From the box:
"In the theocracy of Simulacrum Kyuukoku, everyone is born female. At age 17, each citizen undergoes a special ceremony in which she chooses a sex. However, only priestesses who have yet to choose can pilot the ancient Simoun aircraft against neighboring countries that covet the technology."
I have to admit that I originally wanted to see this after seeing the CG in a trailer, and I still think the Simoun aircraft design is one of the loveliest (and most impractical) I've ever seen. But I was delighted to find the series had a LOT more to offer.
It may be true that there are few really new plot ideas, and Simoun does have some familiar ones. The group of teenage heroes in mecha fighting to save their world or country was old when Evangelion did it. We have a character here, Neviril, who several other characters want to be theirs, the standard romantic anime setup. And the gender-change idea was done in The Left Hand of Darkness, though it's a bit different here (see synopsis).
But what the show does with these ideas! In the first place, we're not in Kansas anymore; we're not even on Earth. The planet it's set on has two Suns. The Simoun aircraft, based on a technology which even its mechanics don't entirely understand, is recently equipped with guns, but the primary weapon (which wasn't originally meant as a weapon) is the energy patterns the ships can weave, either singly or in combination, which can be devastatingly destructive (these are called Majons). The Majons, kind of "shock and awe" weapons, were formerly enough to deter adversaries at a distance, but lately the enemies have been more desperate and have resorted to close combat, which is a kind of warfare that the young Simoun priestesses are temperamentally ill-suited to ("Don't look in their eyes! You won't be able to kill them!" warns one Simoun pilot to another.)
The Simoun aircraft are flown by a "pair" of pilots, and the operation of the ship requires some physical affection by the pair toward each other, as well as compatible personalities, so naturally close relationships spring up between the pilots. Neviril's "squeeze"/copilot disappears (not necessarily killed) toward the beginning of the series while the two of them were attacking the enemy with a particularly dangerous Majon, which leaves openings for several parties competing for Neviril, including one who's had a long-term crush on her, so Neviril has numerous options if she can ever get over her grieving-which takes a rather long time to occur.
(As an aside: the gender system here actually kinda-sorta makes sense- the girls bond as adolescents, then at 17 one member of the pair may decide to become male either so they can have children, or because the party feels more comfortable in the male role, or for economic reasons. Unbonded persons can either choose a gender or have one chosen for them, Simoun pilots excepted as long as they remain pilots. The jarring thing for the viewer, though, is that the male transformation looks incomplete; "males" still have female voices, and may look more or less female- I'm STILL not sure what gender some of the adult characters were supposed to be.)
The recent fatalities among the Simoun pilots have also left openings in the ranks that needed to be filled, and one of the first replacements is Aer, a young woman who is quickly left with a dilemma: how can you fly your ship home when the hand of a dead enemy soldier in rigor mortis is wrapped around your control stick? At that moment I said, OK, here is a series that's actually willing to SURPRISE me!
And did it ever. Characters just beginning relationships are not commonly killed off, but it happens here. The way the war ends was completely unexpected. The choices the heroines eventually make are often contrary to their frequently stated intentions. One of our heroines quickly develops a relationship with a male soldier-and both parties, just as quickly, get over it. Another character willingly takes over a job that will not only go on for a LONG time, but will limit her to the most perfunctory human contact. Another character thinks she just wants to "protect" Neviril, but discovers that she has baser motives as well (though I couldn't help feeling sorry for her.)
And yet I understood why each character made the choices she made, whether she made them on long reflection or just on impulse. The show effectively conveys what's in the girls' hearts, and that makes it so much better than a hi-tech action picture.
Truth to tell, though, the tech here isn't always "high"-it's a curious blend of the futuristic and the archaic. The enemies have a thing for propellers, while the Soumin aircraft don't have radios- communication is by cables attached to the ships (kind of a tin can-and-string method) or by simply opening the canopies and shouting at each other.
I've one major complaint-some of the music didn't "pair" well with the scenes it was placed in. For a show that is so concerned with "pairing", that seemed a bit of an oversight.
The final episode, where we find out what happened to all the girls (sans one corpse-the one major plot omission) is wonderful. There was some synchronicity going on for me- I was watching UTube videos of covers of Bob Dylan's "Forever Young," and that song would have been splendid music for the final episode, which was titled "Their Portraits".
So is there stuff for guys here? If they don't mind dramas about relationships. I've seen the show criticized as over-the-top melodrama, but I don't think the emotions displayed are in any way excessive, given the situation and the girls' backgrounds. I loved the characters, especially Neviril, who is actually WORTHY of the general adoration she receives, being not only beautiful but, when she finally escapes her melancholy, also clever and a born leader. I also liked Mamina, whose appearance and personality will remind one of Toko from Maria Watches Over Us, except that Mamina comes from much poorer circumstances. So males who like strong, nuanced characters should like the show too.
Recommended Audience: The Simoun Nazi says, "No fanservice for you!" The closest it comes is with the "swimsuits" the girls wear, which are translucent body suits with heavier material over the naughty bits. The Simoun take on "swimming" is another imaginative touch, and one which really must be seen.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD, bilingual
Review Status: Full (26/26)
Simoun © 2006 Bandai Visual / Studio DEEN / Simoun Production Committee / Sotsu Agency
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