The first time I watched Simoun was in early 2007 when I had just gotten back into anime and it was one of my first new shows. I watched it on Crunchyroll, which back then was the shittiest possibly quality of streams imaginable. Like all anime I watched that early in my fandom, I lost memory of it quickly because of factors like me not really hearing voice actors, the shittiness of quality, etc. As such, when I later bought and watched the first DVD I was utterly shocked at how much better it was than I remembered in about every way. I knew that once I collected the DVDs it would quickly become one of my favorites. However, the most surprising thing about this rewatch is that I may not have understood the show at ALL the first time I watched it. Re-reading the posts I did at the time of watching, my opinions are so different that it’s almost like I didn’t watch the same show.
So I’ve decided to divide this post into two sections. The first is one that you can follow if you haven’t seen the show, meaning it’s me trying to convice you to watch it, and the second is me talking about my own theories and other spoilerific content.
Simoun is one of those anime that is accurately described as ‘amazing’ and anyone who disagrees has ‘no taste’. It’s ‘brilliant’, if you will, and that may be why it doesn’t have enough fans. It stands a little too far on the threshold of goodness where it can’t really become popular. Kind of like Legend of the Galactic Heroes or Honey and Clover, or something, where it has a following of dedicated fans and is truly top-tier stuff but somehow just never reaches the heights that it should in popularity.
Unlike those 2 I mentioned, though, Simoun has the power of Yuri and therefor was able to get licensed by Media Blasters who did the absolute perfect shining example of how a niche release should be. Sub only, 26 eps on 5 DVDs, plenty of bonus features and absolutely gorgeous cover art. It’s in every way what fans of the series would want, so I can’t commend MB highly enough for such a great release.
Because Simoun is a bit difficult to be concise in recommending, I’m going to stab at some of the elements of awesome at random. The soundtrack by Toshihiko Sahashi (The Big O, Gunslinger Girl, FullMetal Panic) is a nonstop audial orgasm. It’s VERY RPG sounding and I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Uematsu’s name roll through the credits. This soundtrack is kind of what would happen if you took all the best songs from Final Fantasy 7 and 9. There are a lot of highly funky bass-driven songs, some latin-sounding guitar-picking songs, some tango, and no shortage of huge, bombastic symphony anthems. I’m listening to the OST right now and it’s so exciting that it makes me hit the keys more dramatically and is actually making this post sound way more epic to me than it should.
Aside from the songs just being epic, though, they are so well-placed it’s uncanny. Director Junji Nishimura (Ranma 1/2, True Tears, Windy Tales)‘s commentary implies that he had a major part in deciding how the music should sound and what kind of genres should be included where. There’s one particular thematic song that simply MAKES scenes. Almost all the major scenes in the show feature this song, and every time it adds a whole new layer of awesome to the scene. I remember telling No Name while we were watching that ‘any scene with this song is automatically going to kick ass.’ What I found interesting was a that a lot of huge or bombastic scenes would feature lighter music and some quaint scenes would have more dramatic music, but in every instance it flat-out works. It’s majorly evident that a lot of care went into track placement.
Even the sound effects are noteworthy. At all times that characters are on a ship, you can hear a faint engine noise in the background and wind when they are outdoors. The director even brags about a scene where a character walks through a room where the other characters are all asleep and they recorded all of the actors just breathing which you can only really hear with the volume up.
So while we’re on the subject of sound, we obviously have to talk about the seiyuu, of which there are no shortage of big names. Rimone is one of my favorite Mamiko Noto (Ana – Ichimaro, Shimako – Marimite) roles, though she gets next to no lines (which she herself mentions in one of the specials). Newcomer Michi Niino does a pretty great job as main character Aeru delivering some great emotion. Rieko Takahashi (motherfucking Diana and Kihel from Turn A) might have outright stolen the show as the other lead, Neviril, where her mature tone and mystifying dramatic emotion give the character a true life of her own. Some other big names with great performances include Nana Mizuki (Fate Testarossa, Rin – Rideback, Rue – Princess Tutu), Ami Koshimizu (Kallen, Anemone, Horo – Spicy Wolf), Eri Kitamura (Ami – Toradora, Saya – Blood+), Yukana (C.C., Tessa Testarossa) and my favorite, Rika Morinaga whose other roles do not interest me. The only less-than-great voice is Michiru Aizawa’s grating performance as Floe, which happens to be her only anime role ever.
The most interesting aspect of Simoun’s voice acting, though, is that the voice actors who play the main cast also play everyone else in the show. In the Simoun universe, everyone is born female and they have to choose their gender at 17. The series creators used this as an excuse to have all the old men in the series played by girls. And I must say it’s fucking weird. There were some instances where it was impossible to take the men seriously because they sounded so feminine, though it ended up working in the favor of resident bishounen Anubituf. I can’t say whether the males-by-females decision was a good or bad one, but it’s certainly quite interesting to say the least. It’s also funny when Mamiko Noto plays any minor character because you can so tell it’s her regardless.
