So I originally sat down last night just to work on the series recap, as I have most of them in some draft form or another. Well before you know it I was almost 80% done several hours later and decided, “Eh, fuck it.” We also hit 2,000 views today, so, in return I guess this is our Christmas Present.
Since this is the first recap I’m posting here and trying to make it incorporate to the blog, this may seem rather unprofessional compared to my DDA reviews (which are already unprofessional). So I’ll just learn as I go.
Hey! What do you know. Something I have in common with the people who made this show.
I’m just going to lay out a few elements in general, and then the specific praise or issues unique to this series entirely.
So without further adieu.
As I’ve said before, themes really weigh too much on me. They are often a win or loss point. They will tip the scales if I’m deciding to continue a show or not. They don’t save bad shows, and they don’t make average shows great, but they are often enough to eek one over another while jockeying for my attention.
Galilei Donna is average in both these areas. I found the music for credit sequences alright. Not bad enough to annoy me, but just not my style to really enjoy. The visuals weren’t very inspired, either, sharing next to nothing about the series.
As for the series soundtrack itself, it passed. It was like…like choosing the wattage for your lightbulbs. Choose poorly and your shit will break. But do it competently and no one’s going to pat you on the back. That was the music here. It was there, it helped, but it wasn’t very expressive.
I have very lax standards in animation. To me, the most important thing is “Is it consistent, and does it sit in one place without looking amateurish?” But, types of styles, facial details, I can take things on their own terms. (I have a similar relationship to special effects in live action.)
But what stands out is the things you DO with your animation, and Galilei Donna excels in the animation department.
The first episode contained a great microcosm of what was amazing about these animators. Hozuki’s chase scene, when Adnimoon is first trying to kidnap the girls. Hozuki outruns the drone on her scooter, without a word of dialogue leads it through an underground chase scene, almost gets captured because she can’t leave a wrench behind that falls out of her bag, and uses little gadgets and a hoverscooter. We know so much about her character and the situation at hand just by the visuals. All of the important stuff is there, and it is a sheer delight to watch.
While the bad writing pissed me off too much to pay enough attention to all the times they pulled similar stunts, I am tempted to go back and just WATCH this series, on mute, and just stare.
Animation was top notch here. I’d rank it just below KILL la KILL (animation’s winner).
Ugh, where do I even begin.
Well let’s start at the good. Hozuki probably wins my favorite character. This is despite the fact I consider her VERY Mary Sue. The closest thing she has to a flaw is going along with adults a little too eagerly. But she’s 13. I expect that. Though she was shown to have been working on this airship for the past three years, she seems rather well adjusted. Oh, right. This was an airship she built in her spare time, of course. Probably just on Sunday afternoons. She is just that skilled at engineering. I do understand that science is a much more…mainstream thing in this world, but it is very forced that our protagonist is this skilled.
Hazuki fared a little better as far as believability. But it is clear she is a character with ambitions far beyond her abilities, that is, as a character. I think the writers put too much on her but tried to keep her light and comedic so that it sunk the dramatic role she was supposed to play. She feels like dead weight a lot of the time. She lacks Hozuki’s skill with engineering, and Kazuki’s skill at physical combat. But by virtue of being eldest, she is the leader. Still, her attitude and stubbornness won me over before the end. I loved that aspect of her that only wanted to continue on the off chance that she might hurt Adnimoon. This same passion is also a weakness, such as when she fights Roberto even though she should have known she was far too outclassed. She makes the rounds for most -believable- of the sisters.
Kazuki….ugnh…I wanted to love this character. But the way her characterization was handled was atrocious. I mostly -choose- to remember the character as she was in episode 7. Loyal, able to fight, but not really attached to this self-imposed quest her sisters have dumped on her. But…episodes 3 and 4…they were atrocious. I would show those episodes as a war crime. And they had a heavy focus on Kazuki’s “insecurities”, but there is no word strong enough to explain what we saw there. Manic psychotic starts to get close. In any other show she would have been the villain with super powers that everyone tolerates because she could nuke the research facility with her eye lasers. In any normal world she would have been the kid to get her face slapped every ten minutes and no one would have seen a thing. This mini-arc that focused on Kazuki’s character (comprising the B plots of these two episodes) was so atrocious it torpedoed any warm feelings I may have had for her. But I loved her in concept: The aloof one who also happens to be the muscle. The most anti-hero of the group. Who the bad guys may try to sway away, only to have her loyalty to her sisters win out in the end and she delivers the ass kicking of a lifetime to the bad guys. But as handled, Kazuki served little purpose here except to provide some tsun-tsun moments (it’s not because I like it here, stupid).
Anna was also dead weight. She was also handled quite poorly. Her eccentricity of the early episodes was endearing, but this character trait did not last past about episode 4. After this they started dropping hints about her loyalty to Adnimoon. It was as if they couldn’t handle two facets at the same time, and her quirky charm was all but forgotten by the end. She made a competent turncoat, I guess. But it was absolutely cliche with nothing to separate her from any other turncoat character.
Roberto, as the present villain, was useful as a harbinger of doom, but he served little purpose dramatically. We saw into his past a bit, but it doesn’t entirely explain why he became such a loathsome prick. While he may have learned the lesson that no good deed goes unpunished, he lacks the sophistication in his argument to be little more than a Bond hitman. He’s simple, a little too simple, really, to take him seriously. He’s a horseman of the apocalypse, but you don’t ever truly get the sense he knows what to do with that training. He’s like Bane from The Dark Knight Rises, he’s not a criminal philosopher: He’s a thug who got bored and wrote a badly spelled manifesto.
