Adventures of Mini-Goddess (Volume 4: The Skuld Files) Review
Good grief, I seem to be reviewing the fourth and final DVD volumes of a lot of animé series recently! This time around it's the last instalment of Adventures of Mini-Goddess (The Skuld Files). Those expecting a radical departure from the cutesy miniature style of animation and bite-size storylines offered in the preceding 36 episodes will go away disappointed. Everyone else will be pleased to hear that the final dozen mini-shows (each clocking in at about 8 minutes total) are just as entertaining and innocent as ever.
With such short running times to work with, it should come as no surprise that Adventures of Mini-Goddess remains highly episodic to the very end. This has never been a series that aspired to an overarching storyline, even when it did occasionally allow itself a 2-parter (of which one more appears on this volume). That said, I was relieved to see that the show finished off reasonably well… and by this I don't mean the 48th episode, which after a comic beginning gets progressively more lame before the end. Instead, I'm referring to the fact that there's a slight return to form when it comes to the episode ideas on this last disc, with a bit more creativity lavished here than on the previous two DVDs' instalments. (That is, the good episodes here are really quite excellent… even if there are a few 'stinkers' as usual.)
37: 'Urd vs Urd'
When Urd creates multiple copies of herself to go find her missing earring (because she's too lazy to do it herself), it sparks a revolutionary movement amongst the other Urds to overthrow… her! By the way, the jokes are funnier in the subtitled Japanese version than they are in the dumbed-down English dub script.
38: 'Gan-chan Runs for Election: "Being Self-Made" Edition'
When Gan-chan runs for election amongst the temple rats, Marla decides to offer her bag of dirty tricks to the opposing candidate. Will Gan-chan crumble under the smear campaign?
39: 'Gan-chan Runs for Election: "Time of Change" Edition'
Marla's mudslinging tactics uncovered, it's up to Belldandy, Urd, and Skuld to save Gan-chan's reputation.
40: 'Urd's Ultimate Diet'
When Urd decides she's put on a few pounds too many, she decides to go on a crash diet… only, erm, Urd-style.
41: 'Happy Birthday, Gan-chan'
Skuld creates one of her patented Mr Banpei robots, but this time it's designed to grant Gan-chan three wishes on his birthday. Of course, between his indecision and the goddesses' careless behaviour, this is a recipe for disaster.
42: 'Ah! My Average College Student'
One of the weaker episodes on this disc. Gan-chan ponders what 'an average college student' might be. Where he's heard the expression is not revealed, but the in-joke of course is that in the original Ah! My Goddess 5-part OAV series it is an average college student, Keiichi, that Belldandy originally comes to Earth to help. Since the episodes of Mini-Goddess occur whilst he's away at college every day, it's not surprising Gan-chan has never actually seen him.
43: 'The Adventures of Mini-Goddess Space Cruiser Uzushio'
As if to make up for the stale joke that was episode 42, this one has our intrepid quartet arriving on what they assume is a 'day off', only to find the camera running and a 'live' broadcast in progress, despite there being no background artwork, no plot, and no script. So they hastily improvise a space opera. Very amusing.
44: 'Gan-chan the Locomotive'
I'm not sure whether this episode was conceived by Kosuke Fujishima (the original creator of Ah! My Goddess and the Mini-Goddess variant) or merely in honour of him and his fascination with all things mechanical, but for a day the goddesses and Gan-chan all become various historic train models and race around the track at the temple. Kind of weird and worrying, actually.
45: 'The Miso Jar'
In a mock-horror episode, Gan-chan - in his endless pursuit of all things tasty - has fallen into a miso jar and can't get out. Whilst he contemplates the hopelessness of his situation, Urd decides to cook up something for lunch… and Gan-chan may unwittingly find himself on the menu!
46: 'Deluxe Game of Life: Satellite Version'
Another slightly pointless episode, this time doing a mild parody of Jumanji into the bargain. The goddesses and Gan-chan sit down to play the Game of Life (yes, complete with spinner) and things start well, with fun things happening to them all (which of course get acted out fully rather than just read off game cards). But very soon the game takes a dark turn and they all can't wait to escape from it.
47: 'Mekimeki High School Memorial'
It's another 'game-based' episode, but this one's more clever by far. Western viewers may not be familiar with the popular sub-genre of computer games in Japan which can be loosely translated 'love/dating simulations', so I don't know how much of this instalment's humour will translate. But basically Gan-chan gets shoved into a computer game where the goddesses (playing the game from the outside) try to steer him through a series of dates. Look out for the 'shock' twist ending!
48: 'What'll Happen Next?'
The writers pen the final episode, with the characters wondering how to end the series on a high note. An amusing revelation is made (or is it?) regarding all of Gan-chan's previous adventures, but then they all just decide to have a picnic. Ho hum… I suppose it's fair enough; the show was aimed at kids, after all.
The video quality of Adventures of Mini-Goddess bounces back after the third volume's somewhat dodgy transfer, but it's still a fairly basic presentation… just your average dated 4:3 TV encode, with the levels of rainbowing and occasional aliasing that are pretty normal in budget animé productions like this one. Fortunately no macroblocking to speak of, and the colour palette is bright and cheerful. The optional English subtitles seemed a little harder to read than I had remembered them being, but maybe that's just me.
But it's like a seesaw: the picture may have recovered, but the sound presentation has some serious flaws on volume 4, which annoyed me. In particular, there are several places on the DVD where - if you're listening to the original Japanese soundtrack, as I tend to do for my primary viewing of any animé - you can clearly hear dialogue dropouts. I'm talking eerie dead air for a line at a time whilst the subtitles scroll merrily by. These are only present on the Japanese track, as if you watch the same exact scenes with the English dub turned on, the characters' voices are clearly heard saying their lines. So that's annoying and lowered the audio score for this disc.
The disc menus are just as static and silent as ever and the special features are similarly meagre, limited to two pages of Skuld character notes, 13 very small - and framed - images in a Skuld art gallery, and another version of the non-credit ending. Oh, and there are a pair of trailers for R.O.D. and Haibane Renmei, if you want to count those as proper extras.
For parents looking for that sweet spot where animé and 'good, clean, and child-friendly' intersect, you can't go wrong with Adventures of Mini-Goddess. However, as seems to be de rigueur for modern animated features, the writers have seen fit to include a lot of meta-references and comedy that adults are sure to get a laugh out of as well… particularly those who have seen some other animé previously. Throughout these four DVD volumes of the show, it's clear that the individual quality of the episodes may be very up-and-down, but overall it's always a joy to watch the antics of Gan-chan the temple rat and the three chibi goddesses. (Besides, even if you tune into one of the 'bad' instalments, it'll be over in less than 8 minutes, so what are you worried about?)