Hm, it's never bad to see more good anime, and this is definitely up there with the best. On the other hand how to express the, rather unique, pleasures on offer here? Well, I hope the answer is a badly written review, because I don't really know I'm up to the challenge.
We begin the story by meeting a rather nice young teenage female. A girl who seems to hold many of the best elements humanity, especially of the young female variety, can offer. Kind, sensitive, thoughtful, humble and with a talent for making friends with even the most unusual people. Although, we quickly begin to learn, behind her somewhat simple facade is one who feels deeply and has suffered no shortage of hurts. And who is all the more heroic for having forged from them a strong, yet resilient, soul. She is not perfect, but all but the chronically insensitive will recognise something pure and warm about her.
Mind you, she'll need all of the strength her personality grants her, for she unwittingly wanders into a piece of mythology made real. And while the story itself (of the zodiac animals) has elements of humor and hurt within it the results of it being imposed onto peoples lives are rather more dramatic. A group of individuals whose lives, and unusual personalities, have been further shaped by what they can only believe to be a terrible curse. A curse that affects their ability to live a normal life and which, even more threateningly, does not seem to be done with them yet. And into their lives comes a young girl whose sheer heart and humanity threatens to knock them out of the orbits they had settled into.
The first thing to mention is that the synopsis above is perilously incomplete. It effectively gives only one facet of a far more complicated creation and leaves an awful lot unsaid. The first element is that while the setting sounds somewhat simplistic, perhaps even a bit corny (and to be honest it sort of is), this is only the foundation for something that grows well beyond the premise. The way in which a simple fable can give rise to a cast of such complicated, and involved, characters is impressive. The characters are both shaped by the story, and their own situations, but grow well beyond that. And most of them arouse interest, both in themselves and what is actually going on at the heart of the story. It's rather hard to explain, but it's definitely worth experiencing.
The other thing I have left out is the surprising degree of warmth in the story. While there are some weighty elements in the mix, things that deeply affect the characters and hint at secrets yet to come, at the heart of the story are people being as normal as they can. And within that domain there is a huge range of material to explore. Of people interacting, growing and discovering facts about themselves and others. Not to mention an awful lot of fun, humor and sheer character driven wackiness to enjoy. Some will recognise a shoujo sensibility here, although the feel is a bit more of a hybrid in how it works, but far more will just recognise a story that is an awful lot of fun to follow. Great characters, with time to explore each even while the cast grows, who play wonderfully off one another and the events that normal life puts forward. An impressive balance of depth and fun, event and reflection, that is quite impressive.
Indeed the best part of this show is the depth and flexibility it manages. How it manages to blend simple human warmth with darker shadows, character comedy with touching character interaction is impressive. The way in which even the simplest of events seem to have a meaning, how a statement or story can focus what seemed to be mundane events into something more. A story that seems about the simplest things yet has a sense that a secret is being explored. And all this without seeming too artificial, forced or being tiring to watch. It comes close at times, and those who can cope with shoujo will enjoy the ride much more, but there is good value to be had within this show.
The show has, as mentioned, a large cast...but there's no danger of getting confused with who's who. These are strong, interesting characters. The zodiac symbols are the basis for the personality traits (I imagine) but the results are very effective. And the visual appearance, the way they move and the expressions and actions they do all add to the essential strength of the characters. Although the leads two female friends, the `yankee' and the psychic goth, can give any of the zodiac cast a run for their money in the odd but strong department. I should also mention that there are a balance of male and female characters in the story and while there is an element of attraction, the potential for romance, it is far from the focus of the show.
The animation itself is striking and attractive. The style being every bit as flexible and expressive as the story demands. The characters are a little bit stylised, in order to increase the `character' of their appearance but all look good. They move wonderfully, martial arts, the occasional super deformed moment, shock, surprise and deeper emotions are all brought out well. Indeed some of the action sequences are really good in their own right, much better (and more aggressive) than one might expect from a pure shoujo show. Add in a wonderfully gentle and detailed sense of observation and design in their surroundings and this is extremely pleasant to watch and very fitting. And when it wants to tug a heart string be sure it knows how to do so. The voices are excellent, rich with character, and the music is gentle and touching.
None so far, but I am confident my regular sources will hear about, and hunt for, the opportunity to review this show.