This Ugly Yet Beautiful World
Takeru and Ryou are orphaned high school students who work doing deliveries for the former's uncle. One night, the two go to investigate a mysterious light in the woods, only to find a young girl. Takeru and Ryou are attacked by an alien monster, which is defeated when Takeru "miraculously" transforms into a powerful and strange looking beast himself. The girl, whom the boys name "Hikari", is taken in by Takeru when she confesses to having no memory of who she is.
"This Ugly Yet Beautiful World." What a beautiful title that is, what philosophical contemplations, discussions on the contradictions of human existence, and talk of the mysterious beauty of Earth it implies. And what a misleading title it is, too, for This Ugly Yet Beautiful World, in my opinion, is little more than a falsely advertised moe comedy that delivers buckets and buckets of fan-service and cliched storytelling and none of the musings on the human condition and the nature of extinction that various reviews and descriptions had promised, completely joyless in its attempts to be funny and populated by a cast of useless, whiny brats ripped off of better characters from Gainax and non-Gainax works alike. Indeed, the fact that this studio, the bizarre but brilliant madhouse behind such fascinating epics as Neon Genesis Evangelion and The Wings of Honneamise, ever produced such a show is disappointing to me, and in their laziness they have made an abysmal series that merely panders at all costs and creates nothing of value, embarrassing themselves and their entire legacy in the process.
The story behind This Ugly Yet Beautiful World is indeed a poorly-constructed one. As someone with a lifelong interest in paleontology, I was intrigued by the show's opening discourse on Earth's various mass extinctions, and with the hope that such a topic might be made relevant to the story, I had reason to be optimistic. Unfortunately, the premise essentially proves to be that this "ugly and corrupted" earth will be brought to an end by rays of celestial energy masquerading as moe girls, who, upon their arrival, will somehow awaken the presence of monsters that I'm somehow supposed to believe are surviving descendants of prehistoric life forms, and, in turn, will bring with them cutesy robots that will somehow serve as means to make the necessary catacylysm occur. I was never very clear on what purpose the monsters actually served, aside from their providing token "humans vs. evil creatures" battles, and I must say that not a single one was anything like a real animal I know of, with one, apparently supposed to be a dinosaur, having a forehead of such ridiculous size and proportions that any real animal such features would never have been able to walk, let alone stay alive. Furthermore, the principle that Earth's mass extinctions were brought about by such un-frightening "death goddesses" such as this show deems the girls to be is both ludicrous and, quite frankly, insulting to science, sounding like a bogus conspiracy theory more than anything else and completely undermining this as a "science fiction" story.
Takeru, meanwhile, somehow possesses the ability to change into a spike-covered, long-haired demon-monster-of-sorts who resembles a cross between a rejected design from X-Men and Kusanagi's Aragami form from Blue Seed, and thus fights the equally poorly-designed monsters when and where they show up in order to somehow protect the aforementioned moe girls. The battles, strangely, are so few and far between, so short, and so illogically easy to win that they become boring rather than exciting, the means necessary defeat the monsters ill-defined and the nature of Takeru's power and its implications to his existence never explained. The entire show falls into the trap of setting up a vague science fiction story as a plot device and then sidetracking that until the very end, and while the final few episodes do present a bit of backstory (if one entirely derivative of Neon Genesis Evangelion in both theme and visual imagery), the time the show wastes on romantic comedy antics means that the necessary buildup to make a successful climax is entirely absent. Watching This Ugly Yet Beautiful World feels like being forced to grade a paper by a student who does the bare minimum of work, one whose rare academic comments are lost in distracted stares and utterances of "do I really have to do homework now?", and the show's unbelievable laziness at maintaining an engaging narrative simply makes the ending into a laughable mess.
Thus, when the show is not paying attention to its story, which is most of the time, it instead settles on its characters, and a more useless bunch has rarely been spotted in an anime series as of yet. The one exception, surprisingly, is Takeru, who turns out to be a perfectly decent if none-too-exciting bloke, and in spite of people endlessly calling him a punk and a good-for-nothing (why is it that punks always turn out to be the best characters in these shows?) he does the best he can with this strange situation, being as kind as he can to the idiots around him and attempting to maintain a bare handful of normal hobbies on the side. Hikari and Akari, sadly, receive virtually no development, playing out like the worst of dating simulation cliches by being overly friendly, naive to the point of mental incompetence, easily manipulated, and as dull as a human can possibly be. The pair, miraculously and illogically, also somehow adapt to life as normal girls within a matter of days, with Hikari learning to speak and somehow even go to school soon after, and the fact that they can so suddenly and so matter-of-factly begin to live among humans and act so normally is baffling to me.
