Two high-school girls find themselves in a strange land, attacked by two-foot-tall humanoids calling themselves 'humans' and speaking 'Japanese'. Rescued by yet another midget, who insists that they are the Great Guardians prophesied to help end the war that was raging in the land, they are escorted to a little frontier village.
There, they quickly themselves besieged, as everybody wants a piece of the Great Guardians. Their first attempt at scaring away the enemies involves a lot of yelling and hand waving. But... is this how Great Guardians should act? And how on earth are two normal high-school girls going to help end a war in an unknown land?
Strange Dawn is, in a nutshell, strange. I sat down thinking this is going to be one of those super-cutesy anime. After all, all elements of kawaii anime are present - cute little midgets, surreal and colorful surroundings, funny looking animals and the requisite high-school girls.
Boy, I couldn't be more wrong. Strange Dawn is a serious anime with heavy war and political themes. The entire premise looks cute but it's not. Strange Dawn is about conflict, of conflicting ideologies leading to war and the friction it can generate.
In this alternate world, a war is raging between the two great superpowers, Griania and Baljidan, each wanting to control Belzeagle (which is the setting of the story and where our heroines are summoned to by the late Princess Arila) while what Belzeagle truly wants is independence from both Griania and Baljidan.
The very first conflict is encountered early in the series, in the polar personalities of the high-school girls themselves. Summoned to an alternate world, Miyabe Yuko and Natsuno Eri are understandably confused and apprehensive. What I do like about the leading characters is that they do not bond immediately, even though both are strangers in a strange land.
Miyabe wants nothing more than going home and refuses to get herself involved in the conflict to the 'little people'. To her, they are another burden, another unwanted piece in the puzzle that she already finds difficult to solve. Playing Guardian is the last thing on her mind. Natsuno, on the other hand, wants to help as much as she can since they are 'already here'. Miyabe is the outspoken, insensitive, aloof, mind-your-own-business-and-I'll-mind-mine, while Natsuno is I'll-help-in-any-way-I-can, gentle and indecisive. Not the best partnership certainly, and throughout the series, we'll find that they still will not come to terms of agreement.
And the midgets - there's the strong and silent Shal, doggedly insisting on protecting the Guardians and believing in them while the village chieftains wants to turn them over to any of the two great powers in the war. Then there's Shal's sweetheart, Reka, who is questioning his love for her and is slowing losing confidence in both herself and Shal. Reka's best friend, Mani, however still wants to believe in Shal.
In other words, we can expect lots of conversations and quarrelling and angst throughout the series. And this is not all that boring since the whole fun is watching personalities bounce off each other. In between, there are also fast and furious actions involving armies attacking each other, infiltration, betrayal, switching sides, negotiation and escaping from enemies.
What I do find rather annoying is that Strange Dawn is abrupt. We are dropped right into the story without showing how, why and by whom our "majin-sama" are summoned. In fact, we are never shown what are the lives of Miyabe and Natsuno like outside the alternate world, which I thought was a pity since that would explain why they (more on the part of Miyabe actually) are so hostile towards each other. I'll not spoil the ending, just be warned that it is very abrupt too.
I do like how the series portray the 'inconveniences' of modern humans, especially girls, if they are suddenly transported to a primitive place without any prior preparations. The girls are stranded with only one change of clothing and no spare undergarments. In fact, one of the reasons why Miyabe is so cranky is because she only has *one* pair of _pantsu_. You'll find the girls doing a lot of laundry in the series. The other inconvenience is the lack of a proper toilet. The girls take turn to relief themselves behind rocks while the other stand guard.
As far as technical details go, Strange Dawn is quite pretty to look at with bold drawings and original character designs. The frame rates are decent with fluid animations and the colors are vivid along the lines of Card Captor Sakura. The entire setting has a surreal feel.
It's not that bad a watch though it requires some patience. But once the story gets underway, the anime progresses rapidly. Each episode is, however, tied tightly to the next, meaning missing even one would quickly put the viewer out of perspective.
Add one star if you like cute humanoids. — Diane Tiu
Recommended Audience: Though it is marketed in the US for children, the best audience might be for mature teens and up. Like a war series, it takes a bit of unraveling to figure out who is attacking what, where and why. The violence is quite explicit showing the dead and wounded. There is one attempted rape scene but this you'll *have* to see for yourself since our midget friends' culture consider the feet (yes, feet!) the most prized part of the female anatomy. Suggested sex scenes but these are kept off screen.
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub; R2 DVD
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Strange Dawn © 2000 Satou Junichi / HAL / Strange Dawn Committee
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