Second Impressions – Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii

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Now that was an example of a show living up to its title.

I haven’t had great luck with my main sleeper picks this season – apart from this series only Hitsugi no Chaika still has a pulse in that department – but I’m pretty confident Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii has it locked down.  The premiere was very good, but this episode was an order of magnitude better – one of the best episodes of any new series this season, one that picked up on all the promise the first episode showed and brought it to fruition.  It’s a good argument for why good shoujo – especially good shoujo fantasy – deserves a bigger place at the table when it comes to anime adaptations.

After all the falsehood, pretense and gimmickry of Mekaku City Actors, I literally felt as if Soredemo was a cleansing rain washing over me metaphorically just as it did literally in the episode.  There are no gimmicks to this show – it’s a clever and uncomplicated premise, with archetypal characters brought off in an interesting and likeable way, presented with straightforward old-school animation and music.  Rather than a product of desperately trying to exploit the flavor of the week Soredemo Sekai is no more or less at home on an anime schedule in 2014 than it would have been in 2004, or 1994.  It may not be brilliant (well, it may just be – we’ll see) but is sure is damn refreshing.

There’s a very interesting dynamic among the main cast here, with Livius looking so much like Ciel Phantomhive and acting a bit like him too and Sugita Tomokazu on hand very much in Chamber-mode with Neil, the manservant.  Livius is arrogant and calculating, but at no time here is he mocked or dismissed.  It’s clear from the beginning that he’s also brilliant, capable and concerned with the welfare of his nation as a whole.  Pains are also taken to show the underlying emotions that drive him – via the dreams Nike sees, apparently a product of her ability to call the wind.  The fact that she starts seeing them while a prisoner in his dungeon after refusing to call the rain is no small point, but it was an interesting way to make a connection between the two of them.

Nike is no less interesting than Livius, and her powers are interesting as well.  Yeah, she’s the spunky tomboy princess we’ve seen before – but that’s not all she is.  Being from a small backwater Duchy she doesn’t have the sense of entitlement that Livius does, and she has both a vigorous curiosity and an empathy for others, even those who are doing ill by her as Livius initially is.  I liked the way her rain-calling power was conceived – it depends on her connection with the person requesting the rain, and on the emotions of that person.  It conveniently gives her a reason to connect with Livius, but it also meshes perfectly with her own personality.

I think a lot can be said about Nike’s nature by her reaction to Livius’ “flowers are flowers” comment – “What a waste.”  Her concern is with the untapped potential in Livius, and in his emotionally closed-off nature.  She has every reason to be angry and she initially is, but her dominant emotion is sadness over what he’s become.  Being who she is, though, she doesn’t mope over it but tries to forcefully drag him out of himself.  And this seems to be going pretty well until an assassination attempt (politics in the Sun Kingdom are obviously a very dangerous game) prompts her to throw herself in front of the arrow intended for him – and prompts Livius to order her sent back to the Rain Country for her own protection.

I like both these people a lot (Neil too), and the situation as well.  Livius is brilliant and responsible, but with a strong daredevil side and more than a little ruthlessness.  Nike is reckless and impetuous, but both smart and determined.  There’s enormous potential in their relationship, even if she initially sees him as a “little brother” – I’m an enormous fan of the central relationship in Otoyomegatari and the innocent sort of romance it portrays, but the gap is not so wide here – I can see love developing between these two people in fairly short order, and not just sibling love at that.  They’re good for each other an complement each other, which I suspect Neil already knows and will therefore do his best to help the growth of that love along.

Insert Song: “Ame Furashi no Uta~Beautiful Rain~ (アメフラシの歌~Beautiful Rain~;The Song of Falling Rain)” by Rena

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I think the climactic scene of the episode pretty much speaks for itself.  The soundtrack by Yamashita Kousuke – who did the music for Chihayafuru among other series – is excellent top to bottom, and the insert song “Ame Furashi no Uta” is a great addition.  It’s integrated perfectly into the episode and lovely (as performed by Maeda Rena) in its own right.  I could hardly think of a better payoff than the inspiration Nike finds to call the rain – Livius’ feelings for the mother who was assassinated herself, who longed to see the rain and never did.  This isn’t going to be a miracle than transforms Livius into a different person – and I wouldn’t want it to be.  His qualities don’t just make him interesting as a character – they make him a good ruler.  What this will do is start he and Nike down the road towards a life together, and that’s a journey I’m very much looking forward to.

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19 comments

  1. S

    I can only wholeheartly agree with your review. Nike's character is just so likeable and fun. Her interaction with Livius are a joy to watch. There are many stories where a female lead slowly softens a cold hearted male lead, but I can't remember ever seeing this happen in a setting, where the male lead is still a kid. Damn, there are just so many interesting show's this season to follow.

  2. F

    Well, we are completely on the same page for this one. ^^

    I also thought ep 2 was very well executed when all is said and done. And refreshing is a very good description. Both Nike and Livius are interesting non cardboard characters with strengths and weaknesses but they are… umm… "real folks" and mesh well together, but in a natural way.

    Having read through a fair amount of the manga all I can say is that if they continue to be faithful to the narrative as they were in ep 2 we are in for a real treat. Like lovingly prepared home made cooking after months of fast food and insta-ramen, maybe. XD

  3. R

    I'm still sobbing over Mekaku City Actors. It almost physically hurt, but I'm also really glad to have this show on board. I say it every chance I get, but I love fantasy. And the sort of whimsical fantasy shoujo can do is even better. It feels like a dying breed these days so I was super happy to see this show on the season. I've never read the source, so I'm looking forwards to things based solely on the anime's performance. And a wonderful performance it is so far.

