Oh My Goddess! (Volume 1) Review
OK, many moons ago, I wrote a review - specifically, of Pioneer's Adventures of Mini-Goddess (Volume 1: The Gan-Chan Files) - which gave a quick intro to the universe of Oh My Goddess! but promised a more thorough explanation would eventually follow. Well, here it is!
Although Pioneer continues to turn out successive instalments of the Mini-Goddess spin-off show, AnimEigo is the company responsible for bringing the original 5-episode OVA series to DVD (in the West, at any rate). But before we get to the disc itself, a little background.
The guy who wrote the original manga, Kosuke Fujishima, is also the author responsible for the entertaining series Taiho Shichauzo (You're Under Arrest), and in fact the OMG! idea sprang from a throwaway 1988 four-panel comic he worked up to illustrate a compo for YUA merchandise, where the lead characters were praying to a goddess that they might win the contest themselves. One thing led to another and by the end of that year Aa! Megamisama (Oh My Goddess!) had appeared as a serial in the magazine 'Comic Afternoon', published by Kodansha, Ltd.
The series' light comic tone proved popular and eventually Kodansha got around to producing an OVA [original video animation] version of a few episodes from the manga, which aired in 1993. Although there's no denying the popularity of these five OVAs now, at the time Kodansha decided against producing any more of the animé, and so five episodes is all you get... which is really a shame, as it's absolutely charming stuff. (Some have pointed out that the OVAs feel slightly more serious than the manga – and that the one full-length movie that was eventually produced went so far as to be almost dark by comparison – so perhaps this accounts for the business decision.)
Anyway, if you're an animé fan and find these sorts of minutiae interesting, there will be more of them in my review of the other DVD in this set – Oh My Goddess! (Volume 2) – so please go have a look. For the rest of you who simply wanted to know what on earth the show's about, your time has come...
The OVAs focus tightly on the developing romance between Keiichi (a first-year college student) and Belldandy (a Goddess First Class). How did this happen? Well, being at the dead bottom of the collegiate totem pole at Nekomi Tech, Keiichi is left behind at the men's residence hall one night to take messages should anyone phone. Getting hungry, he tries to ring for takeaway, but misdials and ends up connecting with the Goddess Helpline instead. Belldandy, on duty at the time, pops over to grant him one wish. Dumbstruck at his good fortune and half believing it to be prank put on by his mates, Keiichi merely wishes that he had a girlfriend just like her... and beyond all expectation, this wish is approved by The Powers That Be™.
So there you have it: a premise that's hard not to like, but one that just keeps getting better as more characters are thrown into the mix, including Keiichi's younger sister, his college buddies, and the obligatory sister goddesses that come nosing about after Belldandy, convinced this whole business with Keiichi isn't going the way they believe it should.
AnimEigo has released two separate DVDs of Oh My Goddess!, and this first one contains episodes 1-3 of the five total. Obviously I don't want to give too much away, but here are some capsule summaries...
1: 'Moonlight and Cherry Blossoms'
Sure, it's nice having a wish granted by a bona fide goddess... but now that Keiichi and Belldandy are bound together by divine contract, there's the small matter of the men's residence hall rules to consider. For example, the one that states: 'Anyone caught with a woman in the dormitory will be thrown out!' So now the two of them need to find another place to live... and fast.
2: 'Midsummer Night's Dream'
After almost half a year of waiting for the shy Keiichi to romance her younger sister Belldandy, the goddess Urd finally decides to take matters into her own hands and pays the college kid a surprise visit. Absolutely determined to get these two lovebirds together, Urd counsels Keiichi in how to put the moves on her sis... but despite her best advice, he can never quite seize the moment and tell Belldandy how he really feels about her. One scheme after another backfires, until Urd finally pulls out the big guns... a genuine love potion!
3: 'Burning Hearts on the Road'
Ah, why stop at one sister goddess when you can introduce two? As it turns out, Belldandy's little sis Skuld has been getting bored and lonely up in the heavens, as there's nothing to do but spend her time ridding the Ultimate Force System of all of these weird bugs that keep cropping up. However, when she goes to visit Belldandy and discovers that her big sis is bound by a wish contract to a mortal... well, naturally she sets out to save Belldandy from this terrible fate! As if this doesn't mean Keiichi has enough problems to worry about, his sempai has volunteered him to represent the college Auto Club in the University Drag Race – and guess who's the most mechanically-minded of the three goddesses?
Unsurprisingly (as most animé is produced for broadcast TV), these three OVAs are presented in their intended aspect ratio of 4:3 (1.33:1). However, AnimEigo has taken the time to digitally remaster the original video source and – seeing as the material wasn't even 10 years old to begin with – the result is a very nice transfer indeed.
