In the peaceful theocracy of Simulicram, everyone is born female. At age 17, each maiden undergoes a special ceremony where she chooses her sex. However, only Pairs of maiden priestesses can synchronize with the ancient flying ships known as Simoun needed to defend Simulicram. These Pairs refrain from undergoing the ceremony as long as they wish to keep piloting their Simoun.
Aer is recruited to be a Simoun pilot after a terrifying attack by an enemy nation decimates the squadron known as Chor Tempest. To earn her wings she needs to find her way into the heart of Neviril, Regina of Chor Tempest. But Neviril's heart still belongs to her previous Pair, lost in the battle when she attempted a forbidden Simoun maneuver.
It's rare to come across an anime series that's as well executed as Simoun. In addition to its beautiful animation and incredible use of music, Simoun has a deep plot line that draws from many different themes and invokes a lot of emotions. The story takes place in a war-torn world where the main characters are young maidens tasked with flying Simoun, mecha-like flying machines with devastating attacks called "Ri Maajon" that can destroy the enemy. The twelve girls who come together in this war effort to fly the Simoun make up a unit called "Chor Tempest".
watching the struggles and triumphs of these maidens, we're able to touch upon the main theme of Simoun: love. Not all of the love explored in Simoun is romantic love, though a large part of it is. The rest is a friendship based love that is just as prominent as the former type. As young as these girls are (most of them are under seventeen), they've already realized the importance of protecting the people closest to them. But no matter how strongly they feel about someone, nothing is promised, nothing is for certain, and nothing is eternal. It's a truth that all these girls seem to realize, and it's because of that reason that they form such close bonds in an attempt to protect each other. Much of the show focuses on these relationships between the Simoun pilots, ones in which the girls try to figure out how to protect and save each other, and how sacrifices must be made in order to achieve their goals.
The other major theme revolves around growing up and becoming adults. In the world of Simoun, everyone is born a female and chooses to permanently become a man or woman at seventeen by entering The Spring. This is a rite of passage that everyone must go through in order to become an adult. However, with war efforts in full swing, the Simoun pilots are allowed to delay their decisions since Simoun can only be flown by those who haven't entered The Spring yet. None of the main characters are eager to make their decision, and flying the Simoun becomes as much about protecting themselves from this choice as it is about protecting each other.
Over the course of the 26 episodes, you'll see a staggering amount of character and relationship development. From forgotten childhood friendships, conflictive sisters, and experienced piloting pairs (two girls are required to fly a Simoun), to overprotective friends, an unlikely pairing of pilots, and troublesome new recruits, everyone gets their chance at growth and development. Each character and relationship is handled so well in this anime that every new twist, no matter how painful or happy, will evoke a fresh burst of emotions from the audience. This makes the show very satisfying to watch as it's so easy to relate to the characters and their lives. And by the last episode of Simoun, you're treated to an incredibly gratifying ending that ties up nearly all loose ends and will make watching the whole series worthwhile.
However, as with anything that's as rewarding as Simoun is, watching this anime requires a bit of effort from the audience. The one major flaw with Simoun is that the story is fairly complex. Starting with the first episode and lasting until roughly the third episode, you'll find yourself swimming in a pool of brand new terms, characters, and politics so large that you're literally going to have to muddle your way through the series for a bit until everything becomes familiar and starts to make sense. (You might also need that time to get used to the fact that all male characters are voiced by women...) However, once this happens, you'll be thankful that you didn't run away after episode 1. By the time you reach episode 4, or episode 5 at the *very* latest, the plot and character development will take off in such a way that you'll want to go through the final 20+ episodes in a straight 8 hour marathon. And really, a marathon is the best way to watch a series this good.
There's not much more that can be said without ruining some aspect of the story, so go watch Simoun if this review interested you in any way. Just be sure to watch until at least episode 5 before deciding to drop this series. You'll be glad that you did.
Simply the best anime title of 2006 (because the closest competitors, Akagi and Mushishi are technically 2005 titles that ran through the winter half 05-06.
And a woefully under-appreciated title it was.
The original fan-sub group that picked it up usually handles shoujo-ai titles; and the “key-turn” ritual for starting up the Simoun, the flying machines made it look like just another excuse for very pretty backgrounds and girls getting friendly together. But it turned out more complicated than that, and was left to languish in favour of more accessible highschool-romance titles, until picked up by the most dedicated and special-purpose group of fansubbers whose product I
Simoun-Fans, an essentially ad hoc grouping, put together the most polished translations and sub-titling (including credits for the seiyuu against the characters during the OP, rather than the usual self-congratulation; that was left for a brief screen at the very start, before the TV footage). Of course, the polish came at a price — episode 26 wasn't subbed until a year after the first episode aired.
