with ecology being its prime and most memorable aspect. Unfortunately, none of all those themes pass as interesting on the long run because they hardly feel exciting or exploited enough for you to care. I mean it has a guy who got crazy on ideals and a little girl who already knows what an orgasm is because she can feel the memories of her parents and a grandpa living on the mountains who preaches about the wonder of life. All these sound interesting on paper but feel so disjoint from one another to the point where the show has no uniformity about what its all about.
Even the lead girl’s magic powers don’t manage to attract your attention much, as they are used scarcely throughout the show and only for stomping some monster with no personality. Otherwise, the mahou shoujo aspect is indeed very controversial in its application, as it is not used on each episode, gives the lead girl a very weird appearance, and its prime weapon is a bow. Beyond that, Arjuna is indeed a very interesting character as her psychology is shown through numerous aspects and her worldview is tested numerous times. There is a part where she feels sick to even eat a burger because she sees it as toxins and chemicals and not real food. Her development and growth is actually far greater than any magic girl out there.
On the other hand, all the rest of the world feels cold and distant. All the rest of the cast is too stuck on a one-track mindset and the only thing they receive as development is questioning their ideals as of that time. Feels better than remaining stiff in personality but still happens through dried up monologues and counts as two-dimensional.
Beyond all that dryness, the show’s greatest downfall is its snobby attitude towards the viewer. It is so polarized towards “nature is good, human civilization is evil” that it becomes ridiculous. Poor old humanity and its science has no counterattack towards all that; its presented evil-by-birth, like Nazis or KGB agents in American movies. It even goes as far as saying “You are all idiots if you don’t accept what we tell you.” Well ok, even if you are right, that’s not a way to address it in a format which is meant to be mostly for entertainment and not pro-ecology propaganda. Which is sad.
The saddest part is the aesthetics of the show which are just marvelous for the year the anime was made. The use of colors and cinematography to depict plants and pollution as two worlds at war is fantastic, while the filters used on Arjuna during her magic attacks are quite funky. Even voice acting and music themes are quite well done and put you in the mood of the show.
An uncommon series that wins in thematics but loses in presentation. Too bad many parts of the show seem like propaganda against technology and progress because otherwise they are quite intelligent and well done. If it wanted to preach the viewers about morality and pretense, it should have taken the road South Park walked on. Just mock everything and let the viewer decide what to accept as right from all that.
For a personal rating I gave it 10. This is because on a spiritual level I really enjoyed it. However, in a full-out review I must note the flaws and lower my rating.
Rating the story in-itself is difficult. The message and theme of the anime is solid. It is constantly supporting itself in detail so that it cannot be overlooked. I know that some people dislike this, saying that things are being thrown at your face. But since I am an environmentalist, and I agree with pretty much everything the show says, I enjoyed the frankness of it. The plot itself is a bit shaky though. It jumps from one thing to another simply so that they can impart another message onto the viewer. It is obvious that the story was written to support the message, and not the other way around. I was also disappointed in the ending. It felt as if it cut itself short without a full resolution. The climax was resolved, but we are given no indication of what life will be like afterwards.
For the most part the animation is nice. When Juna turns avatar the colors get more metallic which I really liked. I thought it looked very clean and just pleasant to the eye. However, there are many thrown in shots of real-life footage. I repeat myself from before saying that the anime was created with the overall message in mind instead of the story. By seeing real-life footage you are thrown out of the story. I mean you are still into it, but you are reminded that it is just an anime. The effect is that this is just an anime, but the problems are real. I've seen anime use real footage before, but never as blatant as this.
The soundtrack is beautiful. There are many Yoko Kanno songs, which really work to set the mood. I watched it dubbed and thought the cast did a good job. In particular I liked Chris' voice. It had an overwhelmingly soothing effect, yet he still seemed stern at times.
Yet again I will say that the characters were created around the message. Nearly everything we learn about the character support the overall message. Out of all the characters I think that Takio is the best developed. We learn about his relationship with his parents and about his likes and dislikes. Juna was a predictable character, but Takio ended up being a surprise at the end. We learn a little about Juna, such as her feelings for Takio, but even her familial interactions stem from messages about how we should live. We learn of Cindy's past in order emphasize what we shouldn't do, and learn of Chris' in order to learn what we should. In the scope of the work the characters work well, but compared to other anime the characters fall short. They work together and are developed, but manly only in areas related to the shows overall message.
As a whole I really enjoyed the show. It had a nice feel to it, which made me want to just keep watching. The biggest downfall of the show is that there were things left unexplained. The ended left a large question and there were smaller things such as chakras that was left up to the viewer to interpret. If you do not know about chakras, then you have no idea what is going on. If you are an environmentalist, a New Ageist, or just into changing society, this is well worth the watch.
The story follows Juna, who was just an ordinary high-school girl, right up until the day she died in a motorcycle accident. But in the twilight of death, she saw a vision of the future, of the barren earth destroyed by something call the Raaja, and was offered a second chance at life if she would help stop them. Now she must learn to cast aside her thoughtlessly destructive ways and face her destiny as the Avatar of Time, the one being who can decide the fate of the planet.
If you can't tell by the description, you'll know it within the first couple of episodes of the show, but the series makes it blatantly obvious as to what the message is, to take care of nature and not carelessly intrude on it and pollute it with human made machines. It feels like a first year philosophy class, and the show shoves it down your throat by the end of it. You don't have to be subtle to get a message across, but it would have been nice if the whole thing had been a little less in your face.
On top of that, the whole thing feels weirdly edited, like a lot of ideas had to be cut down to fit 13 episodes. The pacing is off and it does feel like it's rushing through some things. If it had some more space to breath, not only could everything had a much nicer pace, but characters could have had a proper chance to get fleshed out, but there was probably a rush to make it fit the 13 episode count instead of 26. Maybe the overtones wouldn't have been AS obnoxious.
Everything does look pretty nice, especially the art style, but it does have the thing that a lot of anime has that sticks out like a sore thumb. CGI. While it does have some decent CGI for 2001, it's pretty obvious that it has aged like nearly every other anime that has CGI from the time. It hasn't aged as bad as some of the stuff that I've reviewed, such as Nazca, but the whole thing makes a pretty good example of why CGI shouldn't be a go to for cutting costs for anime. I guess CGI had to have some growing pains, but CGI from that time in anime just makes it look a lot worse.
There is a decent idea here, but it's buried entirely under a mediocre execution. I guess it could do with a remake, make it the full 26 episodes. Sure, it would have had some filler if it had that many episodes, but I'd rather have series with filler if it meant a better overall experience than a series rushing through it's plot and character development.