Tuesday, September 16, 2003

There's something vastly amusing about Den Beste doing reviews of anime like the Ah! My Goddess movie. It starts as a review (from his new-to-anime-fandom point of view) but digresses wildly into an utterly irrelevant but entertaining discussion of the technical differences between Romantic and Baroque music. There's also a lot of puzzling about the baldly appropriated Norse terminology in the AMG universe, and just how little actual Norse content is backing it up. I imagine as Den Beste works his way further into anime, he'll get a better idea of Japanese idealistic appropriation methods - of building wholesale invention on the names and trappings of other cultures, without betraying any real understanding of those appropriated cultures.

I rather liked the Ah! My Goddess movie, which is a bit of a departure for me, as I hadn't really liked the manga or the OAVs, or really anything else that Fujishima has done. The original concept was classic "magical girlfriend" (which really shouldn't be confused with "magical girl" , which has nothing to do with "magical girlfriend"), and the few "magical girlfriend" shows I've liked are wildly outnumbered by the thundering hordes of "magical girlfriend" shows that I think stink on ice.

"Magical girlfriend" stories are wish-fulfillment fantasies, generally about subservient supernatural love-slaves. I Dream of Jeannie is the classic American "magical girlfriend" show; Bewitched is similar, but has certain redeeming virtues that the standard "magical girlfriend" can't be bothered with. Subservience and master-fixation pretty well sums it up. Most of the AMG oeuvre is badly weighed down with Belldandy's subservience, lack of ego, and utter colorlessness. The Japanese have this concept of the yamato nadeshiko, the ideal subservient, chaste, housekeeping, traditional Japanese girl. Except for her "foreignness", Belldandy is a classic yamato nadeshiko. In my opinion, this makes her a deeply boring female lead in the rest of the AMG universe.

Not so much in the movie. It's so much about her interior life (and actual, conflicted past!) that the yamato nadeshiko smoothness is busted up, broken and fragmented. It gives her some much-needed texture. It gives the story something more to be about than yet another dork given direction and purpose by the love of a good sex-slave.

The movie has other virtues that the rest of the AMG manga/anime melange does not. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end; the OAVs certainly don't enjoy that advantage. It has movement, tension, and real conflict - not so much in the OAVs. It's one hell of a lot prettier than the manga, which I find to be middling ugly. Finally, it has a certain moral seriousness that the rest of the oeuvre just can't maintain – a seriousness that I entirely attribute to the trashing of the "magical girlfriend" baggage.

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