OK, the story, and why you should watch this title…
On a world that is not ours — two suns in the sky, for one thing — a transcendent civilisation rose and vanished. In its wake, the remaining people could unearth the helical motors, the snail-shell parts of both the Simoun and other powered devices (trains,flying boats). But only the Holy Land of Simulacrum has harnessed them, and the casual flight it offers. Other lands have more steam-punk technology, and seek the secret of the simoun. So war breaks out…
In that world, all children are born as girls, and in Simulacrum choose to be man or woman at coming of age in their late teens. All the parts — even the men, are voiced by women; and, of course, young men are hard to tell from young women — the adulthood change is not instantaneous, as shown in the character of Wapourif, the chief mechanic to the simoun.
While lesser flying craft can be piloted by anyone, the simoun needs to be driven by two girls; and these pilots are drawn from the ranks of the priestesses of Tempus-Spatium. While two priestesses at the helm they can produce magical effects by drawing glyphs in the air called Ri-Maajon, as part of religious ceremonial aerobatics. And as priestesses, they are allowed to defer a while the choice to become adult.
So, a group of priestesses become, overnight, the necessary front line of the Simulacran fighting forces. Few can handle the mismatch between their vocation and their new orders — and when the new overwhelming forces of Argentum actually bring down a choir of simoun, many depart into adulthood. Only the latecomer, Aaeru, even refers to what they do in military terms, rather than liturgical ones.
So, it's a war-story; but it's character driven drama, of love, sacrifice, choices, and growing up (or not, as the case may be).
After 25 episodes of brilliance, I was anticipating the finale with some trepidation — too many series drop the ball at the end. This, however concluded with an understated and open ending which was as satisfying as could be, knowing that this story had at last come to its ending.
Watching Simoun seems like an exercise in how to discover and enjoy the latent sadist in yourself. You know that bit in the Shawshank Redemption where the old lags are betting on which of the new inmates will break down first, and the way Morgan Freeman says it, you totally get what he's talking about, even though you know it's horrible behaviour? This is kind of like that, but with gigantic eyes, inexplicably revealing pastel uniforms, unbelievably daft mecha and technicolour hair.
To explain (and there will be spoilers throughout this review, just so you know): we have this premise -
that everyone is born female and can choose to become male at 17 - which is so outlandish that it's completely impossible to take seriously, but well realised enough to be a genuinely hook all by itself. Then we have the cast, who are a grab-bag of stock archetypes, and a plot which is also awfully familiar. And we have the characterisation, including the art, which by being almost aggressively shoujo seems entirely at odds with the action-ish setting, and the script and voice acting, which practically redefine "wet" in most cases. And the production design, a highly camp take on art deco which resembles the result of a collision between Last Exile and Escaflowne, particularly the made-of-spare-parts Simouns themselves. We have, in short, a show entirely built around an idea and a formula.
A Simoun is an aircraft of sorts. Its purpose is primarily religious, to draw geometric patterns in the sky which form complex prayers to the god Tempus Spatium, and it is piloted by two priestesses who have not yet made The Choice. Perhaps coincidentally, these prayers, called Ri Maajons, also act as a weapon; in fact they form the only real weapon the theocracy of Simulacrum has against invaders (apart from the army, who for unknown reasons are largely ineffectual). The invasion is due to other countries craving for the drive systems Simouns use, while they are forced to rely on polluting alternatives that poison their land and air. The practical upshot: naive, pampered, sanctimonious and hormonal young priestesses are the primary defenders of their country against devious and desperate, yet not entirely unjustified enemies, and experience the general destruction of their innocence as their friends, relationships, worldviews and lifestyles are placed under gigantic stress.
Basically, while the thing is wrapped in sci-fantasy window dressing it's a story of spoiled, obsequiously devout snobby teenagers getting what's coming to them, which in this case is a rude awakening. I couldn't help cackling with glee as one or other of the ensemble cast first sets themselves up and then gets knocked down a peg. This is where the audience sadism comes in; the story cannot truthfully be called one that easily permits suspension of disbelief, so since I can't quite take it seriously, I nonetheless rather enjoyed a lot of the series precisely because of the carnival of ghastly people suffering for my amusement.
