Yuri Anime: El Hazard – Magnificent World (English)

June 8th, 2009

I know I’ve told the tale many times, about how Sailor Moon was my gateway into Yuri. But it was not my gateway into anime. My first anime was back when I was watching Star Blazers after school and instinctively understanding that anime was a black hole into which all my time and money would go, so I avoided it like the plague. A decade later, I was teaching martial arts and hanging with a group of other MA teachers. We’d get together and watch crappy movies and stuff and one day one of them brought along Tenchi Muyo, the TV series, and for some reason, we all got hooked on it. We watched that and the movies…I’ll never forget how filthy the third movie made us all feel. ^_^;

Because, or perhaps despite the fact that Tenchi was one of my gateway anime, I somehow managed to skip El Hazard…until now. Of course I had *heard* of El Hazard. I knew of Fatora and Alielle. But I had never actually watched the anime.

When I announced on Twitter that I was about to embark upon watching Magnificent World, I was inundated with “OMG, that was SO AMAZING! Best EVAR!” responses. I asked those folks when the last time they actually watched this anime was, knowing full well the answer would be, for most, several years ago – or never since they first watched it, when it was their gateway. I knew, based on my many years of experience with anime fans, that these folks loved their *memory* of El Hazard, not necessarily the reality of it.

Let me say this. I enjoyed Tenchi Muyo. It was my first experience with harem anime, a genre I dubbed “dorky boy and beautiful babes.” But I am fully aware that it wasn’t high art, either, and if I sat down to watch it now, I’d probably give myself a headache from rolling my eyes. ^_^

Sean, who really understands my opinions on this kind of thing, got it right. El Hazard is good for what it is – a Tenchi-like harem anime in a fantasy, rather than scifi, setting. He understood how I manage my expectations of anime. He explained what I could reasonably expect to enjoy. He was pretty much right on, so cookies for him, when I see him on Saturday. ^_^

So, all that having been said as preface – El Hazard – Magnificent World was not bad. It had some elements that were interesting and some that were not as much to me as to others.

The basic plot is self-fulfilling. Average (but not below average) Makoto is sent to an alternate universe by the goddess Ifurita in order to save her from something that hasn’t happened yet. Along with Makoto, his self-proclaimed rival Jinnai, a childhood friend Nanami and a hapless teacher Fujisawa also find themselves in the Magnificent World. Makoto learns that he is the dead ringer for the missing princess, Fatora, and is thus requested to take her place until she can be found.

The bad guy is hopelessly obvious, the plot is a lot of sound and fury and really very little happens, but entertainingly enough. There’s enough silliness to appeal to the physical comedy crowd, a little bit of falling on naked women for the harem crowd and Jinnai laughs maniacally a lot, which seemed to be appealing to many who professed love for the series.

I was told that I would like the three priestesses, as they are “strong” female characters. And it made me wonder that they are considered strong, when they are obviously the weakest characters in the series. They scream and fight quite a bit – but they are weak in the sense that they lose more than they win and they go completely mushy for Makoto or other potential romantic partners. That is not how I define “strength.” I liked Diva and her bugs, and above all I liked Jinnai’s relationship with the Bugrom, which was surprisingly sincere.

Which brings us to Fatora and Alielle, who are both more interesting for what they are not, than for what they are. We are introduced to Alielle as the missing Fatora’s lover – it’s instantly apparent that no one really takes her seriously in this regard. It’s only after she then expresses interest in other women, that we are forced to reevaluate her. Yes, we have to admit, guess she’s actually “that way.” But because she is so diminutive, we’re never really going to take her seriously…ever. I believe this is quite intentional. If she were drawn as an adult, say like Shayla-Shayla, we’d be forced to see her and Fatora as an *actual couple*. And that is not done, so by drawing her (and voicing her) so childishly, we can nod, amused and certain that they are cute together, but not much more. Fatora, when she finally shows up is not the blueblood princesss we expect, but a total jerk, which pleased me no end. I think she and Alielle make a fine couple. ^_^

