Oh My Goddess! (Volume 2) Review
Right. Hopefully you've popped over here after having read my review of the first disc in this set: Oh My Goddess! (Volume 1). There's a lot of good info in that review as well, but I had to break the content somewhere or one review would scroll for ages while the other would barely cobble together a sparse few sentences. Which is my way of saying, 'If you're really interested in these DVDs, you should read both reviews.' Anyway, your call.
So this time around I thought I'd talk a little about the whole name thing – both for the show itself and for the three goddesses that feature so prominently in it.
The original manga [Japanese comics] on which this animé is based was called 'Aa! Megamisama', which translates most straightforwardly to 'Ah! My Goddess', and this English lettering was incorporated into the original logo (the one with red lettering on a white background, visible at the start of the show).
However, between then and when the full English-language versions of the manga and animé came out, someone pointed out to the author its humorous similarity to the expression 'Oh my God!', to which he allegedly responded something along the lines of, 'Yes, that's precisely what I was aiming for!' So, by his preference, AnimEigo (and Dark Horse Comics, for that matter) has released all of their material under the name Oh My Goddess!, even though you'll still find other companies sticking to the alternate form of the title (see Pioneer's release of Ah My Goddess!: The Movie, for example).
As for Belldandy, Urd, and Skuld... their names derive from Norse mythology. In the Nordic pantheon, there are a trio of sisters called the Norns (or Nornir – the original 'Wyrd Sisters'), whose role is more or less analogous to that of the Fates in the Greco-Roman mythos. Their names are Verthandi/Verdandi, Urthr/Urd, and Skuld. Since Japanese doesn't use the phonemes for 've' or 'th', that first name was amended slightly to 'Berudandi'. From here it's a very short step to the Anglicised version, 'Belldandy'.
For similar reasons – namely, that in Japanese the only consonant that can end a word is 'n' – the names of Belldandy's sister goddesses come across as 'Urdu' and 'Skuldu'. However, you'll probably only notice this if you listen very closely to the Japanese track, as the Japanese are quite comfortable with dropping that final 'u' sound to a vanishing whisper when appropriate.
I could ponce about some more pointing out the many places where Fujishima incorporated Norse myth into OMG!, but you'll spot them for yourselves if you keep an eye open. (Particularly in the two OVAs on this second disc.) However, as general background info, suffice it to say that in the original Nordic reading: 1, Verdandi is the goddess of necessity, and her domain is the present; 2, Urd is the goddess of fate, and her domain is the past; and 3, Skuld is the goddess of being, and her domain is the future. (So perhaps we shouldn't be surprised to discover that she's the geeky one who's been placed on perpetual debugging duty for the Ultimate Force System.)
On a completely unrelated note, those of you who have seen any of the Pioneer Adventures of Mini-Goddess DVDs may be amused to witness the early stirrings of this concept way back in these OVAs... like when in episode 2 Urd can be spotted shrunk down to her chibi proportions, grumbling to a nearby rat about how Keiichi has bungled yet another ploy to romance Belldandy.
4: 'Evergreen Holy Night'
It's on this second disc that the plot begins to edge away from the silly romantic shenanigans, foreshadowing serious problems for Keiichi and Bell. Several more months have passed since the events of the last episode, but lately Keiichi is plagued by terrible dreams in which Belldandy must return to the Heavens and leave him forever. Then the gang wake up one morning and discover the temple in which they live has been snowed under... but there's not so much as a snowflake beyond the temple grounds. It soon becomes apparent that the source of the growing number of bugs in the Universe Force System is... Keiichi and Belldandy being together!
5: 'For the Love of Goddess'
Fujishima has no choice but to resolve the entire story arc in this final episode of the series, and he more or less succeeds. The Lord has issued a Notice of Recall to Belldandy in the wake of all of the system errors plaguing Yggdrasil, and in two days she must leave the Earthly Plane for good. In what little precious time remains, Keiichi races against the clock to fulfil a promise he made to her early on in their relationship, while Belldandy is forced to begin the painful process of gradually erasing herself from Keiichi's life and memory. As you can imagine, this isn't a light-hearted episode... but the ending you'll have to discover for yourself.
