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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Saint Beast: Ikusen no Hiru to Yoru Hen: Can Anybody Find Me Someangel to Love?

Following the (not really a) finale of the Seijuu Kourin Hen anime in June of 2003, the Saint Beast series went into overdrive with the debut of the drama CDs... And there were a ton of them. Up first was (the simply titled) Saint Beast that July, which I would guess told the story that the anime was setting up, and told four overall stories across nine volumes. After that would come 2005's Saint Beast: Yukyuu no Sho -Rakuen Soshitsu-/Eternal Chapter -Lost Paradise-, which told another four stories across three more volumes, & 2006's Saint Beast: Onshu no Sho -Seijuu Fuuin-/Chaplain Chapter -The Holy Beast Sealing-, which was yet another four stories across three volumes. This isn't even counting the Comedy Drama & Another Drama "extra story" drama CD series that debuted in 2004, which added another 12 stories across four more volumes; that's already 19 individual drama CDs! I'm only going to hope that the various seiyuu involved got paid very well for their hard work.

Anyway, in between the 2005 & 2006 drama CD series, Wonderfarm also managed to squeeze in a second anime production. This time around would be Saint Beast: Ikusen no Hiru to Yoru Hen/Thousands of Days & Nights Chapter, a two-episode OVA that saw release in December of 2005 & March of 2006. Unlike the prior TV series, though, this short OVA wouldn't be animated by Tokyo Kids, which was likely busy making the Magikano TV anime at the time. Instead, Wonderfarm would bring in the venerable Madhouse for animation production, which is much more renowned for delivering great visuals than Tokyo Kids. So let's see if Viewster made a mistake by not getting the streaming rights to this short prequel.

One stormy night at the mansion, Gou has a nightmare where he recalls the attempted coup Judas & Luka tried pulling on Zeus, God of Heaven. He wakes up & decides to look out the window, recalling the old days in Heaven, back when Zeus transformed him & his fellow generation of angels into adulthood, when he & Gai met Shin & Rei, & when Heaven was in a seeming age of happiness. Still, even then there were angels who still sinned, & unbeknownst to him & his friends, there were various dirty deeds either about to be done or have already been done, like Judas asking Zeus to punish sinful angels or even the potential that Zeus & his confidant Lucifer may have conspired to kill Cronus, Zeus' father & the prior God, so that Zeus could claim the throne for himself.

Ikusen no Hiru to Yoru Hen is, in concept, a giant series of consecutive flashbacks, which is both a boon & a bust. At its best, the OVA does showcase some nice bits of character establishment & development, like showing how everyone first met or indicating just how long Shiva has been in love with Judas (the answer is "seemingly forever"). At its worst, though, the OVA feels more like fanservice for those who heard the drama CDs, because the are some obvious time skips or simply vague hinting that results in lots of unanswered questions. For example, the whole "Zeus might have killed Cronus" thing is mostly an educated guess on my behalf, because all we're shown is a scene where Zeus & Lucifer talk about a plan of theirs that they executed, alongside Zeus having red-tinted recollections of him firing an energy blast at some people, possibly his own family so that he'd be the sole inheritor. At the same time, though, Lucifer is gone after Episode 1, with only a couple of quick still images at the start of Episode 2 indicating that Zeus banished him from Heaven, which in turn led to the creation of Hell. Also, yes, the world of Saint Beast is finally explained as a weird fusion of Greek & Christian mythology, complete with characters named Lucifer, Judas, Zeus, Cronus, Pandora, Cassandra, etc.

At the same time, though, I really do hope that I'm right about Zeus having killed his father for the throne, because then it would really give a lot of cool depth to Judas & Luka's status as the main villains. It would be interesting if the fallen angels had in fact learned the truth behind Zeus, which in turn would make them revolt against their God, and it would make the Saint Beasts all the more compelling as a group, because now they'd be unknowingly fighting on the side of a character who arguably did something even more evil & villainous than their former friends. Admittedly, there is still one more Saint Beast anime for me to review after this, so I'll leave the speculation at that. Anyway, back to the OVA itself...

This happens literally just a minute after the opening ends...
Subtlety? What's that?

What is easily the most notable change between Seijuu Kourin HenIkusen no Hiru to Yoru Hen, though, is how the boys love aspect is handled. In the TV series, the BL was doled out slowly & with some manner of subtlety; characters actually showing feelings of outright love for each other was only done when necessary. In the OVA, however, the BL is the primary focus, with any & all sense of subtlety being completely removed. At its most ridiculous, you get moments like the image above, where Gai comments on how warm Gou's body is (it's because he's "full of energy"), but Gai looks as though he's secretly in love with Gou, which is never indicated at all beyond this one shot; the most they are are childhood friends. At its most reasonable, though, you get plenty of nice character & relationship development. For example, Rei having strong feelings for Luka is only brought up a single time at the very end of the TV series, but in the OVA this idea gets a few scenes that actually establish why both of them find each other appealing (it's because they both have beautiful wings), and the moments when the two of them are together do work well. We also see how Judas & Shin meet, which is also well done, if maybe a bit more erotic in some ways... Just look at the next image to see for yourself.