But while this does have a fair amount of mileage due to the large cast composed of people whose suffering is highly amusing, it's far from enough to carry the series - and nor should it be. Once I came to terms with my newly-awakened sadistic side, I tried to take the story more seriously, but ran into trouble. For a start, this is supposed to be a war, and while there are odd interludes of capture by blood-vomiting enemy saboteurs among the snide carping about who's allowed to hang out in the ballroom, the whole thing tends to happen at this weirdly unworldly remove from the devastating war that appears to be happening. The use of religion, whether it's supposed to be or not, is a perfect cypher for the problems that hardcore religious attitudes create in reality; yes, people are dying in their thousands, but what about our rightful priveliges as members of the clergy? It's as if people out there on the front line didn't realise that prayers and love of god are much more important than their continued existence!! On numerous occasions, I started to get cross about the fact that people were being totally irrational, but then I realised that this series' depiction of religion correctly conveys that it is the most widespread form of irrational behaviour known anywhere. This is something which Studio Deen do deserve credit for, not least in that Japan is by and large not a devout country in any sense, and imparting to people raised in an atheist environment the sheer irrationality of religions in general is not easy.
Among the 12-strong main cast there are just three people I actually like, one whose pleasing "I'm not sure what's going on but let's do our damnedest to have fun with it" attitude exists because she's voiced by Mizuki Nana, and another who's interesting mostly because she appears to have wandered in from a role as manipulative femme fatale with a slight S&M twist in an H-game (not least because she's called Dominura; you can also see the S&M in the fact that among all the completely non-uniform variations of skimpy pseudo-lingerie that purport to be uniforms, hers is the only one to incorporate fishnet stockings). The other likeable character, thankfully, is one of the main protagonists, Aaeru, because she's the only person on the whole ship with real drive, who actually seems to have any idea what she is doing, what she wants and when to stop tutting and gasping and wringing her hands in ecclesiastical angst and take action; the fact she's not bothered in the slightest about religion and just wants to fly helps hugely here. The remainder of the ensemble cast are similarly familiar character archetypes, but less pleasing: several are neither objectionable, nor particularly appealing, but specially aggravating characters include a gossipy airhead called Floe, the sergeant-like Paraietta who is bossy, curt, indecisive and basically totally rubbish, and the sisters Kaimu and Alti, who are singularly annoying because of their insistence on not getting on with each other for totally absurd reasons.
These are however secondary annoyances beside the other main protagonist, Neviril. Being unnaturally talented at Simoun flying and thus particularly holy, everyone instantly forgives her inability to cope with stress, or in other words, her extended bouts of sulking. Adored by all, she is blessed with a life normally free from insight into anything
(allowing her poorly-written comrades to provide it to her, and simultaneously to viewers) and avoids the curse of complex sentences or outward displays of emotion that might make people think she's normal; nonetheless, she manages to come to some highly generic and familiar conclusions about
being true to her own feelings and so on and so forth. A poker-faced, monosyllabic protagonist almost never works, and this is no exception. However, while I generally found her bothersome, there's a certain amusement to be gained from how unrealistic a character she really is, for example a perfect moment of unintended comedy about halfway in, when Aaeru mentions the death of her former pair in characteristically down-to-earth terms, prompting a lollercaust of gasps, horror-stricken looks and emotional overload.
Her look is part of it. Character design varies massively across the series, with other primary heroine Aaeru for some reason resembling a manic Kyoto Animation character, to me at least, Floe looking like a castoff from Sailor Moon, many others looking like off-the-peg Gonzo characters. Against all this, Neviril seems inappropriately ultra-shoujo in style, her perpetually waving pink hair, pink lipstick and unusually round eyes putting me in mind of Nana (note: I've nothing against Nana, it's just a very distinct style that, to me, clashes in this context with the others around it). Moreover, relative to others, her undemonstrative demeanor is seemingly at odds with her supposedly emotional temperament - the above-mentioned unintended comedy moment is partly as funny as it is because by this point it's by far the largest display of emotion she has exhibited for something like a dozen episodes, and it just shows up how little she seems to actually emote most of the time. This lack of theme is beneficial in that it makes the whole cast easily recognisable, but it does nothing to make the series as a whole look coherent. This is also severely hampered by the inconsistency of the art; I suspect an in-betweener had some out of date reference materials, as in once instance the entire cast gain enormous noses for an entire half an episode, and in certain shots thereafter. This is the worst problem, but not the only one; at times the animation gets very cheap and undetailed as well.