Simoun’s animation is a very funny thing. Like, Sunrise funny. That kind of funny where it can be utterly beautiful one minute and then a few shots will be completely fucked up. Or where most of the backgrounds are hand-drawn and Miyazaki looking while others are more normal and some stuff is CG. This has a lot to do with the director getting what he wants and the Art Director being eccentric as all hell (you MUST look at Shinichiro Kobayashi‘s list of work. Angel’s Egg, Ashita no Joe 2, Berserk, Detroit Metal City, Figure 17, Castle of Cagliostro, Melody of Oblivion, REVOLUTIONARY GIRL UTENA, Space Adventure Cobra, all of which use the techniques and all of which are artistically brilliant.)
As mentioned, a lot of Simoun’s backgrounds are hand-drawn and drop-dead gorgeous. They have a very washed and mystic look that is rare to see in anime (except those listed above) and add a lot to the show’s fantasy atmosphere. Meanwhile, the ships and planes, etc. are CG, but don’t look ugly at all against the backdrop. The CG is very minimalist with a focus on smoothness and blending in with the rest of the image, which is exactly how it ought to be done. Everything in the series has the aura of mystic beauty that enthralls the viewer into it’s rich world.
Director Nishimura talks in his commentary about the extensive use of heavily detailed stills that they call ‘harmonies.’ This animation technique was made famous and popularized by God of Directing Osamu Dezaki who would use them in all of his shows, especially for a dramatic moment at the end of an episode. Nishimura said it was a risky move that got mixed reviews, but he thought it was a very important technique to transition scenes and that Art Director Kobayashi was strongly supportive of using them, being as he is an old-school guy who loves cells (evidently he would hand-produce some cells for the show just because he wanted to.) Personally, I’m a huge fan of harmonies when they appear in any series, and they are done extremely well in simoun to exemplify the emotion of a great many scenes.
Also notable is the show’s very interesting use of outlines. For the most part, the characters are animated just as you would expect from any modern anime series. However, there are a number of action scenes and otherwise manly (for, you know, women) moments where the outlines get thick as a motherfucker. The most memorable of these is the first appearance of the main character Aer at the end of episode 1 who is wearing a brown wrap-around cape and goggles that make her look like she just flew out of a fucking 70s mecha anime. Needless to say, these moments were epic levels of win.
Which, of course, brings me to the character designs. Asako Nishida is both character designer and animation director (which she also did for Touka Gettan and Vampire Knight as well as directing animation in shows like Outlaw Star and Infinite Ryvius) and going by her commentary with Nishimura, she was a huge part of the show and majorly attached to it. She fangirls over several characters and says how she had drawn her favorites at different point in their life just for fun and other such things. The designs are consistently nice and wholly sexy on all sides. Most of the girls have a voluptuousness to them that isn’t seen as much these days (won’t say moe) and many the same mystifying beauty carried by all of the show’s visuals.
My favorite part of the desigs was the hair, namely Aer and Mamiina’s hair (funny since my brother hated all the hair). The breasts were also very nice – it’s a goddamn accomplishment to get me to like a woman having large breasts and I loved it on every girl in this show (since most were moderate to large.) That said, my favorite design was still the loli, Rimone, who also had awesome hair and a bewildered cuteness to her. Her smiles were just all too satisfying. Neviril was a very interesting design because she pulled off the sort of ‘untouchable goddess’ look better than any character I’ve seen. I hated her hair, and ordinarily I’d hate her type with the ‘noble’ look to her, but unlike most noble goddess types, Neviril honestly fit the part of someone that commanded respect and got it. Even when she shows vulnerability, she still seems utterly mighty. It’s also worth noting that Nishida had a lot of fun with the males, making them every bit as bishounen and voluptuous as the females.
As for the consistency of these designs, the director says in the commentary how he was impressed with the consistency from the animators, though I think he’s giving a bit too much credit (which Nishida points out.) There weren’t any terrible inconsistencies, but breast size seemed to be all over the place and girls sometimes went from flat-faced to Jew-nose without warning. Aer’s hair also seemed to get… taller in certain spots. There were also several aforementioned ‘Sunrise moments’ where a majorly noticeable animation blunder made No Name and I lol. And don’t get me started on running. Studio Deen cannot fucking animate running. However, these issues are pretty minor and do nothing to diminish the fact that this is an incredibly pretty anime.
I also feel the absolute need to bring up the eyecatches (you know, those images that show up before and after the commercial break.) This show has some of the best eyecatches of all time, and sort of provide some extra fanservice for the show. Every picture is lovingly created and outright cumtacularly sexy.
