In honor of Gainax’s thirtieth anniversary, I’ve decided to review the anime they released to celebrate their own twentieth anniversary, ten years ago! It’s time for This Ugly Yet Beautiful world, so here we go!
In the long history of the Earth, there have been several major mass extinctions, each one wiping millions of life forms out of existence. Because of this, over ninety nine percent of all life forms that have ever existed on earth are now gone forever. But what caused these mass extinctions, what was their true purpose, and… When will it happen again?
Following this admittedly intriguing monologue, we cut to our main character, Takeru Takemoto, delivering a monologue of his own. He talks about war, famine, disease, and all that fun stuff as an excuse to get out of helping his classmates clean the pool. Yes, this is our main character. He then lies around, wondering what he should do while doing absolutely nothing. And in the same episode, he remarks that his uncle, who owns his own delivery service AND dormitories, where Takeru is living for free, isn’t ambitious enough.
This is a person that I wouldn’t want to be friends with under any circumstances, and yet he actually has a healthy little collection of five friends that spend way too much time at his dorm and obsess way too hard over his love life. But I digress.
He and his best friend Ryou are out making a delivery when they witness a bright comet shooting down from the sky. It doesn’t move like an inanimate object, though… It moves like it has a destination in mind, and after following this light, Takeru discovers a beautiful naked girl with orange hair… Who he names Hikari. Japanese for light, of course. Because Chi. She forms an instant attachment to him… Like a newborn animal would… and their whirlwind romance thus begins.
Much like Mahoromatic, this series was a joint effort between Studio Gainax and Studio Shaft. While neither studio is perfect, and they’ve both released some poor looking shows in the past, the animation in This Ugly is embarrassing by either studio’s standards. The budget was clearly bare bones, and even the high points of the story are marred by obvious tricks like sudden technique changes, bounce-walking, and speed lines. The artwork is equally bad, with flat coloring, boring backgrounds, and enough jagged outlines to make FMA Brotherhood look lovingly rendered.
As far as the character designs, they’re nothing special… Derivative and forgettable are the words of the day, at least for the most part. The only thing really noteworthy is the insert from the first volume DVD, in which the Character Designer and Chief Animation Director himself chronicles his reasons behind each design. Without any exaggeration, his explanations range from such deep, complex specifications as “I thought this would be cute” to “I wanted him to look cool” to “I like large breasts.”
Although one of Takeru’s buddies was apparently based on a famous Japanese motorcycle who died shortly before production began. Do with that tidbit as you will.
As for the music? I didn’t like it. The tunes were repeated over and over again, which sucks, because I find about half of them distracting and inappropriate to the series. The opening, however, is a thing of beauty, possibly one of the top ten of 2004.
In any case, for the sake of Studio Gainax’s twentieth anniversary production, we’ll suspend disbelief and pretend that science doesn’t exist. We’ll pretend that each mass extinction was caused by a supernatural being that periodically comes to earth on a comet, takes the form of whatever the most intelligent creature in existence is at that time, and evaluates the world to see if it needs to be demolished. We won’t ask where they came from, or how this system came to be, or how the Earth knows to send battle monsters to stop these entities, because we don’t want to go to bed feeling as though we’ve wasted precious energy that we can’t get back.
The entity splits into two, and this time around, those two take the form of hyper-sexualized teenaged moe girls who are given the names of Hikari and Akari. Yes, that’s a spoiler, but trust me, knowing that in advance won’t hurt anything. Hikari winds up with lazy boy Takeru, and we’ll call that Story A. Akari winds up in the home of the space cadet Ryou, and we’ll call that Story B. Story A, as I mentioned in my plot summary, is a romance tale. And I’m going to say this up front, it is a very weak romance tale. Both of our main characters are completely milquetoast, with the only really interesting thing about either one being their tragic backstories. They flounder in their efforts to form a relationship, and while there is a pretty good reason, the awkwardness between them can sometimes be flat-out painful. I mean, I have Asperger’s syndrome, and even *I* wouldn’t strike out in some of the situations that Takeru finds himself in.
On the other side of the coin, we have the B side of the story, which in my opinion should have been the true A side, as it’s a lot stronger. Ryou is a pretty damn likeable character, despite all his bishie-ness. While laid back and easy-going, he’s a very paternal figure to his precocious little sister, whom he allows to think that she’s the one in charge. They pick up Akari, and while I’d be hard-pressed to say she has any important role in the story, she’s still given much more personality and development than her ‘sister’ is. I may be alone in this, but I found myself enjoying the show a lot more when the three of them were on screen. They even get some pretty good blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sight gags, if you’re looking hard enough. Like Ryou being the only person on a test of courage to be dressed as a western monster. or Akari catching a giant fish with a nude bear-hug, only to be seen subtly gnawing on it’s severed head at lunch a few scenes later.