The main romance does not suck. And in this OVA at least, at the very end, in the still art that accompanies the credits, we are able to see something that utterly, completely lacks in today’s harem anime – some representation of Makoto and Ifurita as a totally normal, functional couple. They touch, they put their arms around one another and, we presume with the final panel, they kiss. It would have been even nicer to see them do so in the anime itself, but I’m glad to see it at *all* so I won’t quibble. :-) The fact that in a bad mood Ifurita can destroy the world is sort of passed over, but we’ll pretend that being a high school boy’s girlfriend is all a goddess could ever wish for and they live happily ever after. The End, until the next OVA.

This box set is not bad, considering it’s old. Old enough to be from Pioneer, not even Geneon. The packaging is nice, there’s a bit of artsyness to it and unlike the old cardboard box with 6 DVDs model, it doesn’t take up too much space on the shelf.

Compared with Tenchi, Makoto is less of a loser, the service is mild by today’s standards. The most eye-rolling handwave is that no one can see Makoto is a guy until his long wig comes off and then suddenly it’s instantly apparent he’s male! The romances are not icky, there’s less haremization of all the females. And Fujisawa, who today would be a creepy perv is just a plain old respectable drunk, who really gives a shit about his students.

I’m probably not running back to The Magnificent World as a comfort anime, but it had some good elements and was reasonably entertaining – as anime should be.

Ratings:

Art – 7
Story – 8
Characters – 7
Yuri – 6
Service – 4

Overall – 7

Sincere thanks for the generosity and kindness of Okazu Superhero Eric P. for sponsoring today’s review and letting me catch up on this classic Yuri anime!

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12 Responses

  1. DezoPenguin says:

    Ahh, El-Hazard. Fond memories, indeed. I definitely fall into that category of “loved it for what it was” (well, the original seven OVAs. We won’t talk about later iterations). It was fun, it had action, it had comedy (most of which was genuinely funny, though the hot springs episode was, as most hot springs episodes are, the low point of the series), it had romance, and it had a cast of people who were entertaining, none of whom I would wince to see on-screen. Even the mascot character was cute (and plot-useful) instead of annoying.

    Your review hit most of the high points, though I would add one point: the one thing that set El-Hazard apart from the rest of the harem genre I’d seen before (or since!) is that it actually had a lead romance. One in which the hero picked one woman and stuck with her, and one in which there was an actual resolution at the end, rather than leaving open-ended to enable them to continue the franchise (which the first time I watched I was utterly certain was going to happen–watching Makoto show up at the end was one of my early really happy memories in a hobby that seemed…and seems…to avoid the word “closure” like the plague).

    Alielle and Fatora are highly dysfunctional people, but they really do make a good match for each other.

    To be fair, the priestesses generally do win most of the battles they fight in. They just get trashed whenever they go up against Ifurita. Though in that one fight at the beginning of the sixth episode, I had to agree when they attack her one by one and Ifurita is saying to them something along the lines of, “weren’t you listening to me when I explained why you can’t win?” that serious character stupidity was involved.

    And I still imagine Nanami sitting somewhere on a pile of money from having licensed her character design out to Sunrise for the Mai franchise. ^_-

  2. punistation says:

    What I loved about El Hazard (gateway for me too, after TM! Made by one of TM’s creators, obviously getting better) was the elegant finality. It had a nice The End, that allowed for a continuating sequel, but did not require it. A sequel that told “what happened inbetween”, as it were, in the time before The Final Reunion.

    Sadly, one was indeed made… and sure enough, it was done the same way when a “good” show is seen as a franchise: badly. Everything good was gone, substitited with Fail elements. You guess it, they threw it in. Pity. I disregard it completely.

    I also loved Ifurita as a character, way WAY back when. Just another ‘Robot Girl’, yes… but a *wonderful* voice, and supreme god-like destructive power is always a draw for a young girl around back at the dawn days of anime breaking into the western world (Three or so titles at the local VHS rental store… in the Cult section, bottom shelf, with Akira).