One thing to be aware of here is that anything to do with the celestial planes comes across very soft indeed. (Almost to the point of being blurry.) I believe this was an intentional effect and not a flaw in the image quality... however, be forewarned that the effect does spill over to the three goddesses themselves on more than one occasion, so if the series doesn't look as 'sharp' as some of the animé you're used to, that's probably why.
Other than that, there's nothing really to complain about. The colours are more realistic and less 'cartoony' than I've seen in most animation, and at points almost seem drawn from a watercolour palette. I haven't been able to spot any artifacting during the multiple times I've played the disc, so it's clear AnimEigo set the bitrate suitably high when they went to encode the DVD. Even in scenes with a lot of motion, there's no blockiness to speak of.
In fact, there's only one point in the entire show where pixelation rears its ugly head, and that is at the very end of each episode when the animation stops. For whatever reason, this final freeze-frame isn't clean, and the last image goes a little gritty. It's a really trivial flaw, but I thought I should mention it lest the die-hard fans descend upon me.
NOTE: A few people have reported online that these discs have problems with cross-colouration on a couple brands of DVD player. I've tested both volumes of OMG! on my Sampo standalone player and on my computer's DVD-ROM drive, and have seen no evidence of cross-colouration or rainbowing whatsoever, so personally I'm giving the video a pretty high score. But I just wanted to mention that you may not be so lucky.
OK, I've watched this disc all the way through three times now (once in Japanese, once in English, and once with the commentary on), and I confess it's a rare treat to finally own an animé DVD with three very enjoyable audio tracks. (Most of the time I really only like one.) Unfortunately for those who simply want to know if the sound quality was up to snuff, I have quite a bit to say about the dubbing and dialogue, so once more I'll move all of that (excess?) detail over to my Oh My Goddess! (Volume 2) review. (Hint, hint.) So what follows is the just the audio fidelity stuff.
What we have here is a solid Dolby Digital stereo mix. There are no dropouts to speak of and the dynamics are stable across all three of the OVAs... which is to say that you're not going to have to be reaching for the volume control in between episodes. AnimEigo has made good use of stereo separation in the front soundstage, so it's less flat and more enjoyable than most animé I've listened to. (Then again, a lot of the animé I've seen is so old that it was originally recorded in mono and then later converted to stereo, so this may not come as any real surprise.)
Actually, if you want to play the old game of 'How stereo is this show, anyway?' there are many places you can spot-check OMG! for yourself. Two particularly good ones are early on in the first episode: 1, when Belldandy peeks through Keiichi's mirror; and 2, when she requests (and receives) approval for his wish contract. Just open your ears and enjoy.
Which leads us to a quick mention of sound effects. Although this show – like most animé, actually – is a bit short on bass and thus isn't one for showing off your subwoofer (if you have one), there are nice touches here and there on the sound effects track. Little things like the brief scene where Keiichi's taking a bath and the acoustics alter so it actually sounds like you're in a bathroom... stuff like that. So really, full marks for audio on this release. (Hop on over to my review of the second disc if you want further supporting evidence.)
Nor can I find anything to fault with the menus on this disc. There's nothing spectacular going on, but what AnimEigo has done looks good and is supremely functional, which is the primary thing.
The main menu is the most impressive. After the obligatory copyright notices, there's that AnimEigo ident animation with the surround-sound ambient noise of pattering raindrops I like so much and then a series of IDs for the other copyright holders: Kodansha, TBS, and KSS Films. From there it cuts to a shot of Belldandy floating in the blackness of space, focusing on a sphere of energy in her cupped palms... which in a moment swells in brightness and expands to instantly form the main menu. Pretty cool, no?
The main menu uses a fixed diagonal frame which anchors the title and the selections, but the large central area is occupied by a series of animated scenes smoothly transiting one to the next, and likewise there is a generous length of musical track that plays over this in the background, eventually fading out gently as the long sequence reaches its end and the main menu loops back to the start. All very professional.
The other menus include Episodes, Settings, and Extras. The first of these has a nice animated intro similar to the eye-catch used for the advert break in the middle of each episode when it was broadcast on Japanese television. Your only choices, however, are the three OVAs themselves, so if you were hoping for further subdivisions of these 30-minute episodes, you can forget it. (Better get on that fast-forward button, my friend.)
The Settings and Extras menus are both your basic static page deals, neither with any background music. Both of them offer a fair whack of options from which to choose. For instance, the Settings menu lets you choose to watch the show in the original Japanese with English subtitles, in English dub with English subs, in English dub with no subs, or in English dub with 'limited' subs (that is, actual dialogue won't be translated, but the occasional sign will be, and now and then a linguistic or cultural note will pop up to help clarify what is meant). It comes as something of a surprise that AnimEigo didn't offer another very obvious choice on this menu... original Japanese language with no subs. However the purists out there will be relieved to learn that the subtitles button on your average DVD player remote control will override this and let you watch the Japanese track without extraneous text if you like.
