Friday, May 13, 2011
“Being Free” – Beast Player Erin (anime) – 10/10 Flowers
In family life, love is the oil that eases friction, the cement that binds closer together, and the music that brings harmony. ~Eva Burrows quotes
Review Status: Complete (50 Episodes/50 Episodes)
Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed in the US. It's only availible for streaming on Crunchyroll.
Art/Animation: The OP and ED are bright and colorful, with unusual and stylized art and animation. The art through the series uses bright colors, and is simple but effective and well-done. The animation is consistently high-quality.
Summary: Erin is a young girl who lives with her mother in a village which raises war-lizards, called Touda. We see her daily life, which changes as she grows up. Meanwhile, there is growing tension between the two provinces of the country she lives in. (MAL.net)
Review: When I first heard that this was written by the same person who wrote Seirei no Moribito, I knew that I would be in for a fabulous story. I was not disappointed. At first, this series appears like it’s mainly for children. You have a sweet, upbeat heroine, a fairly typical ‘impending war’ scenario…. But you quickly realize that still waters run deep. People are really getting hurt and dying. Politics aren’t as simple as they appear, with double-dealing and backstabbing and double-agents. And in her little village, Erin and her mother face racism and the inherent fear of being different.
I am astounded at how beautifully and well this was written and made. It’s really Miyazaki made for TV (except Miyazaki drew the line at obnoxiously irritating comedic relief. This is for an age set even younger than Miyazaki, as amazing as that seems). The story flows well and builds on itself. The pacing of every episode seems very deliberate, with one filler episode and two recaps episodes out of 50. The rest are used to build the characters, the world, and move the plot forward. The story is surprisingly complex, with a wide cast of characters and political incidents that are happening, but it’s never hard to follow since it has the basic formula of someone trying to take over the throne.
It’s the incidental happenings, such as the Seh-Zan (the world’s version of the secret service) having internal fights over what’s happening, Erin needing to show why breeding the world’s animals a certain way is better for everyone, the love between two rulers-to-be, that give the story richness and depth. Very few side-plots are left hanging by the end of this story, even though there are enough to make one’s head spin if I mentioned them all. It would also seem unlikely that they could be dealt with in a way that was easy to understand and follow, but they are.
A story like this is nothing without the characters. Erin herself stands as a wonderful character and role model. She faces the loss of loved ones, lessons on how life isn’t necessarily fair, but through it all keeps a strong face. This is no Disney show. There is the death of someone near and dear to Erin within the first ten episodes, and it’s not a kind one though it is in no way graphic. You see her deal with grief in a very realistic, sympathetic manner. It tempers her and makes her stronger in her determination and dreams than ever before. And even when she does make a mistake- a very permanent, painful one- she acknowledges that she was at fault and learns from it.
The rest of the characters are fleshed out almost as deeply as Erin, and if not, definitely play a role in filling out the story and Erin’s character. The villagers from her youth are excellent at showing both sides of mercy and intolerance. While there is never full acceptance of Erin and her mother, some villagers are tolerant of them. Some could even consider themselves Erin’s friends. You also have the ones that show intolerance and anger when things go wrong, and see how quick some of them are to change their attitude towards them. Erin’s mother is also a wonderful character. You see how she hides or shields Erin from the worst of the treatment, yet when Erin does question some things Soyon never fails to explain it without anger in a way that is mature and easy for Erin to understand. Soyon’s wisdom and teachings stay with Erin her whole life.
When you have the time-skip from Erin’s youth to young womanhood, you find other characters that are just as interesting, from Iaru the Seh-Zan that doesn’t know which side he’s fighting for, and must face his own mentor in a battle to figure out what’s right, to many others that bring life to the story. While not all the characters are fleshed-out well, they all have recognizable, distinct, and are not cookie-cutter people. This statement does have two exceptions- Nukku and Mooku, the bumbling villains-turned-good-guys that are constant background characters/companions to our young heroine. If there ever were two stereotypical characters, these would be it. Thankfully, they are relegated to the background except in one episode that they have to spotlight on them.
The characters and story combine to create a show that us undeniably an interesting watch. The world itself is clearly defined, with two opposing factions vying for power, potential rivalries within the kingdom, soldiers that are tired of war… and Erin herself becomes key to preventing a horrible tragedy that happened once before, years ago, and may repeat with horrific results. While the ending may seems somewhat rushed to some, it was still a good one.
This was a joy to watch, and I hope that at some point they decide to put this to DVD. I would be hard-pressed to think of any voice actors who could match the wonderful jobs the Japanese Seiyuu did with the characters, though. The only issue I had was with the translation job that the company streaming it did- one of the animals is a female, this is mentioned within the show, yet the subs would refer to her as ‘he’ or ‘him’. Sometimes they would use both genders in referring to the animal, one right after another! This inconsistency was very irritating.
Overall, this is a great show for the whole family.
Recommended: Yes. 5+, or whatever age you think can handle the idea of someone being disabled (not graphically), and non-graphic death. There are also perhaps one or two instances of the d-word being used, though it is when someone is being gravely injured. There is some sword fighting, and very little blood is shown.
Other titles you might enjoy:
Seirei no Moribito (anime)
Princess Mononoke (anime)
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (anime or manga)
Planetes (anime or manga)
Monster (anime or manga)
Dennou Coil (anime)
Summer Wars (anime)
Macross Frontier (anime)