Ceres, Celestial Legend - Destiny (Volume 1) Review
From author Yu Watase, best known for her work on the incredibly popular Fushigi Yugi series, comes Ceres, Celestial Legend (aka: Ayasahi no Ceres), an anime based upon her original 14 volume Manga that focuses on a Japanese legend revolving around a Tennyo. For the western audiences a Tennyo is essentially an Angel, and the legend spoken of refers to a fisherman who found and tricked a Tennyo known as Ceres into marrying him and bearing his children. Generations have passed by and Ceres has succumbed to the fate of old age but her offspring live on and have formed the Mikage clan who carry this secret amidst the fear of repercussions that may come about via their bloodline and their ancestors actions.
In present day Japan the youngest members of the Mikage clan, Aki and his twin sister Aya, are looking forward to celebrating their sixteenth birthday with friends partaking in their favourite activity, karaoke. On the day preceding this event Aya is involved in an accident that sees her fall head first from an overpass into the moving traffic below. Miraculously she survives the fall as she literally begins to float, and when she lands a mysterious yet handsome man saves her from the passing traffic, and then just as quickly fades away into the bustling street backdrop.
Things swiftly move on to the day of the twins birthday where Aki and Aya are initially disappointed as there parents inform them of special arrangements that will prevent them from celebrating with friends as was originally planned. The event arranged sees them arrive at their grandfathers’ country home where the twins are shocked to find the entire Mikage clan present. The atmosphere surrounding this event is unusually tense while their parents are eerily silent, but this does nothing to stop Aya's enthusiasm building in anticipation of receiving her presents. When the moment finally arrives for the twins to open their gifts we discover that this gathering is to witness a test that will determine whether or not either of the children have been affected by their bloodline, and it is Aya who reacts in the way her parents feared she would.
Aya’s explosive reaction to the strange gift results in her grandfather informing her that she must die for the good of the family bloodline, for she is carrying the vengeful power of Ceres within her and this cannot be allowed to spread. Completely oblivious to her families past and now separated from her beloved brother Aya is scared and confused and begins to feel the same strange powers that were awakened by the previous days accident, only this time the power thoroughly encompasses Aya which results in chaos that manages to save her from this cruel fate. No sooner does Aya awaken from these magical events only to find the mysterious stranger from the previous day is watching over her, before he too suddenly leaves when a group of people claiming to be on her side arrive and take Aya away from her family and into relative safety. But just what direction will her life take after these startling events and can she control the power that is lurking within?
Maybe I should have mentioned this earlier but the above synopsis is fairly spoiler rich for the content of the first two episodes found on this disc but then to be honest, with only three episodes present and a synopsis on the rear cover that in many ways gives away even more, I think I can be forgiven. You see I want to add some form of disclaimer before I go any further because to give a fair assessment of the shows content based on the episodes present is no simple task as the series is at its infancy on this low episode count release, so the information divulged is based upon the actual series premise that is covered within the episodes found on this volume. So while they could be considered spoilers for this specific release they are not spoilers in the grand scale of the series.
With that said we can get back to the review proper and its about time I discussed the shows characters with you, for without them there would be little here to grab your attention. Of the utmost importance to the show are of course the twins, Aki and Aya. From the opening scenes that show them having fun with friends and then staring death in the face through Aya's accident we can see they have that special bond quite often associated with twins. As the older of the two Aki not only comes across as the more mature but is quite obviously looked up to by Aya, and the shows director does well to put this across to the viewer at such an early stage as this bond will no doubt form much of the future episodes dramatic tension as the two are ripped apart by the events that take place in the latter episodes contained on this volume.
Also involved are several characters whom can all be segregated into the most intriguing of categories, the mysterious stranger. The most prominent of these are a trio who come to Aya's aid when she has escaped the initial threat from her now estranged family. Claiming to be on her side the trio consist of Yuhi Aogiri, an obvious future love interest for Aya as well as a budding martial artist and chef who is controlled in a loving way by his step-sister Suzumi, the second of Aya's would be rescuers who we discover is also blessed with powers similar to those present within Aya. Rounding off this trio is a servant to Suzumi who judging by the ridiculously basic character design and onscreen antics is here purely for comic relief. The last of our mysterious strangers is Toya, the handsome gentleman who came to Aya's rescue when she fell, and then crops up at a later stage only to disappear again but not before he leaves his mark on the impressionable teen.