  4. t

    it was excellent.
    I enjoyed the premiere last week, which was a sort of welcoming introduction, but this week is way better. finally we get to see what this series is really about, how it's gonna be, who is in the focus and finally it's the formal introduction since this was chapter #1 of the manga. we get to see the 2 MC interact with each other so we get to know a lot about them, especially their nature – tomboy princess which know due to ep #1, but also Livi the sun king and his view. and I admit, it worked and clicked for me since there is…like great chemistry with what I see on the screen – the comic relief, the flow of events and its effects on the characters..it's all stepping in the right pace with the right feeling. I can't say it's perfect or brilliant, but Soredemo Sekai is doing very good so far.
    the highlight of this episode was the rain scene with this excellent song. this song tells a lot about the MC – it directed toward Livi, the listener, who must understand a few things even though he is a kingd (and not a bad despite being a child). and Nike that is delivering the beauty and charm of this world (and herself too :P).

  5. J

    I'm with you, Enzo, except for the song. I think it was totally out of place in a period piece.

  6. I guess you have to be a bit of a sentimentalist (or a romantic) the overlook the anachronism of it. I could have down without the English verses, I will admit.

  7. H

    I also felt like the song was really out of place, after reading the manga (which never has lyrics to the songs of anything) I was expecting something more hymnal with words you can't quite break out, having j-pop reaaaally threw me out of it. Heck the tone of the whole show throws me, it takes talent to take a show which feels like a generic mid-to-late 2000s shojo show and make it feel like a generic mid-to-late 1990s shojo show, although that's probably all thanks to the director here.

  8. A

    I loved the song. If you think it was cheesy, then fine, but I think it was just quite wonderful in that way of the musical where you don't want to think about where the backing music is coming from and it doesn't matter what the song's like so much as getting the emotion across.
    Anyway, if you're going to sing about rain, English is a good language given how much it rains here!!!

  9. S

    I was a bit disappointed in that the episode felt kind of rushed – I was expecting these developments to be more nuanced and take place over multiple episodes – and definitely didn't share your opinion on the insert song: a simply vocal, and less Jpop-ish song would have worked much better in context. But it was a nice episode nevertheless, I think that classic feeling that you describe is what makes this show charming.

  10. M

    I agree. Too many things happened in this episode, and none of them matched well in terms of tone. I also found the insert song very reminiscent of Korean dramas. Maybe it would have been better to play the ED through the summoning sequence?

  11. M

    Ditto. Things jumped from one thing to the next. Didn't care for the insert song either way – nicer than the ED I guess?

    I see strong potential in the writing here, but the execution is letting it down a bit. There's a lot more in Soredemo than can be said of Captain Earth right now – which I somehow endured straight after this.

  12. Z

    I also agree. The scene transitions in this series are rather poor. One minute the main characters are having a "moment" and the next an arrow pops out of a bush. Also characters seem to teleport all over the place. Execution is not this series forte.

  13. T

    I have to agree about the song I didn't like it. Now while I hated ah my goddess I think the Celtic music used in the opening themes would have worked better soredemo utsukushii. Anyways I do enjoy the chemistry of these two characters and look forward to see their relationship grow.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oj-gT2kqeEw
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vqvo0HpBzyk

  14. M

    For the first few minutes there I thought "Nooooooo,Livius is gonna be an annoying stereotypical shoujo anime brat type character isn't he?" but it turns out that he's fairly likeable.

    As for the show on the whole,I almost forgot the feeling an old school fantasy anime gives and I gotta say,I really missed it. The fact that it's airing in spring makes it all the better.

    Expecting good things from this one!

  15. Someone on another board mentioned that this could almost be the plot for a Broadway musical, and I can kind of see that.

  16. M

    Man on the one hand I rather like this show. Mostly due to Nike and the other characters being quite a bit of fun. I just wish the whole thing was better executed. The pacing was so rushed this episode. The amount of developments and jumping around left me thinking it would have played out better over 2-3 episodes. The song-insert/rain finale seemed like something that should have come after much more development between the King and Nike. And that song did not fit at all.

    Also it doesn't help that little details throw me out of the experience.
    – Characters teleporting all over the place. Not only do the assistant and Nike travel miles back to the palace and the fire is still relatively small (fires are faster than you think), but then Nike teleports to a roof of one of the buildings!
    – How did that rain put out the fire? They need to actually show something that makes sense and not just hope the viewer will let it slide.
    – Rainbows need water in the air. Also that was a little too hokey.

  17. T

    I noticed that too, Livius must have some super speed or something to get to the Tower Nike was at after just noticing her getting up there herself from his office. By the time the song came up for the climax, I have to be honest I was laughing. Of any song we could have Nike sing, it was a Jpop piece that sounded like it came out in 2004? Even if the show feels like it came out in that time it doesn't have to try THAT hard.

    This doesn't really ruin the show for me though and that's because I did think this episode did a good job of improving from the first, yeah it was kinda rushed but honestly I'm kinda glad we got this stuff out of the way so we could keep going. I don't have an issue with slower paced shows, but I already knew this kind of development would happen so I'm glad it didn't overstay it's welcome and to me it didn't really feel any less effective (sans the song).

  18. A

    I do really love this series. Elsewhere I said that fortunately Nike is more of a Ghibli Princess than a Disney Princess, and the Princess saving the King is a nice reversal. She is a very enjoyable character and this is so far a very enjoyable series.

  19. I'm with you Shepherd-kun, on everything except the Engrish lyrics…

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