Mayuko is in a real bind. She's a starving student, working all sorts of jobs just to keep food on the table and a roof over her head while she goes to school. It doesn't help that her local neighborhood is poor, with muddy streets and polluted air. It's all she can do to live in the rooms above the public bath which used to belong her family.
Oh, yeah, and there's Niea, her hyperenergetic, mooching, freeloading, greedy, scrap metal UFO-tinkering roommate, who's really an alien. An alien, you ask? Well, yeah, they landed here a long time ago, all these aliens who look like, well, people with antennas on their heads - except for the Under-7s, like Niea. They're REAL losers. But it's no big deal. Really.
ABe Yoshitoshi, the creator of Lain, throws a real funky curveball with this quirky, charming story of one very downtrodden schoolgirl and the devil-may-care Niea, who makes life hell, but at least it's interesting and a good laugh.
Whereas Lain was on the depressive, angsty side of strange, Niea is a walk on the capricious side, with seemingly normal workaday Japanese folk dealing with man-eating flowers and mysterious oil right alongside everyday problems like bills and slumping profits. And while the Odd Couple act that Mayuko and Niea play is certainly not original, the backdrop to it certainly fits the bill as being like nothing you've ever seen.
Let's face it. What if the aliens come, and they turn out to be bickering interstellar refugees? So much for your Independence Day or even Men in Black, we've got ourselves the most uneventful immigration since Yahoo Serious tried to invade California in the '80s.
Underneath the quasi sci-fi feel of it all, though, there's a very neat allegory going on here, an underlying theme of a longing for acceptance, of appreciating other people for who they are regardless of race. The aliens' antenna-based caste structure, for example, is an obvious play on the Hindu societal caste structure, with your higher ranking (antenna-accesoried) aliens being movie stars and such, and your "untouchables" (the Under 7s like Niea) being, well, ignored and/or despised. The fact that one of the aliens, Chada masquerades as an Indian (and the random bits of Indian culture presented after each episode of the DVD) only underscore this theme.
The series itself does take a bit of getting used to. The opening, with the disjointed clips of a raven and stills, paired with the raspy vocals of the opening song do not point to this as being a comedy per se. And while it's certainly not an outright drama, NieA_7 isn't the kind of show that while make you fall out of your seat laughing. It's a good deal more subtle than that, with strong characterizations, and an incredibly sympathetic (and Goth-sort-of-cute) lead in Mayuko. And then there's Niea, constantly eating, blowing things up, and generally making a grand spectacle out of herself in the name of just being noticed. While Mayuko complains about her (with good cause), deep down the two are bonded with a sisterly affection that is fairly evident. (God knows why, though.) And the other characters, like the UFO freak Chiaki, the riotously funny wannabe-Chinese caste-purist alien Karna, and the obsessive (but earnest and sweet) Yoshinen, colorfully complement the main cast. Though it's kind of funny how the least orthodox looking characters are the most normal of them all.
Technically, it's clear that this is a short television series of the year 2000. The animation style, while competent, relies heavily on stills and a rather muted palette of colors, and the occasional use of straight pencils instead of cel-style animation, which is fine in this case as it further demonstrates the atmosphere of poverty and depression of not only the show, but the era the show was made in. "Domestic Poor Animation" indeed.
But bad anime this certainly ain't. Pioneer has done American fans tet another service with their DVD release of this title, complete with another well-done English dub (just as good as the Japanese!). Even the menu screens exhibit the energy and weirdness that makes this series special.
Do yourself a favor and go watch this series.
It's not your normal anime. And thank goodness for that. — Carlos/Giancarla Ross
Recommended Audience: Other than the fact that most of this takes place in a bathhouse, and a couple of characters get tasted by man-eating flowers, this series is pretty tame. In spite of the setting, there is no fanservice, and the only remotely objectionable humor involves one bawdy joke related to sodomy and another regarding marijuana use. Many of the themes, however, will fly over the heads of very young children.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Partial (4/13)
NieA_7 © 2000 yoshitoshi ABe / NieA Project
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