Adventures of Mini-Goddess (Volume 1: The Gan-Chan Files) Review
This DVD actually calls for a double introduction, because saying that The Adventures of Mini-Goddess is the animé adaptation of a second manga [Japanese comics] series based on the Ah My Goddess! universe isn't very helpful to those unfamiliar with Kosuke Fujishima's work of the same name.
Ah My Goddess! (Aa Megami-sama!) is a charming manga that first appeared in 1988, the second series produced by Kosuke Fujishima – his first being You're Under Arrest (Taiho Shichauzo). Retitled Oh My Goddess! for Western audiences, the basic concept is that Keiichi – an average college student stuck dorm-sitting for his fraternity – tries to ring a takeaway for dinner... but misdials and accidentally connects to the Relief Goddess Office instead.
This results in a personal visit from the goddess Belldandy (Berudandi), who is willing to grant him one wish. After considering his options for a moment, the good-hearted Keiichi wishes aloud that he could have a girlfriend like Belldandy. Guileless, Belldandy interprets this wish literally and agrees to be his girlfriend herself. This unprecedented event sets the stage for the later arrival of some of her sister goddesses, who have their own ideas about how the relationship between Keiichi and Belldandy should be progressing.
This brief summary really doesn't do justice to what is, at its heart, a lovely series featuring a spectrum of very likeable characters... but I promise to talk about it in more detail when I review the other Oh My Goddess! DVDs. Since this review is for the Mini-Goddess series, let's get back to that.
The Adventures of Mini-Goddess is essentially a 'spin-off' series of four-panel, short-format manga which feature the three goddesses who reside at Keiichi's place (Belldandy, Urd, and Skuld) having various brief adventures whilst he's away during the day. The primary conceit here is that, when no one else is around, they shrink themselves down in size and hang out with a temple rat named Gan, whom they've befriended. The manga was adapted in 1998 into an animé series called The Adventures of Mini-Goddesses, and it is the first 12 episodes that have been collected on this recently released Pioneer DVD.
Now, opinion on the Mini-Goddess stuff can be fairly polarised. It is one of those shows that people tend to either love or despise, with little in-between. This is pretty easy to explain. The original Oh My Goddess! is a wonderful series that holds a warm place in many animé fans' hearts... so much so, in fact, that some people consider the Mini-Goddess material to be a 'knock-off', despite the fact that it was created by the same artist as penned the original. They take exception to the very brief format of the episodes (about 8 minutes each), the chibi style of animation used, and the throwaway nature of the jokes employed.
Ironically, it's these same features that make the Mini-Goddess series irresistible to many Oh My Goddess! devotées. The fact is, the chibi (tiny) versions of the three goddesses are very cute (the whole point of this drawing style), as is seeing them interact with household items on a small scale. And if the episodes are super-brief (and they are), they are also perfectly-formed. Several of them could certainly have been padded out to a normal (25 minute) animé episode length, but they would have lost much of their charm in the process. By working from single premises and 'throwaway' jokes, the artists are able to present extremely entertaining bite-size shows where little if anything is wasted.
I myself really liked this series. Although it lacks the gentle serenity that underlies much of the original Oh My Goddess!, it has the benefit of being very amusing. In particular, the introduction of Gan-chan (a talking rat who seems oblivious to the obvious cartoon dangers of hanging out with powerful goddesses when they get bored and try crazy things) makes the show. Although the quality of the stories is a bit uneven (the final edisode here, is a particularly weak way to round out the DVD), there are a handful of episodes that stand out as exceptional.
1: 'Let's Tell a Fortune'
Gan-chan dreams of meeting his true love someday, but Urd overhears and takes it upon herself to divine his romantic future. Unfortunately, she seems fixated upon marrying him off to common household items!
2 & 3: 'Secret Treasure in the Attic, Part I & II'
Urd, Skuld, and Gan-chan venture into the attic in search of a golden treasure. This two-part episode features a great homage to the Alien films, and at the same time pokes fun at the mecha sub-genre of animé.
4: 'Let's Fly in the Sky'
Gan-chan wishes he could fly like a bird, and unfortunately for him Urd and Skuld are all-too-ready to provide him with dubious flying contraptions.
5: 'Let's Fly into Space'
Gan-chan sets his sights even higher, aspiring to be "the First Rat in Space". Skuld obligingly builds him a rocket and space capsule... but out of household materials?
6: 'Slimming Down! Go!'
Gan-chan's returns to the temple after an extended visit with a rat friend of his, who lives in the house of a rich family with plenty of food lying around. Having piled on the pounds (indeed, Gan-chan looks like a sumo caricature), Urd and Skuld do their level best to help him shed the extra weight.