Anyway, the highlight colours chosen for all of the menus don't leave you wondering which option is currently selected, and the access speed between screens is good, so no problems there. By the way, not really a menu thing, but I'd better mention it now before I forget... both of these OMG! DVDs are multi-coded for regions 1, 2, and 4. I've never seen this before on an animé release, so it's a bit of a talking point. (Yeah, of course I've seen animé DVDs that are coded to all regions... that's old hat. But to limit it to the US, Europe, and Oceania is fairly stylish, I think.)
The Extras menu is where things really get scary, including: 'Slide Show', 'Dub Your Own OMG!', 'Silent Movie Mode', 'Commentary – 1', 'Commentary – 2', and 'Disc Credits'. Don't worry... it's a bit simpler than it sounds. Just so I have something left to talk about in the Extras section of the second OMG! DVD review, I'm going to only discuss the audio commentary for now... particularly as it's one of the nicer special features of this disc.
First thing is, the two 'Commentary' options are the same thing, except one turns on the subtitles while the other leaves them off. You might wonder why you'd want to turn them on – seeing as the commentary track is done by the English voice crew and they've recorded it while watching their English dub of OMG! – but it's not as silly as it sounds. The fact is, when the commentary is active (and until the third episode there are very few dead spots indeed), it drowns out the sound of the dub track and you may have a hard time making out the very lines of dialogue the cast is commenting on.
As for the commentary itself... well, it really is very entertaining. You have the voice actors for three of the lead roles (including, yes, Keiichi and Belldandy) and their Voice Director, Scott Houle. As I'll go into in substantially more detail in my review of the second OMG! disc, these people are very talented, and Keiichi's actor in particular has a great gift for comedy. Too often you'll decide to try out the commentary track on a DVD only to find it's dreadfully dull, or filled with uncomfortable silences where no one can think of anything to say.
This is the exact opposite. Here is a commentary featuring four bubbly Americans who evince a great deal of genuine love, respect, and enthusiasm for the material on which they worked. OK, so this won't make it onto a list of 'All-Time Best DVD Commentaries'. It's true that they don't have any deep insights regarding the project to impart to the listener, but bless them, they do try all the same. If anything, the downfall of this commentary track is that it's so very busy and therefore comes across as rather chaotic. Everyone has something to say about almost every scene, and – combining this with a number of random tangential comments that lead nowhere (as well as the occasional mistake, like when one of the lads claims Skuld is introduced in episode 4) – it feels jumbled.
However, this lack of direction doesn't really harm it, as you end up feeling like you're in a room with some (perhaps slightly over-enthusiastic) mates of yours who are excited about this show and want to share some of their observations about it with you. One of the commentary's strengths lies in the occasional classic anecdote or throwaway quip about the dialogue; there are a few spots where I nearly fell off the settee laughing. Granted, in many other places it seems as if they are trying a little too hard to be funny, relying on sophomoric humour to keep the pace up... but the important thing is, there is a pace, and they keep it up.
If you're a die-hard animé fan, you also can't help but smile whenever they proudly reveal some basic fact of the genre that they picked up during the course of making the show (for example, that shy guys get nosebleeds when faced with a risqué situation, or that in Japan a guy holding his pinkie aloft is referring to a girlfriend). On the other hand, if you're interested in the actual craft of voice acting, these people have quite a few interesting things to say, all carried off in that light comic tone that pervades the entire commentary. (As a side note, Coastal is the same outfit that did the English dub of Fujishima's previous series, You're Under Arrest!, so they do have some experience in this line.)
Anyway, I've spent enough time on that particular special feature... but I wanted to stress that it really is a treat despite its flaws. The other extras are a bit more mundane, and I'll cover them in the other review.
Top stuff, this. Oh My Goddess! is an absolutely charming series that has found a warm place in most animé fans' hearts... the only major recurring complaint being that 'there needs to be more of it!'. Alas, it really doesn't look as if that's likely to happen. Still, five OVAs of something as good-natured as this show is far better than none.
A series like OMG!, because of its limited nature, deserves some special treatment when it's eventually brought to DVD, and AnimEigo seem to have taken every possible care to make these discs the best they can be. The video is for the most part excellent, the sound is simply superb (within the limits of Dolby 2.0, of course), and the extras are fairly comprehensive (even allowing for the slight repetition of the ones with the subtitles on/off switch).
These two discs receive the highest rating I've ever given an animé DVD here on DVD Times... a nine. (Of course, Mark beat me to the punch on the Akira (Limited Edition Tin) review, or the story might be different...)