The World is Still Beautiful
When Princess Nike of the Rain Kingdom learns that she is to marry the Sun King, sovereign of the world's largest empire, as part of a deal to maintain her kingdom's independence, she is completely unsure of what to expect; even so, she is still shocked when she finally meets her fiancee, a precocious and short-statured 12-year old boy. The king, Livius, initially seems cold towards her and twisted and unpleasant in general; he furthermore demands that she perform a rain summoning, a special power held by those in the Rain Kingdom, for his entertainment, in spite of the fact that this event is sacred there. The two have a very long way to go if this marriage is ever to be a remotely happy one....
I can't discuss The World is Still Beautiful without mentioning how misleading first impressions can be. One episode into this show, I was just about ready to jettison it due to its seemingly trite "character gets roped into an unwanted engagement" backstory, which I've rarely enjoyed; I loathed Engaged to the Unidentified from the previous season, for example. In addition, the first episode is centered around the antics of two ruffians whose tired and unpleasant antics seemed poised to take over the show, and who made a heinous joke about raping a captured girl in order to "please the male viewers," which in my case would have completely backfired. Needless to say, this show didn't give me a good first impression. I'm happy, in hindsight, that I stuck with it, because past this disaster of an opening, I found it to be a sweet and enjoyable romance, if not necessarily an especially deep one, whose humor and dynamic lead characters ultimately rescue a potentially run-of-the-mill romantic drama from mediocrity.
Indeed, I grew very fond of Nike throughout the course of this show. For one thing, "Cinderella" stories of a peasant girl falling in love with an aristocrat rarely handle class issues with much grace, nor do they tend to give the newly-made princess much of a voice. I did appreciate that throughout the show, Nike very much remains the energetic, positive, and free-spirited person she starts out as, and that she is ultimately the one who enacts a change on the lonely and embittered Livius without drastically compromising her own personality. Furthermore, she takes as level-headed a view of her new queenship as one in this situation possibly could, cringing at some of the royal palace's over-the-top practices (such as the ridiculously tight corsets a trio of overenthuiastic maids repeatedly tries to get her to wear), while also digging into why Livius is as twisted as he is without bowing to his oft-ridiculous demands. She's capable of taking care of herself, as she largely gets herself out of several jealous aristocrats' plots to get rid of her, and she consistently made me laugh throughout the show's run; one of the funniest moments comes when she dresses up Livius as a girl to disguise him and tells him how cute a little sister he would make. Give the premise of the show, their relationship surprisingly does develop a nice dynamic as it progresses, and while Livius' motivations for being so bitter and cruel aren't anything new (the death of his mother, the scorn of those who disdain him for the circumstances of his birth, etc.), it's actually refreshing to see the degree to which Nike's abilities and headstrong personality start to interest him and, eventually, cause her to grow on him; the slow pace, in this case, serves the purpose of giving the character development a semi-realistic pace rather than that of staving off the inevitable.
This isn't to say that the show is perfect in those regards. Though the aforementioned ruffians disappear after their first episode, to my immense relief, there are still some aspects of Livius' and Nike's relationship that left me with an odd feeling. Some of his behavior, such as throwing her in a prison cell for merely talking to his older brother, whom he is highly jealous of, is immensely out of line, and while the show more-or-less ties up that arc, he never gets the chewing out I felt he deserved for doing that sort of thing. The age gap between the two is also never really addressed, and the show seems to more-or-less gloss over that due to Livius' relative maturity. Indeed, in spite of Livius' short stature and childlike features, he doesn't really come across as being that much of a child, but when the show did briefly edge into the realm of the two "wanting" each other later in the series, it gave me a bit of pause. A mistranslated page of the manga apparently gives Livius' age as being 15, and perhaps the story would simply have been better if it had gone down that route.
Still, I was rooting pretty strongly for the pair by the end, where the romantic aspect culminates in a basic but effective plot to keep the two apart that successfully shows how fond they've grown of each other. While the supporting cast often functions more as comic relief than anything else, it generally is effective in this regard: Livy's chef, who is constantly attempting to circumvent the maids' bizarre orders to decrease the calorie content of Nike's food, is a riot, as are Nike's overenthusiastic sisters, who get a kick out of the fact that Livius looks good dressed up in just about anything (even women's clothing, as mentioned earlier).
Now, I wouldn't go into The World Is Still Beautiful hoping for something that is deep and groundbreaking, for while it does give Nike a greater degree of autonomy than most shoujo leads, the plot itself is not original, nor is the setting especially well-constructed. Ultimately, the show is a feel-good romance: the main romance made me happy, the side characters and Nike's humorous reactions to the nonsense of the palace gave me a good laugh many times, and those two aspects are by far the show's strongest. While I do like the character design quite a bit, the animation itself isn't anything special, and the music tends to be overused, particularly one off-key insert song, "Tender Rain", that is used just about every time that Nike summons the rain. Nor, meanwhile, does the setting of the world extend much beyond one kingdom's raining constantly, another's having constant sun; the Sun Kingdom, not California, must be who is draining the Colorado River to irrigate its crops. Indeed, when thought about for too long, there are aspects of The World is Still Beautiful that either don't make much sense or appear poorly thought-out: for one thing, it constructs a strange sort of imperialism, with the Sun Kingdom's population wearing aristocratic European attire and the Rain Kingdom's population wearing robes that resemble those of Edo-era Japan (or possibly of the Ainu people), and it doesn't seem to me that much thought was put into this. When examined closely, there are also certain characters, particularly those who attempt to orchestrate Nike and Livy's separation (whose names I won't give, due to spoilers), whose drastic actions ultimately seem excessive considering their ultimate motivations for keeping the two apart. The World is Still Beautiful is as guilty as many other romances are of stretching belief in order to create drama; I give it some more credit that most because I happen to like the characters, but I wouldn't say that the drama is especially well-written.
Nonetheless, I greatly enjoyed The World is Still Beautiful. I can ultimately only give it a cautious recommendation, because while I liked its characters enough to overcome its faulty logic and the fact that it's basic plot is pretty standard, that won't hold true for some viewers. Furthermore, the bad taste of the first episode lingers; having glanced at the first volume of the manga, it seems that those two ruffians and the terrible joke they make were concocted by the animation staff, which makes sense given how out of place the story felt, and that makes me feel less suspicious of the mangaka than I might've otherwise. Regardless, it's an atrocious way to introduce the series, given how much fun I eventually had with it.
This isn't a strong four stars, but after getting through the messy, heinous filler that was the first episode, the characters and the style of humor grew on me immensely. — Nicoletta Christina Browne
Recommended Audience: There's not a lot in here that would warrant censorship: there's very little violence and basically nothing in the way of sex or profanity. The joke about the ruffians having fun with a captive girl against her will is awful, but thankfully it's a one-off instant. Nike and Livy do kiss and talk about "wanting" each other, which is a bit weird given his age, also. That aspect aside, I think it'd be fine for older kids and above to see this.
Version(s) Viewed: Stream courtesy of crunchyroll.com (Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (12/12)
The World is Still Beautiful © 2014 Dai Shiina, Hakusensha/VAP, NTV
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