I've already been over the picture quality in my review of the first disc, so I'll just fill out this section with a few bits and bobs.
One thing that AnimEigo is close to setting the industry standard on is its subtitles. I've seen a lot of animé (though perhaps not compared to your average otaku), and I've seen monstrosities at both ends of the sub spectrum. There are the subs with tiny, thin fonts done with no outlining in a colour that renders them nearly-invisible against the on-screen animation. There are the subs with huge letttering in garish colours that blots out the bottom third of the picture. Naturally, most animé subs fall somewhere in between: they get the job done, just.
And then there's what AnimEigo does with theirs. First of all, choose a readable font in a reasonable size, then outline it in black so it will show up against any background. Then colour-code the text so the reader can differentiate between spoken dialogue (yellow or green, depending upon who's speaking), song lyrics (orange), and helpful notes/signs (white). When multiple subs are presented in the same frame, verify that they don't overlap or conflict with one another. Finally, make sure that the placement of the subs doesn't blot out any of the original Japanese credits during the opening and ending sequences, just in case people wanted to read the non-translated versions.
I know... it doesn't sound all that difficult, but you'd be amazed how few animé distributors make the effort. Anyway, end of rave/rant.
As I've already discussed sound quality in the last review (which is essentially the same for both Volume 1 and Volume 2), this time round I'm going to talk about the quality of the actual dialogue in both the Japanese and the English dub.
My usual fave – as those of you who have read my previous animé reviews know – is the original Japanese, because the voice actors understand the language perfectly and seem better able to concentrate on bringing out the meanings, emotions, and cadences the author intended. Well, I listened to the Japanese track and settled right in comfortably. Perfect casting across the board, although the jewel in the crown has to be the famous voice actress Kikuko Inoue in the role of Belldandy. (You animé fans out there might recognise her as the voice of Kasumi Tendo in Ranma ½ and Electra in Nadia, among others.) Particularly nice is the dynamic between her and the actor playing Keiichi.
And then I gave the English version a spin. What a wonderful job Coastal Carolina Sound Studios have done with this show! They made no bad choices when it came to their voice actors – which is very important in a show with so few major roles – and although the English Belldandy isn't quite as good as her Japanese predecessor, the English Keiichi is simply outstanding. Perhaps I'd better explain myself.
With most animé (in my opinion), the English dub tends to vary in quality between wooden and abysmal. Whether this is because the dubbing was farmed out to some agency under pressure to get it done in record time or simply because the studio handed them a slipshod translation of the original dialogue is hard to say. Generally I steel myself to settle for dubs that either possess: 1, voices that are a good match for the characters; or 2, voice actors who can do more than simply read lines. More than this I dare not hope for.
Which is why the dub of Oh My Goddess! is such a revelation. Not only does it meet both of the above criteria, but it goes beyond this and adds: 3, voice actors who love the original material enough to produce the same natural-flowing feel to the English version as was present in the Japanese; and 4, ones who can improvise improvements to certain aspects of the original dialogue.
I'm not joking; the English Keiichi is better than the original Japanese actor. Mostly this has to do with the way AnimEigo and Coastal handled the translated language. As a direct comparison of the subtitles track to the dub track reveals, they didn't feel the need to slavishly adhere to the original text. The difference is primarily one of tone, but it's hard to explain. The Japanese Keiichi sounds spot on when you're listening to the original and reading the translated subtitles, because the voice actor is playing the role straight with no goofing off. He sounds and reacts just like the Japanese idea of a first-year college student.
However, when you turn off the subtitles and play the English version, suddenly the dialogue's a lot more playful and full of turns-of-phrase that appeal to the Western ear. There are too many gems of dialogue to list, but the effect is one of suddenly listening to the Western concept of a first-year college student. Without stooping to stereotypical speech or caricatures, abruptly Keiichi is a slightly different guy... still extremely kind-hearted and likeable, but now also much funnier and wittier. It probably also helps quite a lot that the actors playing Keiichi (Scott Simpson) and Belldandy (Juliet Cesario) are married in real life.