A thing or two must be said regarding Simouns themselves, which sound like TIE fighters and move with the total disregard for G-forces that only CG can actualise. They are desperately silly things; imagine a cross between Escaflowne, an Mi-24 gunship and a flying snail, complete with incongruous gold ornamentation, twin bubble cockpits, chin cannons and silvery trail. Then there's the fact that they are variable geometry craft without reference to actual geometry at all, which is to say the pieces stay together and rearrange themselves without actually being connected together in the first place. And those chin cannons? They get used about once ever; I suspect they're a leftover from an earlier design stage where the concept still retained some plausibility. The silvery trail is the only true weapon, and it seems to work by producing blue light that makes enemies spontaneously explode. Oh, and they seem to be powered by kisses.
Music is a mixed bag. The opening theme is by Ishikawa Chiaki, and as such is predictably excellent; the ending is too anodyne and mediocre for me to have watched enough of it to catch who sung it. This excellent/mediocre disparity continues through the BGM, some of which approaches excellence while other parts reach annoying territory. Also predictably, there's no real consistency, flavour or theme to the music, mixing electronic pieces, orchestral pieces and things of many other stripes in a way that seems to want to be Kajiura Yuki and clearly isn't managing to be.
The central gender-choosing premise is, as I say, a major hook into watching; but it's mostly wasted, with the series becoming a sort of soup of mixed sexualities. There's a theme of putting off choice running through the series, as the protagonists are basically allowed to indefinitely postpone the normal gender choice if they'll continue flying a Simoun - but have to make the choice if they want to quit. Obviously, the gender choice is a half-allegorical single focus for all the changes in sexuality/loss of innocence/responsibility that adulthood represents. Credit is due for adhering to and emphasising the idea that, in serious relationships, people are naturally attracted to characters rather than to gender per se; however, on one level, all it really does is introduce an air of sexual ambiguity, making it an exercise in tame, vague sexually suggestive behaviour. It all appears aimed at the tastes of young adolescents who find themselves turned on by women kissing women, something that just doesn't match the seriousness with which the series takes this theme of taking choices seriously. On another level, it does tend to suggest that the gender a person finds attractive is your own free choice. Conversely, all of the gay people I know have never seen their sexuality as a matter of choice, any more than I can say I chose to be straight - they see themselves as having been born gay. I mean, I dare say some might disagree with this, but the point is, Simoun seems fairly invested in painting sexuality as a subjective choice, which seems a bit out of order to me.
To cap it all, there's plenty of unblemished femininity on display, with none of the dozen protagonists appearing at all masculine, even though some profess to have already decided to become male, but nowhere is there a masculine male to be seen - no facial hair, no muscles. All the young males around look highly effeminate, 'bishie' and Ouran-ish, and even the older male characters, who one might expect would be more traditionally masculine, possess some feminine characteristics, a delicate ear-stud or a flick of ornamental hair. Most of the voice actors for male characters seem to my ear to be female, too. Nonetheless, whatever the cause, the effect is of depicting a world in which there's actually only one gender, female, and various degrees of distance from it, the furthest people from female being termed male, without wholly qualifying by what I understand male to mean. It all seems like a careful and deliberat design decision, rather than simply the programme's style, as if there's a standing instruction to make all males slightly feminine, but having never 'got' shoujo, I can't tell if this is trying to make a point about men and women, or whether it's simply the design ethos of a heavily shoujo-minded art director.
The purpose of messing about with the significance of gender in Simoun remains, at least to me, unclear. Thought-provoking though it is, it does not end up explaining itself. Simply having all these priestesses face leaving the priesthood and becoming ordinary women, some gay and others not, if they give up flying Simouns, would surely work just as well. When you just ignore that side of Simoun, though, you start to see a funny thing (spoilers coming, so skip this paragraph if you wish); there's a war over resources, it escalates and the former superpower becomes the underdog when faced with military might, and then there's a highly unfair peace treaty, wherein the Simoun pilots are forcibly demob'd and the country demilitarised. What the gender-choosing thing is actually for, aside of acting as a fairly superficial gimmick, is to disguise the fact that the plot is an allegory of Japan's history, 1930-1945, as written by the ultra-nationalists who are once again on the up in Japan today. Japan, they'd contend, was the major power in East Asia in 1930, but an alliance of China and the US managed through a mix of sheer numbers and military superiority to turn the tables on Japan and force the country to accept a peace treaty that disbanded the Japanese military and demilitarised the country. While there are many inevitable differences, not least because of the difference between settings, the similarities are striking.
