Spirit of Wonder: Miss China's Ring
[from box cover] Sometime during the late 19th century, a young Asian girl has made a place for herself in a seaside town as owner and operator of the Tenkai Restaurant and Boarding House. Yet "Miss China" as the locals call her, is in the dumps. She's got a Mad Scientist called Breckenridge living upstairs who is chronically late with the rent, and she's pining for Jim, a handsome watchmaker's apprentice whom she mistakenly believes is pursuing the local flower girl.
But this isn't our world. It is the world that has the Spirit of Wonder, where every so often, just occasionally mind you, amazing things happen. The Mad Scientist actually has come up with an incredible invention, and Jim has an unbelievable plan to use it to give Miss China the most beautiful ring in all the world.
Spirit of Wonder is one of those kind of titles that defies description. Is it sci-fi? Is it fantasy? Is it a romantic comedy? Well, yes. And no. It's a bit of that, but it's not, and... well, it's just weird, okay?
What's weird about it? Everything. The title opens with Miss China exuberantly kicking down the door to Mr. Breckenridge's room with a loud kiai, and it only gets stranger from there. The whole title seems to be a giant monument to the concept of eccentricity, with an unusual art style, quirky and neurotic characters, and a plot even more bizarre than an episode of Twin Peaks. If you're looking for something out of the ordinary, you'll be in peculiar paradise with this one.
The presentation is just about average, with a bit of choppiness here and there in the animation quality. There's nothing terribly spectacular technically about this title, but the style of art is definitely different from anything you've seen before: not quite stock anime, not quite homage to Ghibli, a little influenced by Western tenets, but yet not quite like any of them... The soundtrack, like nearly everything else, is quirky and odd, nicely accentuating the familiar yet unfamiliar atmosphere of the OAV.
Of course, the most important aspect of this title is the storyline, which I must say is one of the strangest I've ever seen, even compared to weirdos Leda and Robot Carnival. Nothing can be taken for granted; even the simplest of presumptions will get shattered as Miss China, Jim, and Breckenridge muddle around neurotically trying to...well, get the most beautiful ring in all the world (I won't spoil it for you). You _will_ puzzle and scratch your head even and hour after credits have rolled -- I guarantee it. One particularly nice aspect of this title is the character design, particularly in the character of Miss China. Miss China (by anime standards) is not particularly beautiful and can't rely on physical attraction to hook the audience (unlike like many female anime characters), but there's a certain earnest determination in her that makes you end up cheering for her whatever she does. She's honest and real, a crystal-clear spot in an otherwise muddled title.
So, bottom line: is it worth seeing? It depends on your personal tastes. Are you looking for a title unlike anything you've ever seen before, one that will confuse and discombobulate using a storyline that can only be described as outrageous? Do you have a Chinese clothing fetish? Are you on controlled substances? If you've answered "yes" to any of these questions, then Spirit of Wonder just might be for you. Other people, well... it's _still_ a rather fun watch, if a bit on the trippy side.
Recommended Audience: A bit of mild martial-arts kicks in Miss China's restaurant, as well as a few off-color remarks by Breckenridge. Probably okay for the Karate Kid crowd, although Breckenridge's comments are a bit stronger than normal fare.
Version(s) Viewed: VHS, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Spirit of Wonder: Miss China's Ring © 1992 Tsuruta Kenji / Kodansha / Toshiba EMI
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