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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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09/05/2005 Archived Entry: "Anime review: Oh My Goddess!, vol. 1"

Oh My Goddess! Volume 1
Based on the manga by Kousuke Fujishima
English version produced by Animeigo

Review by Kelly S. Taylor

I could say that I find the Oh My Goddess series fascinating because of the creative mixing of Norse mythology and modern technology, or that I am interested in the way that the theme of renewal is integrated as a vital component of the plot's theme of romance, or that I appreciate the fact that positive values such as humility and generosity are consistently valorized and rewarded. However the truth is that this show appeals to the squealing girly-girl within me that years of reading and teaching Feminist Theory just can't kill. Oh My Goddess is a sweet, funny, kooky Science Fiction/Romance about big-eyed boys and girls with great hair and beautiful costumes. It's a cute show... or as the Japanese would say "kawaii". Be warned, cynics. Oh My Goddess is totally kawaii. Ka-wa-frigging-ii.

The 1993 series chronicles the adventures of Keiichi Morisato, a humble freshman at the Nekomi Institute of Technology who, in stereotypical nerd fashion, has trouble meeting girls. While attempting to order take-out, he accidentally contacts the Relief Goddess Office. When Relief Goddess Belldandy unexpectedly pops in to grant him a wish, he very understandably, if not very sensibly wishes that she would become his girlfriend for life. She agrees and madcap adventure ensues.

Through plot complications that occur in the episodes included in this collection, Keiichi and Belldandy set up housekeeping in a restored temple and are joined by Keiichi's little sister and Belldandy's sisters, the goddesses Urd and Skuld. Belldandy, Urd, and Skuld are based on Verthandi, Urth, and Skold, the Norse equivalent of the Fates of Greek mythology. In Norse myth, Verthandi, Urth, and Skold tend to Yggdrasil, the tree of Life. In Oh My Goddess, Belldandy, Urd, and Skuld are system manager, programmer, and debugger for Yggdrasil, the super computer who controls reality.

I've got to stop here and say that I just have to officially give the Japanese the International Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich Award for Creativity Above and Beyond the Call of Duty in Mixing Weird Crap Together in an Entertaining Way. I tell ya, pal, there's nothing that can peel away the jaded veneer lacquered onto the average U.S. viewer from trying to watch television seasons packed with minor variations of what boils down to be the same damned reality show over and over again -- that is itself actually a low-budget remake of gameshows from the 1970's -- like watching an action adventure cartoon based on characters from esoteric Buddhism or a romantic Science Fiction comedy starring Norse Goddess who are also IT professionals.

Just needed to get that off my chest.

The cherry on top of this ice cream sundae of kooky anime goodness is that the hard-working people at Animeigo have packed this little box with extras. Real extras. Not just four different categories of language choices. Not an image gallery that features only the DVD's cover art. Real extras. Well, okay, they're a little odd, but they're extras. I'll discuss them in ascending order of DVD yummy-ness.

First up, in the two oddest choices, Animeigo offers hard to please viewers the chance to dub their own version of Oh My Goddess. This version includes incidental music and sound effects unencumbered by any dialogue or subtitles. Next, viewers who prefer to read their cartoons may choose the "Silent Movie" mode, which includes music, effects, and subtitles, but leaves out all that pesky voice acting.

Next we have commentary. I don't think I've ever seen a commentary track option included on an anime DVD. Like all avid collectors of DVDs, I love commentary. The promise of a good commentary track can be a primary factor that motivates me to buy rather than rent a DVD. Like all collectors, I revel in having insider information that will increase my understanding and appreciation of a film. As you may be able to tell, I got so excited about the commentary track just being there at first it didn't matter to me whether it was good or bad. The commentary on these three episodes of Oh My Goddess is from the English language actors who voice several of the main characters and Voice Director Scott Houle. It's okay. Sometimes the actors' comments are cute and funny. Sometimes they're just giggling about the show or things that happened during taping that they can't or don't explain. I was amused to note that Juliet Cesario, the actress who voices Belldandy, seems to share her character's Pollyanna outlook. Every few minutes she points out a scene, line, costume, or image that is her "very favorite." Whenever one of the other voice actors is mentioned, she seldom fails to comment that he or she is "great" or "the best." It's a little like what commentary from Belldandy herself would be.... Just too damned kawaii for words...

As is the case with much of the commentary by actors created for non-anime DVDs, I think the producers need to "prime the pump" a little more to insure a better quality product. Actors need to be provided with more points of interest about the film, its themes, and production that they can fall back on when they run out of things to say. They should also be coached to avoid the trap of getting caught up in watching and critiquing their own performance. For example, one of the actresses doing commentary for one episode of Oh My Goddess compulsively redelivered many of her lines either slightly before or slightly after her onscreen character spoke. That's not commentary. That's an echo.

The real prize for me was the liner notes. Inside the front cover of the DVD you get a 5"X7" sheet of folded cardboard that contains gems such as an explanation of the series' title in Japanese and the English translation, information on the connection between the goddesses and Norse mythology, a discussion on Romanizing Japanese names, and lyrics to the opening and closing songs. I even learned something. I was familiar with the little cartoons called "eyecatches" that the Japanese use to go into and come back from commercial breaks. What I did not know was that these chiba skits had become so popular that anime producers frequently include them in OAVs that do not run commercials. Interesting. Not exactly earth shattering, but interesting. Like the commentary option, the liner notes extended the time I could spend enjoying this DVD and enhanced my appreciation of what I was watching.

In summary, I must recommend this sweet little anime confection as a worthy addition to the shelf of any anime fan. Furthermore, I give a tip of my metaphorical reviewing cap to Animeigo for including so many bonus features directed to creating a more satisfying viewing experience for the novice as well as for the collector. And while I'm in the giving mood, a final shout out to the Japanese. Keep on being the goofy, unpredictable cement mixers of cultural myth and iconography that you are, dudes. Save me from yet another season of Celebrity Deathmatch of the Extreme American Makeover Idol Bachelorette Survivors!

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