7: 'Gabira, the Giant Monster – The Birth'
When Gan-chan scarfs down a bit of mouldy cake, he undergoes a transformation into Gabira, a huge mould monster that goes on a rampage throughout the temple, and it's up to Urd and Skuld to find a way to stop him!
8: 'Gabira, the Giant Monster – The Final Battle'
Like the preceding episode, this is a humorous homage to the Godzilla films, with even the intro animation done in a scratchy black-and-white logo style of decades past.
9: 'For Whom the Bell Tolls – The Mysterious Can of Food'
Gan-chan has come across an unlabeled tin of vile-looking green slop. But he assures the three goddesses that it tastes wonderful. Can this really be the work of... aliens?
10: 'For Whom the Bell Tolls – The Secret of the Diamond'
Gan-chan has ferreted out a diamond ring from the crevices of the temple, but is this really the stroke of good fortune it appears to be?
11: 'Gabira, the Giant Monster – The Strike Back'
Yes, Gabira's back! It's amusing, but this episode starts to show the whole monster-version-of-Gan-chan concept wearing a bit thin.
12: 'Let's Play Baseball!'
Skuld thinks baseball's a great sport, whereas Urd says it's a dull waste of time. To settle their argument, they decide to erect a mini-baseball diamond, replicate themselves to fill all of the player positions, and play until there's a clear winner.
Seeing as this animé only originally aired in 1998, it's not surprising that the video looks excellent. It's crisp and clear, with bold colours representative of the more 'cartoony' feel that the Mini-Goddess material uses. That said, be aware that the artwork's not as subtle as in the original Oh My Goddess! animé.
As mentioned before, each episode is only about 8 minutes long, of which the first and last couple of minutes are standard intro and ending segments. Well, not entirely standard, actually. If you're playing the show in Japanese with the English subtitles turned on, you'll notice that the ending segments of certain episodes have the closing theme tune subtitled with an English translation, whereas for others the subtitles are merely a transliteration of the Japanese characters. (That is, the pronunciation of the song's Japanese lyrics is spelled out in English letters, should you care to sing along.)
What can I say? The audio sounds fine, but it's just your basic stereo treatment. Most of the time you don't notice much stereo separation, in fact. The good news is, this is one of the few bilingual animé I've watched where the voice acting on the English dub is almost on par with the original Japanese language track.
Not only did Pioneer obviously take the time to find competent English voice actors, but they even made a point of hiring people who could do similar voices to the Japanese actors. What this means is that the English Belldandy has the same wistful tone of voice as her Japanese counterpart, and Skuld (the youngest of the three goddesses) sounds like child in both English and Japanese. The closest match – appropriately enough – is Gan-chan.
Although there are a handful of places in each episode where the English dub version says something completely different from the English subtitles, none of these are critical plot points, so it's forgivable. I still prefer the Japanese language track, but I'd happily sit down and watch the DVD through in English, too.
There aren't many special features to be had on this disc... but that seems fairly standard for animé DVDs at present. Pioneer did make a modest effort, though, by including a nicely-done character bio of Belldandy and a Belldandy artwork gallery of static images. This could have been a truly excellent feature if they had just gone ahead and done the same for the other three characters (Urd, Skuld, and Gan-chan), who after all appear a lot more frequently than Belldandy does!
Anyway, I guess it's possible that Pioneer plans to release all 48 episodes of this series in four DVD instalments, and each disc will have a character bio and artwork gallery of one of the four principal characters... but considering how much free space was left on the disc, it wouldn't have hurt them to provide viewers with all of the material on each DVD.
That's it for the explicitly-listed extras, though at the end of the last (twelfth) episode on the disc, the closing segment is played a second time with all of the kanji translated into English, so the average Western viewer can read all of the credits properly.
The menus are nothing to shout about, seeing as they are all static pages – no animated menus here! – and totally silent (bereft of even a looped track of the cheerful closing theme song). But at least what's there looks nice.
I suppose the bottom-line here is your 'cuteness' tolerance. If you like animé, enjoy lots of silly jokes and slapstick comedy, and don't mind the thought of adorable characters who go on adventures with a rodent companion, then I'd heartily recommend this DVD. Of all of the animé I've watched, this series also strikes me as a good one for kids (if that's who you're shopping for), as it's entertaining and innocuous without being complex.
Fans of Oh My Goddess! may be disappointed to discover that Keiichi doesn't appear (because he's away at college, remember?) and Belldandy generally only puts in a cameo appearance (ostensibly because she's housecleaning or preparing dinner)... but if you couldn't get enough of Urd and Skuld from the original series, you'll be happy to know they're in practically every episode.