Of all the anime I’m ever going to talk about, this one is hands down the strangest and, at times, most surreal. It’s also one of the weirder examples of anime I’ve ever come across, while managing to be one of he most watchable, as you try to just figure out what the hell is going on, what’s going to happen next, and how it’s going to end.
Based on a visual novel style video game from ROOT, which came out in the way back of 2002, the 13 episode anime adaptation was produced by Studio Dean in 2003, who made what I’ve read are some pretty hefty changes to the way the plot unfolds. All the same characters are there, as I understand it, but the story follows a very different path. Since I haven’t even played the game, I can’t say if this is for the best or not.
The story follows high school student Azuma Hazuki, who has fallen in love with her adopted older sister, Hatsumi, to the point she can barely stand it. A mute, Hatsumi is warm and friendly with everyone she meets, while the tomboyish Hazuki is more aloof with strangers, frequently stepping in when she feels a boy is trying to take advantage of her kind hearted sister.
Of course, because she’s in love with Hatsumi, there’s way more to her actions, and try as she might to bury those feelings, she just can’t seem to. Even when other students at the all girls school she attends confess to her, she barely even registers it.
After seeing Hatsumi passionately kissing a boy, Hazuki flies into a jealous rage, causing Hatsumi to be injured, a mild cut on her wrist by a letter opener. Overwhelmed with horror at what she’s become, Hazuki continues to try and bury her feelings, but only manages to make herself even more miserable.
On the evening before Hatsumi’s 16th birthday, shortly after the letter opener incident, Hazuki goes to her room, where she apologizes to the sleeping Hatsumi. Deciding to steal a single kiss before forcing herself to give up on her feelings for good, no matter how hard it is, she is startled when, as the clock strikes midnight, Hatsumi speaks her name, and vanishes in a flash of brilliant green light.
Panic stricken, Hazuki searches the entire house before returning to Hatsumi’s room, trying to understand what has happened. A few minutes later, a large, fat, talking parakeet arrives, bemoaning the fact that he has missed Eve yet again. Startled, but realizing this talking bird has something to do with Hatsumi’s disappearance, Hazuki forces the parakeet, named Ken, to help her find Hatsumi.
Finally giving in to her demands, Ken transports her to The Great Library, a place where every world that ever has, or will exist can be accessed by way of a book. There, Hazuki meets the guardian of the Library, a Goddess who is also searching for Hatsumi, though she knows her by her true name, Eve, and that she isn’t a mute high school student, but a fellow Goddess.
Deciding to team up, and with Ken in tow, they head out into the multiverse in search of some sign of the missing Goddess, meeting many people and helping solve problems in their transdimensional world hopping.
What makes this show so weird, besides the premise, is that the story isn’t really told in a liner fashion. The various different worlds they visit are interspersed with episode long flashbacks to precipitating events for both Hazuki, the Library Guardian, and another character, an immortal alchemist, who is also searching for Eve, for reasons of his own.
You don’t so much watch Yami To Boushi To Hon No Tabibito as you piece it together over the course of the 13 episode run. Which isn’t exactly a bad thing, as I don’t think the story would have worked any other way. Most all of the flashbacks come in with relevant information at just the right time to be enlightening, and the full story of the alchemist, while told in a completely out of sequence way, actually makes him a more compelling character.
Most interesting of all is that the show rewards the viewer for watching it a second time, as knowing how things unfold gives you new insight into things, and makes the many little clues dropped throughout much more apparent the next time through. So, I don’t just recommend you watch it, but that you watch it at least twice.
The animation overall is very well done, if somewhat dated looking now, 13 years later. That I’m aware, the series has never gotten an HD remaster, or an English dub, so if you decide to check it out, be prepared for the smaller screen format and subtitles. Worth it in my mind for the excellent story the show tells.
The design of each character is very well done, making even the guest characters from the various worlds they visit distinct and unique. While the camera is occasionally used in a bit of leery way with the large number of female characters this show has, it never actually manages to undermine the characters themselves. In fact, one many occasions, the mild fan service is used to highlight various things about the characters.
Which is really weird. You guys know I’m not wild about fan service to begin with, so whenever I see it used in a way that actually informs the characters in some way that is actually important, it always throws me for a loop. It’s hard to explain it, and will hopefully make more sense if you watch the show, but for now, trust me on this. It’s fan service, or more likely a bit ecchi, but it works in a way that not many shows can pull off.
One of the real stars of the series, however, is the music. Never intrusive, but beautifully done all the way through, it adds that bit of extra oomph. Which is the right way to use music in any kind of filmed media, if you ask me. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’d love to own the soundtrack, it’s very well done, with more than a few pretty memorable pieces.
While the plot is hard to follow the first time through, everything comes together in the end, in a pretty satisfying way. Most notable, though, is the lack of any actual villain to the overall story. Every one of the major characters is doing things for their own reasons, but none of them are actually evil, or even all the malicious. There’s a couple who are misguided, or somewhat selfish, but nobody is the bad guy in this story, and everyone gets a resolution their story arc that is earned, and as close to a happy ending as possible.
Finally, there’s the real reason I love this show so much. You guys know I’m a sucker for bad ass ladies, and damn, but this show is overflowing with them. Starting with Hazuki’s single minded focus to find the woman she loves, she encounters numerous bad ass ladies who change her own character, making her stronger in a wide variety of ways. And I do mean a wide variety.
The tough as nails spy she meets in an early episode may seem like a damsel to the various men trying to use her for their own ends, but she kicks all their asses when the time is right, and she’s got the information she needs. The young woman in a primitive culture she later encounters is driven by her strong faith. The Princess she encounters in a feudal type world is kind and compassionate. The young woman she meets in a sci fi reality is brave and fearless, even in the face of death.
Each of these women, and others, are strong in different ways that never compromise their intelligence of capabilities, and by the end of the series, Hazuki has learned something from each of them, becoming a better, more well rounded person herself. This is definitely a women centered show, even with the occasional ecchi overtones, and in many ways, a celebration of lesbianism, as several of the women Hazuki encounters develop feelings for her as she helps them deal with the problems they face, and is sometimes helped to face her own problems by them.
Hazuki herself is often portrayed as cold and distant, capable of kicking seven shades of ass, but ultimately, lonely and lost in a world she doesn’t feel a part of. One of my favorite scenes in the entire show is when the feudal era Princess just holds her, and allows Hazuki to be weak, sad, and afraid, a side of herself the stoic Hazuki rarely shows to others.
About the only thing about the show that isn’t very well done is any kind of explanation for how the Library itself came to exist, or was overseen by two different Goddesses. Which is a pretty minor quibble, really, as the show doesn’t overly suffer from this lack of an explanation. There’s a few places where characters have some odd wardrobe choices as well, but in the end, I put it down to the the rather oddball nature of the show as a whole that it doesn’t try to explain why the characters dress the way they do.
Overall, it’s a incredibly well done series, with a lot going for it, that outshines it’s few weak points to deliver a touching tale of a young woman who is willing to travel entire alternate universes in search of the one person she loves.
Check it out. It’s worth the ride.