The rest of the cast was mixed. The girls’ father was alright. Believable bohemian type. Their mother was obnoxious to the point of wanting her dead after the first episode. The Ganymede crew was stereotypical pirates with hearts of gold, and Adnimoon was so Captain Planetish in its conception it was hard for it to grow past that.
Cargo Cult Anime
As I mentioned in Episode 6, Galilei Donna is essentially a Cargo Cult Anime. It has the trappings and motions of a great series, but the elements are not made of the right stuff to make it engaging.
And it is so close, so close to nailing it. But it just lacked that extra bit of leg work. The most common trait in the character section was stereotypes. Because that is how Galilei Donna handled its characters, as stereotypes, not people to be loved.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are basically two approaches to characterization in an ensemble show, which Galilei Donna qualifies. The first is start with characters. You then put them in the script. This tends to leave them a little hard to get used to, though. And in a short series (an unusually short series), it is usually ill-advised. The other method is to make all the characters archetypes. Then, through interaction off each other and assigning certain plot details, each one eventually emerges from the flat archetype into a more rounded character. I believe it was Galilei Donna’s intention to adopt that latter approach. But the eventual roundness never came. The characters basically remained the same from beginning to end, with very slight movements so as to imitate a functioning cardio system.
And perhaps best is the fact that this is a DaVinci Code ripoff. It has the same elements depending on how you tell it in summation. But none of the movement and fluidity of a story. It has its marks, and it hits them, that you see coming from a mile away. I’m sure you are all familiar with this image.
Galilei Donna is this in spades. But it focused on the big nodes of story. It was like trying to make a suit. They had all the copy-pasted pieces necessary. But they didn’t have the little things, the thread that holds it all together, to give it a real shape. The slightest amount of scrutiny and examination and the whole mess falls apart. It is a display piece only, lacking any inherent strength of its own.
For example: Episode 6, the hospital and attempt at foreshadowing. The comment made to Anna when she stares at Roberto is, “Lady, you’re staring like you’re his girlfriend.” This was obnoxious and obvious.
There is a fun to be had in anticipating shows. There is fun in being proven right about your theories.
But there is JUST as much enjoyment when a show pulls a fast one on you, that in hindsight, becomes obvious. It is the subtlety and masterful crafting of the story that works.
Galilei Donna missed BOTH of these points. By being so obvious with their foreshadowing, only the most mentally deficient of the audience would feel proud for having “called it”. And by playing their hand so early, they remove the ability to surprise you. As I said in the review for that episode: All you needed was a simple “What are you looking at, lady?” It is JUST enough to call to attention that Anna has an unusual interest in Roberto, yet subtle enough that if you weren’t really paying attention it would slip you by. Galilei Donna tried to set up foreshadowing, because great series use foreshadowing. But they failed. They failed miserably.
And that is just one of many examples. I wanted to love this show, but it didn’t really try to meet me halfway.
The 50 Yard Rebirth
As obnoxious as the first half of Galilei Donna was, though, it did offer this season’s biggest surprise. Episode 7, Episode 8, and Episode 9 form a trilogy of suddenly fantastic episodes in this show’s second half. Episode 8 is the weakest of these links, but it was still comparatively competent next to some of the others in this lineup, scoring an easy 4th best episode, if not 3rd. But episode 9 easily ranks as the best of the series, with 7 a very close second.
For whatever reason, those glimpses we caught of truly magnificent professionalism in the early half seemed to stage a mutiny and direct this second half (though the finale was a return to the status quo). Tone was rock solid. The soundtrack was not only complimentary to the script, but a narrative tool of its own in places. The dialogue was subdued and natural, the characters were believably normal in extraordinary circumstances. All of the elements came together in this bloc and truly, truly knocked me off my feet with how good it was compared to what I had been expecting.
That is not to say there were not weak spots. Roberto couldn’t be saved, he remained as cartoonishly thugish as always, and he dragged down the tension in all of his scenes by his very presence. Anna’s “betrayal” was poorly foreshadowed the episodes before, so that lacked any dramatic tension, but when it came time for her to save the girls she had grown attached to, there were actually doubts in my mind watching through if she would actually stand up for the right thing.
But if the show had been like this throughout, with a few weaknesses but solid delivery? I could easily rank it as a win.
I, sadly, cannot do as such.
As if to punctuate my overall opinion, Galilei Donna’s finale was back to the generic wallpaper anime tropes it employed in its first half. It used them, but it barely understood how to execute them, and not in interesting ways.
So I must on the whole give Galilei Donna, in its entirety, an Anna stamp of….
An experience. It is not a good popcorn flick to marathon on a rainy Sunday. It may appeal to a certain…lower mental skill demographic? Not even children, but just stupid people. It is not so bad that it is good.
But it does have an interesting universe. Concepts such as the air-mechs and sky pirates. And really, it is far more interesting to watch from the structural level. To see these elements, the fantastic animation and direction, side by side with the third grade dialogue (not written for third graders. Written BY third graders), it is a strange experience that I feel would lessen me without having experienced it….but neither can I willingly recommend it and send anyone into this show blind.
I recommend picking it up, but only with the HUGEST of asterisks, and the stipulation that you outright skip episodes 3 and 4. The series actually flows better without them, so long as you accept the girls have found some of the sketches they set out to discover in episode 2.