Simoun is essentially a small story taking place in an enormous fantasy world which handles itself much better than Xam’d. The world is fantastical, vast, and very RPG-like, especially it’s steampunk setting. However, this story takes place in one country of this world, and not even a whole lot is told to the viewer about this country. The show’s real focus is it’s characters, so we learn much less about the world itself. In the commentary, the director notes how he was especially careful not to bring up certain parts of the Simoun world because they wouldn’t matter to the story and would just end up being a loose end that never gets tied.
To give you some scope on how massive the world Nishimura envisions is, there is one character in the show who says that she is an immigrant to this country while explaining the origin of a song she sings. In the commentary, Nishimura says that she is actually an immigrant from another planet. According to him, Simoun has interplanetary relations going on, but because this story was so small and “26 episodes” he didn’t want to needlessly introduce such a huge section of the world (something Xam’d could have handled better.)
However, while we may not get the full perspective of Simoun’s world, it is a show that immediately makes the viewer feel is vast and rish and completely seperated from our own. In the Simoun world, everyone is born female, ships are powered by a combination of science and divinity, and there is a lot of religion going on. The central nation in the show is a theocracy that lets religion govern all of their actions. The flight mechanisms aren’t feasible by our planet’s means and there are a number of magical elements such as….. well, space-time manipulation. Nishimura notes that it was a major issue to decide how realistic the show should be, and so he included a scene in the first episode where an insanely massive explosion takes out several hundred enemy ships as a way of saying ‘just be open minded and ready for anything.’
Personally, I found this world thoroughly engaging and would love nothing more than to see other series set in this universe. Not necessarily featuring the same characters, just more of this world. While it may not be totally unique, I think there is more than enough to this world that it could be explored from other perspectives and places… maybe I’ll write a fanfiction or something, lol. Going by the underwhelming popularity of the show, I can’t see a sequel happening. Maybe a novel or two? Someone?
Simoun’s strongest asset and biggest focus is definitely it’s characters. Every character has very complex emotional depth and all of them see major evolution over the series’ course. The show’s major themes are growing up, making decisions and finding out exactly what it is you want out of life, so you’ll see all of the characters tackle these issues in their own ways.
Neviril and Aer, the main characters, are kind of opposites with their similarity (Neviril: “There is exactly one thing that makes us the same.”) being what they want out of life. Aer begins the show totally sure of what she wants, struggling to keep that sureness, while Neviril struggles to become sure of anything, and seeing these emotions juxtaposed in one another is what starts to pull them along in finding themselves.
Not all of the emotions flying around are immediately obvious and you’ll have to search and pay attention to see what’s happening in the characters’ minds. Some characters like Paraietta and Mamiina have to make major changes within themselves from stubbornly clinging to self-destructive beliefs and relying or not relying on others to the point of self-detriment. Some of interpersonal drama is less about emotions and more about past incidents, such as the sisters Kaim and Alty who have been driven apart despite past closeness thanks to a major incident in their past.
All of the characters have incredible amounts of drama going on right from the start, and it doesn’t really let up until everything starts to sort out towards the end with the events that transpire. So one can expect a lot of tension from beginning to end. This is what might alienate the audience in many cases. We watched the show with Funeral who wanted badly to get into it but the heavy drama and all-female cast made it too hard for him to relate to and he couldn’t really connect with anyone. I’d say the show is probably easier to recommend to girls or at least people who can enjoy a very tense, serious drama. And this is non-bullshit drama – the show is extremely mature and you don’t get some petty melodrama bullshit. Some of the characters can be emo at times, but this is not an emo anime – the show itself is as critical of such bullshit as anyone.
Overall, I’d say there was not one major character who I didn’t like and though they all make mistakes, they all do a pretty great job of redeeming themselves. The show lets no character go unnoticed. Even Yun, who was originally supposed to die early on but was kept in the show due to popularity got her own interesting plot written in to make me appreciate her. If you want characters who are totally human, but totally respectable, you won’t find anything much better than this.
Simoun definitely has a major strength in pacing, but this does not apply to the first 3 episodes. People who are able to recognize a good anime when they see it will likely be impressed right from the get-go, but for everyone else, this is an admittedly hard show to get into. The first episodes throw in a lot of characters and a lot of technical terms that are only explained enough so that you might know what the hell is going on but beyond that, it’s not so easy to get an emotional connection. The show starts off with the death of a character which has a major impact on the other characters, and it’s trying to handle this impact while simultaneously introducing you to the world, which doesn’t leave too much time for showing off.