The OVA, however, does do a lot of setting up other plot points, but without any pay off. An interesting point is that we see Pandora go from a weak angel who needs saving by Judas when being sexually harassed by other angels (hmmm, you don't see male-on-male sexual harassment in fiction much, do you?) to becoming an direct assistant to Zeus who befriends Maya & Kira to being hinted as possibly a major villain who might have been pulling strings when it came to Judas & Luka's attempted coup. Granted, these moments are shown exactly as I described, with the time skips removing how exactly he got to each of these moments, but it makes one wonder who exactly Pandora is in the grand scheme of things; also, at one point Cassandra offers to help him carry a large wooden box (get it?). That's only the tip of the iceberg in terms of setting things up, which also includes the aforementioned secret behind Zeus & Cronus, Lucifer's banishment from Heaven, what exactly Zeus did with Judas' "punish all sinning angels" request (the most we're shown are dark clouds above where Zeus' throne is), Cassandra's involvement in anything, what Luka is hiding beneath his headband (as he didn't wear one as a teen), & even what exactly the future Saint Beasts themselves were doing when things got bad. In fact, the four Saint Beasts are both always there yet not really doing much, which is interesting.

As for Maya & Kira, they only appear in the second episode, with their biggest contribution being Gai & Maya becoming instant friends at a festival; yep, Kira once again contributes nothing of importance! After Episode 2, though, there is a short five-minute "another story", Adolescent Angel: Recollections of the Ancient Tree, which sees the brothers go to the training facility where their future friends once trained, & even see visions of the six's challenges when they touched the tree that protects the area. It's not much, and essentially is about the other characters more than Maya & Kira, but it's neat.

Subtlety is dead...

As mentioned at the beginning, Madhouse is known for generally being an anime studio that delivers nice looking animation, and that applies to Ikusen no Hiru to Yoru Hen as well. Interestingly enough, this OVA was directed by Masayuki Sakoi (Celestial Method, Strawberry Panic!), who led the adaptation of Kamen no Maid Guy that I just reviewed a couple of weeks ago. At the very least, Sakoi shows some nice flexibility in this way, because this OVA & Maid Guy are about as far away from tone & style as you can get, but both handle themselves well. Obviously, this OVA is much better than the TV series from a visual perspective, with an overall smoother look & more fluid animation; a perfect example of how an OVA is generally thought of when compared to a TV anime. "Original creator" Kei Arisugawa once again handles the writing, and thankfully he shows better skills here, with each individual scene being written well, though the blatant fanservice BL scenes are still rather silly. While Sakura Asagi still did the original designs in general, the OVA did bring in a specific character designer for adapting them into animation, Hiromitsu Hagiwara (Nozo x Kimi, Rurouni Kenshin: New Kyoto Arc). In turn, Hagiwara's take on Asagi's designs are a bit more angular, highlighting the "pretty boy" aesthetic more than the preceding TV series.

The music here is done by Hijiri Anze (Hybrid Child, Utawarerumono), who mostly does theme song arrangement & composition, with the occasional overall soundtrack work. Compared to Yoshinobu Hiraiwa's work on the TV series, Anze brings about a much more orchestral style that matches the world of Heaven that the OVA takes place in; Anze would return for the successive TV series. There's no Hiroshi Kitadani theme song to be found here, with the voices of all six Saint Beasts (including Judas & Luka) doing the one opening theme & two ending themes. Episode 1 plays the song "Kizuna & Sadame" by The Four Saint Beasts while the main characters are all being magically aged into adulthood by Zeus, and it's a neat song led by a harpsichord, with the four Saint Beasts matching the almost melancholy mood well; Episode 2 opens with an instrumental version while (mostly) recapping events. The ending themes, "Ikusen no Hiru to Yoru" by Luka, Rei, & Gai and "Kokoro no Kaeru Basho" by Gou & Shin (with Judas singing back-up), are both rock songs, with the former being more hard in its sound & the latter more somber.

Since everybody reprises their roles in this OVA, right down to Tomokazu Sugita doing next to nothing as Kira, I'll just bring up the four new characters of note this OVA introduces. Pandora is voiced by Jun Fukuyama, who does a good job showing the evolution of his character from a weak nobody to possibly a dangerous manipulator, ala Lelouch in Code Geass. Zeus is performed by Junichi Kanemaru (Sonic the Hedgehog, Zazu Torque in Magic Knight Rayearth 2), and he manages to get in just enough varying emotion in the few scenes he gets, showing benevolence, disappointment, & even some regret. While Lucifer literally gets just a single voiced scene in the entire production, I could easily tell he was voiced by Sho Hayami, who's just a master of dark schemers. Finally, Cassandra is performed by Yuki Kaida (Shusuke Fuji in Prince of Tennis, Femianne in Aldnoah.Zero), who likewise gets next to no voiced screen time in the OVA, but pulls through with enough to make you understand that the character has some importance at some point. If anything, I'd say that those who get little screen time in the OVA are able to make up for it by already being familiar & comfortable with their characters because of the drama CDs, so they're able to take advantage of every line.

In a weird way, Saint Beast: Ikusen no Hiru to Yoru Hen is in some ways better than the TV series that came before it, even though it's only a third of the length. There is more character development to be seen, the BL relationships are fleshed out, & there is actually some really cool hinting at larger plot points. At the same time, though, said plot points aren't fully explained, the time skips (especially in Episode 2) make it feel more like a series of scenes than an actual linear story, & the BL fanservice sometimes enters into ridiculousness with how blatant & unsubtle it can get. In essence, much like how Seijuu Kourin Hen was nothing more than a prologue to the first drama CDs, Ikusen no Hiru to Yoru Hen is pretty much a prologue & tease for everything else Saint Beast. One could start checking out the entire anime via this OVA, but at the same time I think having experience with the characters beforehand does help make things more interesting.

Did Viewster mess up by not getting the rights to stream this OVA? Honestly, I can't quite answer that question right now, because it all comes down to if any of the plot points introduced here actually get answered in the next anime production. So check back at the end of the month, when I return to my Xbox 360 Viewster app & examine the final (& longest) piece of Saint Beast anime there is.

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