    Like TM, there was NO western equivalent to young impressionable western gals. A *cartoon*, but unlike the episodic Smurfs or Care bears, actually had a story to tell that featured surly, bickering teen girls actively pursuing a boy, often screwing up laughibly… with OMG BLOWING SHIT UP superpowers? This “japanimation” stuff was awesome! Yeah, TM & EH were pure mana to me as a kid, and wow’s anyone I shared it with. There was just no equivalent. Cartoons were Rainbow Bright and She-ra… to think a cartoon could be like… this?

    And the music. Oh. My God. The music!

    Also, as was the practice in those days, many lines were rewritten for the dub in the name of better delivery. “Localised”, as it were. I watched the first three dubbed, the rest subbed (it’s all the local real anime store had), and the dub is still burned in my mind. Truly well done.

  3. Sparkyjo says:

    Jinnai’s laughter taught me much in the way of exactly how to get insanity and evil genius expressed in the same chuckle!

  4. Anonymous says:

    EH was my gateway drug to anime, back in 1999, when I hadn’t thought much about my own identity, or anything. I was just a 15 year old kid, what’d you expect.

    And yes, you are right. today, I wouldn’t like it that much. But it’s okay. Not a bad show, even my mother liked it(!).

    Alielle and Fatora. I’m probably the only one on the planet wo actually liked Fatora. She was the first lesbian character I saw, ever. And yeah, she and Alielle are obviously a lesbian couple, albeit an openly promiscious one. At least they’re both fine with it.

    The priestesses back then were awesome too. I, too, thought they were strong back then: They weren’t waifs, they were effective, as much in combat as any guy. Of course, the romance devalued two (in one case in a horrific way. I hate the japanese obsession with marriage before 30 for women). But it was something. Nothing in western TV came even close to their independance.

    So, yeah, as a kid, I sure loved the anime.

    And today? I’d say one thing about it:
    Great, no. Entertaining: sure!

  5. @Anonymous – I quite liked Fatora, myself.

  6. kohi_no_tora says:

    I do have to ask, did you watch the dub or the sub because there’s a certain over the top quality to the dub that just makes it that much more fun to watch (including some one liners that I suspect were adlibbed). That and Jinnai’s laugh is an order of magnitude crazier in the dub.

  7. @kohi_no_tora I rarely watch the dub unless I’m reviewing for Mania.com.

  8. Zyl says:

    I really enjoyed Jinnai’s relationship with Diva and the Bugrom too. But it also seemed to me that the enmity between humans and the Bugrom largely boiled down to the mutual inability to communicate – something that Jinnai’s special power overcame.

    BTW I saw this on VHS (lol) and, by extension, dub, wherein the Bugrom spoke French – that memory still amuses me to no end.

  9. kohi_no_tora says:

    It might be worth it to re-watch in the dub. And I say this as someone who more or less exclusively watches subs when there’s an option but El-Hazard’s English dub is one of those rare ones that far surpasses the original Japanese performance.

  10. Cimourdain says:

    Lovely series. And, dammit, yes we al love the fact that Fatora’s personality “hasn’t been changed at all by her imprisonment”. I fell in love with that line. Sever bonus points for liking that too.

    What’s nice about the series is that it sounds a lot of familiar tropes, but they are likable and not infuriating the way they are in so much else.

  11. robin says:

    The dub is the best thing about this series. It’s hilariously better than the original japanese. The director even said in an interview that after hearing the dub cast, he asked his Japanese actors to completely change their approach – to emulate the same tone and “vibrance” as their American counterparts.

    Also, Princess Fatora is the first lesbian anime character I ever saw, making her one of my favorites in a long line of lesbians. Though, her attitude could use some adjusting.

  12. bp says:

    A big gateway series for me. I remember being intrigued by the priestess Afura Mann – a character who was oddly and fascinatingly disengaged from everyone else in the series. She did her job competently when it was required, made no cow eyes at anyone, and ended sitting in a garden in solitude with a cup of tea. I liked that very much.

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