However, the mere fact that they actually accomplished introducing the world and characters to such an extent within just 3 episodes is astonishing. It’s nothing like Marimite where you are left confused, it all makes good enough sense, and by episode 4 it’s accomplished enough to deliver it’s first truly notable emotional scene which for me was enough to completely win me over the first time I saw it and continue to amaze upon rewatches. If that episode doesn’t nab you, the show will surely win you over by episode 8 at which point it has pretty much completed all of the setup and dives straight into the meaty, emotional, character-driven content that thrives through the rest of the show. The transition from exposition to development is perfect, and from that point on there is pretty much a non-stop train of amazing episodes.
It’s very worth noting that the Media Blasters DVD releases feature a number of special features. The first DVD has a mock game show where all of the voice actors have to answer questions that may or may not relate to the show which is a ton of fun and surprisingly long. Each DVD has a special ‘interview’ with two of the cast members. These seem to be cut from their original length but are still hilarious and quite a blast, especially for seiyuu fans. I do admit, it was kind of embarrassing at times when the seiyuu proved themselves somewhat dense. Much more interesting though is the commentary with the director and character designer which I’ve brought up a few times. Three of the DVDs feature these commentaries of about 10-15 minute apiece wherein the pair look at a bunch of scenes from teh show and talk about background info and other thigns regarding the show. They are not only highly insightful, but pretty hilarious at times with all of Nishida’s jokes and fangirling over her own bishounen characters.
Simoun is one of those anime that the creators put all of their heart and soul into creating and as such manages to really resonate with an audience that can appreciate it. Everything in the creators’ power was done to tell the story they wanted to tell, create characters they could love and an experience they could be proud of. As a director, there’s nothing I love more than to see a story created with such passion as it makes me also feel passionate in return. I feel as though my love and dedication to the series and characters is deserved and I have a lot of respect for anything which can attach me emotionally to the point that I don’t want to let go and don’t want the series to end.
Simoun is an amazing experience more than deserving of it’s dedicated fanbase and undoubtedly deserving of much more. I have no doubt that this is one o the greatest anime in existence.
PART TWO – MY REWATCH (CONTAINS MAJOR END SPOILERS)
I have gone through my archives a good amount of times checking out my old posts and laughing about how shitty a lot of them were, etc. As such, I’ve become acquainted with many of my past opinions on shows. So when I watched Simoun, I pretty quickly realized that somehow my perspective on it was 100% completely different from the first time I watched it. You can read that post here. Somehow, it seems like I understood none of the show last time, despite having always considered it a favorite, and I’m definitely going to get into why.
As you will see in the original, I had found it quite depressing. I had accused all of the girls of ‘resigning to their fates’ in the same way that happens at the end of the novel 1984. The way I’d seen it, the girls were fighting against having to conform and give up their rights, but in the end had resigned to fate and gone to live humbly with the exception of Aer and Neviril. I can probably classify this as a ‘mistake of my youth.’
Simoun is not about resignation or giving up – it’s about growing up and making decisions. What all of the girls feared was having to leave behind the way they were now – the emotions they felt in this moment, and move on. Basically, it’s like the fantasy take on a leaving-high-school type story, a la Manabi Straight or hitohira (which I at least had the sense to compare it to even back then). However, back then I was on the wrong side of thought as a person who was struggling with the exact same fear of growing up. To me, it was more heroic and romantic for the girls to rebel – to reject growing up and be eternal youth. It had pissed me off that they would decide to grow older.
Of course, having grown up since then, I now see the importance of the girls moving forward. The truth is that they were stuck there. It wasn’t that they were wanting to stay young, it was that thy were afraid to grow old. Their fear was an obstacle, and the whole point of the show was to make it past that obstacle. Everything had really been building towards this – the characters each had to slowly come to terms with reality, their way of life, and how to let go of their childhood. Growing up was their last step into developing – it was their finding of happiness. I couldn’t see this back then, so in a way I’d really missed the whole point of the show.
However, this leaves me even more confused with my feelings toward Neviril and Aer’s ending. After all, the two of them never grow up. They fly off to another world as eternal maidens to carry on the present selves of the maidens forever. To the maidens, in their final moments, that was their ‘we were here’. Their little permanent mark on society, like the first scene in 20th century boys where the main character tries to change the world through rock music when nothing really changes. Paraietta herself points out that she doesn’t know why they were so dead-set on charging Neviril and Aer off into eternity. She says how it was like their desperate need to believe that they would live on in the world as they always were.
The ending is incredibly introspective and seems intent on letting the viewer decide for themselves whether or not a difference really was made – whether or not there was a true meaning behind their departure – whether or not the world really did change because of it. It’s all up to you. And meanwhile, Neviril and Aer will live on together forever, either in stark contrast to the realistic endings of everyone else, or directly representative of it.
I don’t think it’s something I’ll ever stop thinkging about. I think I’ll dwell on this ending for as long as I live, trying to decide for myself whether or not my own life has made an impact on the earth. Whether or not the things I did at age 17 had any real meaning, or if I was just dreaming that I was more important or that it all happened for a reason. I’ll just never know.