As for the supporting cast, there’s little to no support to be found. Takeru has two male friends, who obsess over the fact that he’s living with a hot girl, and two female friends, who call those two stupid. Oh, they also coordinate activities and make clothes for the aliens. Overall, characters that need not exist, as there’s nothing they contribute to the plot that other characters couldn’t offer. I found myself wondering why they all invested so much of their time in such a boring character’s life.
He Also has a cousin named Mari who’s madly in love with him, but didn’t know it until he was taken… I guess I should be disgusted by that, but this is Japan, and that DOES sound like typical teenage logic. Besides, I can’t hate a Luci Christian character. What I can hate, however, is the American scientist that lives in their dorm, and embodies every single stereotype that the Japanese may have against American women. She’s loose, she’s an alcoholic, she’s immodest, she’s always making passes at her teenage co-stars, she looks like Ritsuko Akagi… She’s investigating the mass extinction, and she just happens to move into the exact right dorm house. Hikari introduces herself as an alien, so of course, Jennifer Portman’s first instinct is to shower with her.
They also have two alien sidekicks named Ku-on and Ionios, and I actually found them to be quite funny.
Now, I can’t talk about the English dub without addressing a very interesting little fact. For whatever reason, the majority of the actors used really ridiculous false names. Was the show so bad that they didn’t want their names attached to it, or was this just a joke? I can’t find any explanation, but if I meet one of them at a con, that’ll be my first question.
Cynthia Martinez… AKA Goldie Fawn… Has been a favorite of mine in some shows, and I never really minded her gravely voice up until now. Her line deliveries are spot on, but the tone and pitch of Hikari’s voice makes HER voice sound like a dying cat. Shelley Calleen Black does a great job relaying all of Ms. Portman’s eccentricities, as much as I may hate the character, and Hilary Haag… AKA Alexis Bestman… is adorable in the role of Kimi. Quentin Haag, presumably related to her, has only had seven acting roles to date, but he does a pretty decent job in the role of Ryou.
Braden Hunt doesn’t fair nearly as well in the role of Takeru, giving a performance that’s charmless and wooden throughout. Taylor Hannah, Chris Patton and Monica rial are wasted in low profile roles, when they could have easily taken on the starring roles by themselves. Patton and Rial as Takeru and Hikari? Yes, please!
But the star of the dub is Jessica Boone… Or Circe Nightshade of SNL fame… playing the role of Akari. She’s playing a sweet, wide-eyed innocent who’s trying to enjoy life to the fullest as she secretly evaluates it, waiting patiently for a tragedy that she knows will eventually occur… It’s a subtle performance, and she plays with this nuance beautifully. Hell, she’s so good that other actors sound better just by interacting with her.
Fun fact: About half of the affore-mentioned characters will, at some point, make a pretentious speech. Okay, so that’s not a very fun fact, but it’s also a fact that can’t be avoided. Gainax has always been known to indulge in pretense, but this particular project takes that predilection to a whole new level. This anime is very pretentious, and it LOVES to hear itself talk. The characters are blabbing with more ideas than the series is willing to commit to, ruminating on the nature of life, and spewing philosophical metaphors that barely make sense and never really get explored. This is where the collaboration of Gainax and Shaft comes to blows, as it seems like the former is trying it’s damnedest to bring depth to the material, which the latter is trying to jam with as much gratuitous nudity as possible.
The basic plot could be an interesting one, scientific heresy be damned, but the writing that should be supporting it is awful, and I’m not just talking about the awkward translations. There’s barely any development, way too many characters, character descriptions that are told to us rather than shown to us, constant otaku pandering, and aimless philosophizing that serves no purpose other than to jam the characters heads up their shiny asses. The humor occasionally works, and when it does, the comic timing is spot-on. But this show isn’t focused on being funny. It tries to be serious and tell it’s story, while dishing out wacky hijinks and harem cliches, despite not really being a harem show. The filler material makes up half of the story, and it can range from tolerable at best to painful at worst, with the obligatory beach episode being a particularly low note.
And yet, even when it is focused entirely on it’s plot, it’s still barely watchable, as that plot relies too much on it’s milquetoast leads. I won’t reveal how the multi-episode climax plays out, but it is both catalyzed and carried through by some of the most melodramatic high school bullshit ever animated.
In short, I rarely ever see a story or plot that are executed this terribly.
However, despite my complaints, I like this show. Don’t get me wrong, it’s bad, there’s no arguing that. It might be the worst Gainax show that I’ve ever seen, and it rips off former Gainax properties without mercy or restraint. But it’s a pleasant kind of bad… The kind you pop into your DVD player when you’re feeling bored and forgiving. It’s lighthearted, and if you’re not overthinking it, it isn’t too insulting or offensive either. And I genuinely do like the side B story, at least for what it offers. It’s an ugly show, without a doubt, but there’s still some beauty to it, which is why I’m going to be generous and give it a 4/10. You can shave off two full points if underaged nudity gives you the creeps, and I’ll understand completely.