And truly, I cannot express my disbelief at how unconcerned Takeru's family and friends seem at the arrival of what are, basically, two aliens, and their lack of reaction was all I needed to know that this show's characters would not make me confident in human intelligence. The rest of the supporting cast is a mix of stolen elements far and wide, united only in banality: there's Takeru's brainless and stupidly bemused friend Ryou, Ryou's whiny but supposedly "mature" younger sister, a pair of Takeru's idiot "friends" who behave and sound exactly like dumbed down versions of Toji and Kensuke from Evangelion, the big and little robot, the former of which behaves like a drunken, more talkative, and less endearing version of FLCL's housekeeper mecha and the latter of which is a clear attempt to introduce a cutesy mascot, and, finally, Takeru's bitchy, nasty, and crabby cousin Mari who, for no real reason, lusts after him when not abusing him to no end. The sexism in this show, too, is unbearable, the men endlessly ogling like foolish little boys and the women doing nothing but yelling at Takeru, invading his personal space, hitting him, and abusing him for nothing more than being interested in a girl and masturbating in privacy. The very worst, however, comes with a perpetually drunken "scientist" named Jennifer, an obnoxious blond-haired American whose "training" appears to have come only in learning how to press her very-well-endowed chest into people's faces and whose hairstylist must be a true anime fan indeed:
Seriously, Gainax? You thought that we wouldn't notice that? But aside from the fact that Jennifer's mannerisms, oddly, actually resemble Misato Katsuragi's down to the manner of beer-guzzling, there is one significant difference between her and Ritsuko Akagi, as well as the whole of Evangelion: the artwork in This Ugly Yet Beautiful World is atrocious. The character designs range from standard moeblob models for females and bad haircuts for the boys, with the background art being dull and often off-color and the animation being jerky, filled with static shots and pans, and graced by some very, very poorly-integrated CG touches. While the musical score is well-orchestrated if recycled endlessly, the show looks as if it could have been scrapped together from a hentai title stripped of sex scenes, with the laziness on display with the story no less prevalent in the artwork.
But the core problem with This Ugly Yet Beautiful World is that it ultimately amounts to nothing more than fanservice. I do not, however, mean the type in which panties are sighted and mammaries are placed uncomfortably, for while there is more than enough of that on display, I have still sometimes enjoyed shows that caused me to roll my eyes at such nonsense. No, I call This Ugly Yet Beautiful World a piece of pure fanservice because it does nothing besides pander. It panders to those with a desire for fetishized outfits, ranging from the girls' insistence that Hikari and Akari wear strange Victorian uniforms rather than any sort of normal clothes, to their measuring them and talking about them as if they were dolls rather than thinking beings, and to the ridiculosuly scanty "maid swimsuits" sighted in this show's abysmal beach episode. It panders to those in need of boobs, those who think that every tender moment should be broken by Jennifer's drunkenly saying "cherish the warm breasts against your back", those who need the newest Chobits fix, those who need off-key references to Urusei Yatsura and Please Teacher in all of their anime, those who think it is funny to see naive girls alternatingly zip and unzip their clothes in public, and those poor souls who didn't get tired of "kawaii!" the first time it was gleefully and painfully squealed. For what makes This Ugly Yet Beautiful World such a mess, in the end, is the fact that every moment in the show is an excuse for something ridiculous and sexual to occur: every moment at which the show quiets down broken by noise, every plot development followed by spades of sexual jokes, and the actual story interrupted endlessly by festival episodes, beach episodes, a bizarre episode in which the robot essentially makes a hotspring out of thin air, and essentially anything other than science fiction. Looking at this show as a whole, I can think of nothing besides the fact that it feels deliberately designed as otaku bait, and the worst part is that it entirely fails at that goal. It fails at being interesting, for even the better episodes become excruciatingly boring by the end. It entirely fails at being sexy, either, in spite of every tactic it uses to try to be. And in the very end, it utterly fails as a series: Gainax virtually proves the undeserved poor stories told about it by making such an uninspired, vapid, and derivative series such as this, and it comes close to discrediting itself in the process.
I was mildly optimistic at the start of This Ugly Yet Beautiful World, for even in their more questionable works, Gainax writers are usually capable of finding at least something interesting to say. All I can say is, the next time I find myself having a hankering for something paleontology-related, that hankering will not be satisfied through anime.
The only two decent aspects of this series, poor Takeru and its good musical score, are nowhere near enough to save it from the bottom of the heap. Gainax, I am disappointed in you. — Nick Browne
Recommended Audience: If you watch this show, you will see many, many naked and possibly underaged girls, and you will, at times, prominently see their bare nipples and buttocks as well. This is absolutely not for children, and not at all for those who haven't learned to distinguish between their sexuality and immature carnal urges. There's also a bit of violence, a few racy jokes, and some moments of public drunkenness, but nothing that's particularly striking when compared to the nudity.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD (Viewed in Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (12/12)
This Ugly Yet Beautiful World © 2004 Gainax / SHAFT
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