Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl
The story revolves around a high school boy named Niwa Makoto. He lives with his aunt's family since his parents are away on business. It is there where he meets his mysterious cousin of the same age Touwa Erio - who happens to tie a futon mattress around her upper body and is a self-proclaimed alien. Her staple food is pizza. Erio had been missing for half a year and was found floating in the sea. She doesn't remember anything about what happened during that period of time, but she began to think that it was the act of an alien and wanders the neighbourhood wrapped in the futon.
In a perfect world more animé shows would be like Denpa Onna. In a perfect world more animé shows would have the narrative maturity, the intelligence of dialogue, the quality of character and the simple modest subtlety of Denpa Onna as a mainstay of their production. In a perfect world Denpa Onna would be the most run-of-the-mill, standard show imaginable - a solid, safe bet without daring or especial interest. Sadly Denpa Onna isn't. Sadly Denpa Onna is head and shoulders above the majority of its peers and not because it is a wonderful, inspired concept or because it was written or directed by a genius. No, Denpa Onna is an incredible show because it believes in me. It believes that 'me', the viewer, gives a damn about what I'm watching. That is rare. Even the artiest of animé auteur-ship rarely shows that same faith and I appreciate it when I see it. Sure Denpa Onna plays and teases with its moé art and mild fanservice but it is not without its purpose. It is not a cynical appeal to our carnal desires but a calculated attempt to bring in those feelings that help define the aspect of life that this show so beautifully showcases. 'The Springtime of Youth' is a phrase we are told but in Denpa Onna it is a phrase that we feel.
Truth be told, I don't have the time and you probably don't have the patience to hear all I have to say about this show. That being the case I'll concentrate on the key points, leaving aside the brilliant(ly addictive) soundtrack and eye-catching art that pour yet more praise onto the flaming bonfire of my love for this show, that will help you understand why I adore and think so highly of this show.
Looking at this in terms of composition, I feel the style of the narrative is very interesting. Denpa Onna is essentially a series in three differently portrayed parts: the first four episodes are the quirkiest of the lot, the characters are distant and defensive with one another in a very natural if comical way, depicting his actions as he attempts to integrate himself into Erio's life particularly - how selfishly or benignly I leave up to you to decide. The next four, however, take a completely different tact - broadening out the perspective by portraying the next major event four times from four different perspectives; Niwa's, Ryoushi's, Maekawa's and Meme's - which allows us to understand each character and the events depicted in new and curious ways. It works, it builds naturally upon each previous episode and it helps us understand more deeply the complex relationships that exist beyond Niwa within the town. The final four episodes return back to Niwa and focus on his and Erio's increasing integration with the town and quite splendidly mirrors the first sections snap back into reality for Erio with a snap back into fantasy for Niwa. Like two sides of a compelling argument at opposite ends of the series.
Every show is about something. Some are about the action, some about the comedy, some about the concept of the show (whatever that may be), some are about the story and the message it tells and some are just plain about the fanservice! Denpa Onna is about its characters. No characters and there's no show for Denpa Onna. Not a single one of our main cast is a placeholder that could be replaced without fundamentally changing the story to its very core. These are not characters that are fitted around a preconceived plot but it's a story that is built around the characters whose stories the writer wanted to tell. So are the characters worth this effort? They sure are! These people are not shallow archetypes but real three dimensional characters that their writer quite obviously adores and cares about. This show tells their story and not the writer's.
A striking thing about these characters is how intelligent they are. Maekawa is obviously sharp and not afraid to show it with her cool, calm exterior (her knowing smile as Ryoushi and Erio vied for Niwa's attention is evidence of that) but the amount of self awareness each and every character shows from the irresponsible Meme to the socially inept Erio is astonishing. It's even more impressive in that it acts as a backdrop and highlight for the human frailty that is the driving force of the narrative. It makes the characters more human, more empathetic, as we see them embrace and then finally overcome the irrational. Meme, for example, understands that she is an irresponsible and lonely person but the show understands that knowing and doing are two very different things. Understanding that you are afraid still doesn't help you control your fears.
A key fact of this show is that it doesn't really tell you about what I've talked about. It doesn't say that these characters are intelligent; it doesn't sit there and explain to us the difference between understanding and doing. It doesn't tell us in words in any case. Once again it shows us.
Dialogue is at the heart of the matter. While the characters aren't really saying these things they, in fact, are. Maekawa never says that she likes Niwa but the way she says other things does tell you. While other shows are throwing out stock phrases to convey meaning; this show is having its characters speak with nuance, body language and little quirks of character that define each individual - from Ryoushi's childish outbursts when confronted with conflicted feelings to Meme's deft verbal ripostes, revealing as much about the characters from what they don't want to speak about as much as revealed about them from what they do speak about. The characters nearly always convey more than words when they talk and praise has to be given to the voice cast for really capturing the inflection and the purpose of the dialogue as they delivered it. Their voices alone were communicating at least half the message.
Let me be honest though, this show isn't anywhere near perfect: the story sometimes lacks direction, the animation can be shocking at points (SHAFT probably blew its budget on another show this year) and Niwa himself, though a well-fleshed out character, can be a little un-compelling at times but you won't find many shows so lacking in narrative cynicism, so compelling in characterisation and so touching in delivery anywhere. If every animé maker used this show as a bench mark then it is unimaginable how impressive this medium would be. Denpa Onna shouldn't be this special. Haibane Renmei is special because of its thematic weight, Princess Tutu is special because of its utterly perfect construction, Paranoia Agent is special because of its sharp eyed humour and human understanding... Denpa Onna has simply done what every other show should have been doing a long time ago.
On the surface it may look like another barren stretch of land you could find anywhere but dig a little deeper and there is buried treasure to be found. Minus two stars if you don't want to work for your entertainment, otherwise adore.. — Aiden Foote
Recommended Audience: There's nothing in the content to exclude teenagers but it's definitely more for us slightly older folks.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital source.
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl © 2011 ASCII Media Works / Hitoma Iruma / Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko Production Committee
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