In addition, rarely have I seen a dub with such attention to matching the timing of dialogue with the actual movements of the animé characters' mouths. Although this is most evident in the very first episode, there are entire sections where the voice actors' timing is utterly perfect, down to the tenth of a second. Perhaps a minor observation, but I know there has to be an art to this, and it's a wonder to behold people doing it absolutely right for a change.
There's not much I can add to this section, having covered the menus pretty thoroughly in the first review. However, I noticed that a few people have mentioned having problems finding the 'Uncaptioned music clips from open and closing songs' listed among the Special Features on the back of the DVD case for Volume 2. This may be because they're naïvely looking for it under the 'Extras' sub-menu on the disc. How very silly of them. Everyone knows that Special Features like this are filed under... erm... 'Episodes'?
I'm afraid it's true, gang... and this is one place where a few points have to come off for confusing the end consumer. Sure, I can see why they put the textless opening and closing segments there... it allowed them to re-use the nifty 3-window 'fruit machine' interface they had created for the first disc, because in place of 3 episodes they now had 2 episodes and an empty slot to fill. However, it really would have been a good idea to add a link to it from the 'Extras' menu as well, as that's the logical place people are going to look for it.
Still, pristine musical OPs and EDs, once you find them.
OK, as promised, here's my take on the non-commentary special features. (Oh, just one note about the commentary... it may be my imagination, but it seems a bit sparser on these final two episodes than it was on the first three. It's still enjoyable, but the cast are a bit less chatty this time around.)
The 'Dub Your Own OMG!' and 'Silent Movie Mode' are essentially the same thing, only the latter includes running English subtitles. The concept with these two is a bit bizarre, but I guess I can see the appeal: how would you like to watch OMG! with the dialogue track turned off, but all the music and sound effects still playing? Then if you were an otaku, you and your friends could voice all of the parts yourselves for a laugh. (Perhaps this would make for good sport at an animé club party, dunno.)
Then there's the 'Slide Show', which is a very nice auto-advancing gallery of cel images accompanied by a variety of OMG! musical themes. There's about two dozen stills all told, and they are presented full screen (not framed) for maximum effect. (And although the slide show will progress nicely of its own accord, if you're an impatient type you can just shuttle through the images using the PREV and NEXT buttons on your DVD remote, as each has been assigned its own chapter break.) As for the 'Disc Credits', it's just what you'd expect.
As mentioned under Menus, a special feature which is on the second disc but which doesn't actually appear in the 'Extras' sub-menu is the textless opening and ending song segment... so head over to 'Episodes' to watch it.
Finally, there's AnimEigo's default special feature, which rarely gets the mention it deserves: their disc liner notes. If you own one of this company's DVDs, you already know what I mean. For those of you who don't, imagine opening up your brand-new DVD case and – in place of the cheesy insert that usually occupies the slot opposite the disc – there's this strange tabbed card that looks like it belongs in a recipe collection. Upon closer examination, you find it's got a lot to say about the show... everything from historical production anecdotes to cultural references to song lyrics for the theme tune. Yes, the info provided is always a grab-bag kind of thing, but again... it's nice to know someone made the effort.
As I'm pretty much grading both of these discs together as a set – because, honestly, you're not going to want to watch only half of this OVA series – all my observations from the last review apply here as well.
Oh My Goddess! is one of those shows you'll want to come back to again and again over the years, and what better medium for that than DVD? Yeah, the show is very romantic and can get a bit sappy at times, but it has a great heart. What's more, it's pretty much a category unto itself... it's animé with no mecha, no kung-fu, no swordplay, no space opera, no period setting, no love triangles, no postmodern angst, no demons, devils, or other creatures of the night, no cute furry animals (unless you count the UFS bugs, of course), and no typical shoujo content (despite there being three beautiful goddesses hanging around). I'll go out on a limb here and say, yes, it's unique.