Add in numerous Mikage family members who are now entrusted with the job of finding Aya (and of course have their own separate agendas) along with the person that all this stems from (Ceres) and you have an interesting mix of characters that make up the onscreen action and drama. But at this early stage it has to be said that the series could go any way given the flimsy character loyalties established while the mystical elements buried deep within Aya are desperately attempting to break free and suggest plenty more revelations are yet to come.
Technically the series has left me relatively cold as the character designs, although ‘pretty’ lack the fine details seen in other series from recent years that result in a rough overall appearance to the proceedings. The animation then takes this look and makes it worse as the number of actual animated frames is sparser than usual suggesting a severely low budget even for a 26-episode run. Fortunately the dark nature of the series goes some way to atoning for these letdowns by creating some atmospheric sequences where the minimalist animation does work, while on the other end of the spectrum we have what most would refer to as ‘super-deformed’ sequences that work equally well and see the characters literally become caricatures of themselves for the more light hearted comedic scenes. At the helm is of course the director (Hajime Kamegaki) who deserves some praise for bringing these elements together and making them work to a certain degree, while it also has to be said that along with the team of writers they really know how to leave you wanting for more as without fail on this opening volume every episode ends with a cliff-hanger moment that pretty much surmises this release as it too leaves you on a cliff-hanger wanting for more.
Presented in the original 4:3 Full screen aspect ratio the quality of the transfer is on the whole quite average. The prints sourced appear to be in fine condition with no real signs of damage meaning the main problems with the transfer are due to the encoding. The largest problems relate to the style of animation that sees many lines close together which results in signs of rainbows and blooming that while not terribly distracting can be bothersome at times. A problem that I did find quite irritating was the poor black levels that really diminished the look of episode two where the dark backgrounds were more grey than black while compression artefacts were quite prominent in the solid black exteriors. Image flaws such as these are a concern and lead to a relatively average viewing experience for the viewer but fortunately they are not enough to completely turn me away from the disc, though considering this series was released quite recently it is still disappointing given the high quality of anime releases from alternative studios over the past year or two.
The original Japanese language track is presented here in the original Stereo mix and as such offers everything you would expect, which is nothing special but perfectly adequate for a television show while technically there were no flaws to be heard. An alternative English dub option is also available and is also presented in DD2.0 Stereo.
The optional English subtitles are presented in an easy to read yellow font with no signs of spelling or grammatical errors present. The only negative aspect of the subtitles is the lack of them for the opening theme tune.
A Character Gallery includes a few screens of original sketches and biographical information for five of the shows main characters and is worth a quick look if only because the biographies reveal a few more pieces of information about the characters that the three episodes on this disc do not.
Two video based supplements see the author Yu Watase in front of the camera offering you a short 90-second message and a longer 5-minute segment that simply shows her drawing a character at what I presume is an American anime convention. Again both are worth a look while the Watase fans will no doubt find them of far more interest than your casual anime viewer. Rounding off the bonus material is a short promotional video for the series that was used to advertise the show in America.
Given the lack of episodes present on this opening volume it is difficult to say exactly how I expect the series to progress, and more importantly whether or not it is one to consider as a bulk purchase (I know many anime fans prefer to buy a series in one go). What I can say is that the 65-minutes of entertainment present here is certainly intriguing enough for me to want to see more as the dark nature of the story combined with slapstick comedy elements is particularly appealing to my own personal tastes though I do have concerns at the lack of any truly gripping story elements at this early stage.
Most disappointing however is the merely average quality of this release that when combined with the low episode count makes for a DVD that is seriously lacking in the value for money department, turning the series into one that is best to try before you buy.