Figure 17: Tsubasa & Hikaru
Watched the start of this series years ago and found it to be to my liking, but I always wondered how it would end. Now that I've finished the series the mystery is gone, and I enjoyed parts of it, but I'm not sure I didn't enjoy it more the time I didn't finish it. Amusing how similar the synopsis ended up being for my re-write.
One story concerns a very young girl who's just moved to the rural hinterland of Hokkaido, leaving behind the life she knew in Tokyo so her dad can follow his dream of being a baker. The average anime girl might see this as a chance for wondrous adventure but for Tsubasa, who at times seems almost crippled by her lack of confidence and extreme shyness, it's not going to be easy. She feels alone, her dad busy with the long hours a bakery demands, and her classmates suspicious that the Tokyo girl is silent due to snobbery. This is a young girl who really needs a friend.
Meanwhile a spaceship above the planet is having problems of its own. The cargo, 6 gene-engineered bio-weapons, have woken much earlier than predicted and aren't at all happy. Their first target being the very ship itself. Forced to crash land on the planet the pilot watches helplessly as 5 of them escape during the descent while the sixth tries to kill him when they land. The high tech `living metal' armor he wears, and the energy weapons he wields, are challenged by the monstrous power of the creature. Even worse some local humanoid wanders into the middle of it and then is splashed with raw living metal when a spare armor canister is pierced. The result is unexpected, the metal somehow forming a perfect copy from the subject to which it is exposed, a twin of the original. It's just another problem the pilot doesn't need .... but on the positive side Tsubasa has just found a very close friend.
Yeah, it's more spoiler than I really like to give. But I can't really do the review or give a feel for the story without going that far. This all happens reasonably quickly, is portended in the opening song and is going to be mentioned in every other review though so I only feel a little bad.
The first thing to notice is that the two stories don't really have that much in common. A story about a lonely little girl on a farm in Hokkaido collides with alien monstrosities invading the earth. Actually I take that back, in anime such a thing is rather common, but what makes this unique is that the style and content of the stories remains almost completely separate. If the young girl gained power, was harassed by aliens until she got her confidence and then started kicking alien butt in a skin-tight leotard it would all be business as usual.
Tsubasa, and her new twin Hikaru, pretty much end up going back to the normal life of 10 year old girls. I don't think this is a shoujo title but it's definitely steeped in that sensibility. We spend a lot of time watching incredibly mundane events. A camping trip in the school grounds, taking a picnic lunch to a lake, doing homework, it's sooo ordinary. Which, for me at least, is great. I get sucked right into this sort of thing. Hikaru's cute, the show has immense sensitivity and expressiveness, and the drama inherent in an ordinary life is very well observed. I don't know if my taste is shared by many but I really enjoyed it. Watching Tsubasa gain the courage to participate in the school play was enough action for me.
Meanwhile the alien operative, known as DD, is trying to exterminate the monsters before they upset the locals. He's aided by the arrival of re-inforcements from his home planet but greatly troubled by how strong the aliens are. And even worse they seem to be evolving new defences to all his attacks, and might even be breeding more of their kind. It's like a sort of arms race between the evolving monsters and the technological innovations of the hunters. The problem here is that this story thread is, again to me, sort of boring. The aliens have little personality, don't seem to have much of a goal and look pretty stupid. It's alright, there's some reasonable action when they fight, but it's really nothing special. Even the hunters aren't very interesting as people, possibly because they have to devote so much of their screen time to alien hunting action.
There's some cross-over. The two young girls can merge into a shared form known as a figure. Who for some reason looks like a full grown woman in a leotard... I guess there's some anime conventions too strong to break. And at times they're forced into the fight, although this element actually decreases as the hunters start getting the upper hand. The problem is I kept expecting it to merge the other way, for the monsters to intrude into the lives of the girls, but that just didn't happen. This lead to a weird sensation when, for example during the lake picnic, I kept expecting an alien monster to leap out and it never did. It sounds silly, but it's actually surprisingly annoying. You keep expecting the two story threads to merge and they don't. Which means, much like in Niea_7, it's likely you'll be enjoying one thread and irritated by the interruption (even if only potential) represented by the other.
And so I watch. These are long episodes, 45 minutes in length, and basically each of them was split between the two stories. I liked the normal element and got increasingly less interested in the alien hunting. It almost seems the designers did too, because the aliens started to become very similar. But still I wanted to see the two stories merge somehow, grow into something greater than the separate parts. They don't merge until the very last episode and that conclusion is actually sort of weak. The `end boss' that's been built up over the episodes ends up being sort of dumb, and the sequence of actions has all sorts of holes and gaps. Mixed in amongst it is a shoujo style ending, where Tsubasa comes to realize something about her self. It's certainly touching but it could have been done with almost as much power without the whole alien rubbish or some relatively ham-fisted `tragic' elements.
It's a lot like Niea_7 in that there are two stories in one title. One mundane and one that is anything but mundane. And as in Niea_7 the two stories in this one just don't combine. If the entire sci-fi element was chucked out the window the story could still be told the same, still have the same charm, and still come to the same end. In simple terms they stuffed it, making a title in which most viewers are only going to care about half the story. In fact it's even worse since you've been waiting all that time to find out how the stories add to each other when they finally join.
I'll give a quick example of how careless they are. There's a suggestion early on that the `energies' of the planet earth are having strange effects on the aliens. But they're also the reason why Hikaru has been created, and why when Tsubasa focuses her mind the figure seems to exhibit unexpected potential. This is a cool development, linking the two stories and making Tsubasa involved in the fight. And then they just dump it. Since they start using tech gadgets, and Tsubasa doesn't get to drive, her involvement in the action goes to zero. She becomes little more than a passenger for much of the screen-time. That's really lame writing. And I won't even get into how pointless the "reporter" thread ended up being.
So how to rate it? A tricky question. The observation of normal life, the development of Tsubasa and Hikaru and the amount of expression captured are definitely worthy. Possibly only for me, the action fans are probably going to be screaming with agony, but that's the way it is. The overall writing is flawed, and the monster hunting element is watchable. It has its moments but I don't think the action fans are going to care that much, while the shoujo oriented are going to take a quick nap. In fairness I have to judge it as the average of its parts, and hope people actually read the review to see why this is the case.
I swear the opening tune for this title is one of the most insanely catchy pieces of anthem rock I've heard in a while, I was happily bopping along to it. The animation production is very nice, a very clean and open style that probably doesn't create great screen-shots but which fits the mood well. The very well realised vision of Hokkaido we get, and rural domestic life, is fascinating. Too few anime titles spend time outside of the big cities (which generally means Tokyo). The characters are rather good, someone involved has a good eye for visual expression and dialog. The character design has the cuteness dial twisted up pretty high, huge eyes and little childish over-bites, but has a real solidity and sense of reality about it. Voices are excellent, who'd have though Tsubasa's muffled "mmm" could have so much meaning? Music is great and incidental sound, while perhaps too obviously re-used, is also good. Movement in the action scenes is good, but too repetitive and dropping to cut-scenes for some of the conclusion was unforgivable.
Two separate stories played out amongst the green (and white during winter) fields of Hokkaido. One story concerns a very human alien trying to recover some missing alien monsters before they wreak havoc. The other concerns a young girl, impressively shy even by anime standards, who's just gained an identical twin to share her days with. The two stories are connected at their origin, but the show is somewhat limited by the failure of the continuing story to keep them both working together. Not without a certain charm though.
There don't seem to be any reviews from my regular sources... which is sort of surprising. I'll have another, deeper, look some time in the future.