And therein, perhaps, lies the meaning of Aaeru and Neviril's superficially baffling disappearance in the last episode, and all the rhetoric about another world actually being the same one in a different time; they are the embodiment of Japan's fighting spirit, a mixture of Aaeru's plucky determination and Neviril's sacred inviolability, shifted through time to where they are needed - presumably, by this rhetoric, in the future. When you take this reading on board, and add in the highly defined and divergant masculine and feminine images and ideals that exist in Japan, one final possible interpretation of the whole gender choice mechanic is that it symbolises the emasculation of Japan, and that people must choose whether to become male and fight for their country or stay female and remain passive non-actors. Perhaps this is how the approaching war at the end of the series should be interpreted. I recall starting to watch Code Geass and being turned off by that series' overt nationalism, a trait that always rings alarm bells for me. This, however, seems like it could be construed as covert nationalism, which to me is a more out-and-out disturbing trend.
But enough politics; Simoun is supposed to be entertainment primarily, and for me, it succeeds in that aim to a limited degree - but not in the ways it originally intended to. It's serious moments are frequently hilarious, and its sense of importance is out of proportion to support its ideas with storytelling skills, but like many things that genuinely are so bad they're good, it tries earnestly. And there's the whole viewer sadism angle, which will doubtless appeal to many. I'm glad I watched it, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed; the expectations I'd formed by the halfway mark were not really satisfied at the end, and the faux-enigmatic ending was neither satisfying nor suitable. I'm not fond of using genre to create expectations, but really, a series that starts out as a story about combat pilots and makes a big deal of aerial sequences surely NEEDS an aerial battle as a finale, rather than four episodes from the actual end. As for the characters, at least none of my favourites ended up annoying me overmuch; the muted tone of the end and the eventual fates of the characters, including their shared lack of certainty about anything, also bothered me. One thing I can definitely say in Simoun's favour is that if, like me, you're given to compulsive analysis of whatever you end up watching, this series will certainly give you plenty to get your teeth into and chew over.
I recall back when I was first told about Simoun, I came to read the synopsis of the anime on myanimelist and quickly dismissed it, striking it off my viewing list. The premise sounded very fetishy, the art was largely unattractive and I quickly assumed it was going to be something akin to Strike Witches. "Not my cup of tea" I said.
Months later, after having it suggested to me by opinions I greatly trust, I gave it another shot. And thank god I did. What a show! I have wanted to write a review about this for a long while, but I always find it
quite difficult to accurately portray the sheer brilliance of this particular piece of art.
Stories that get me thinking a lot, and stories that examine the human condition without making obvious moral judgements are largely what I look for when trying to find a good story. Simoun has this in spades. While it has a clear chronological storyline, following the progress of the war, it is almost secondary to the character development that takes place as a result. It examines such wide ranging issues that it is nearly impossible to list them all: war, the perception of "good" and "evil" or "right" and "wrong", the place of religion and military presences in politics, the human face and cost of war, social classes, gender roles, sexuality, maturity, loss, grief, love etc. The list goes on and on. I have not encountered to date something that covered so many issues so exhaustively without it feeling overwhelming or without feeling like a Public Service Announcement. It truly is a pinnacle in story-telling.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the initial aspects to put me off the series to begin with was the art. However, my low score does not relate to the style. I actual came to appreciate the style quite a bit. It made the series very unique. The reason I rate it a 6 is due to the inconsistency with the artwork. Particularly around the 9th episode, it becomes very noticeable.
While I have heard quite a few people wax lyrically about the music in Simoun I found it was quite hit and miss. I admit to a particular negative bias towards the accordion, so some of the centrepiece battle music seemed jarringly out of place. Yet, in the same breath, there are some stunningly beautiful scores, particularly the piano-based themes that heighten the emotional impact of a scene.
One of the most diverse group of characters in an anime, with very few falling into classic stereotypical tropes. Considering the sheer size of the cast, it is nothing short of amazing that the entire cast had appropriate time for them to have sufficient character development. There wasn't one character who was left to the side without being explored sufficiently.
I implore anyone who was considering watching this anime to disregard your initial preconceptions about Simoun and watch the first 8 episodes. If you arent well and truly absorbed by then, then this is not the anime for you. If you like anime that ask more questions that they answer, and have you thinking for hours on end, then this is definitely for you. My militance with this series is highly unusual, as I find fangirls and boys very irritating. However, due to how undervalued and under appreciated it is, I feel the need to play advocate. Watch Simoun; it will rock your world.
Girls are said to be the most loving beings in existence, something that is true in real life and in anime. So what about girls who love other girls? Well that, my friends, is the definition of yuri anime. From just friends to more than friends, here are 20 of the best yuri anime of all time.