Saint Luminous Mission High School
After his grandfather dies, high school student Kijima Kaihei finds that he has inherited the position of chairman at his grandfather's school: the all-girls' liberal arts oriented St. Luminous Mission High School. The new position itself would be enough stress in of itself, but as soon as Kaihei arrives, one of the St. Luminous' students disappears. What at first simply appears to be a simple unauthorized outing takes on a more sinister cast as another student disappears into thin air in front of a witness. Now Kaihei has to unravel the secrets of these disappearances before it is too late.
This is an odd show. I suppose the best way to briefly describe it is to say this is the kind of show that would be produced if you crossed Twin Peaks with something like Sentimental Journey or To Heart.
You know after I got to watching this, I was positively convinced that it was based on some sort of dating sim game. Just the general plot flow of each episode focusing slightly on a different young woman along with accompanying character development and even various show elements, were somewhat indicative of such a heritage. My initial research seems to indicate that a game was made based on the show but the show itself was made first. I guess that makes sense, because the show, in many ways, does well lend itself well to a potential game interface.
The central core of this show involves the mystery of the disappearing students. Kaihei is very concerned, of course, about all of this and throws himself into the investigation all the while being guided by enigmatic messages received over a beeper or the cryptic advice handed out by a strange old woman who lives in the area. Actually, the show does a rather good job of generating a slightly surreal atmosphere to help deepen the mystery. In fact, I think that keeping events a bit more bizarre and the plot occasionally a bit less predictable was useful. It did help to mask certain plot holes that can nag at the overly analytical viewer (like myself for instance). It is a lot easier to accept certain inconsistencies when obviously unusual and/or potentially supernatural things are occurring after all.
Over the course of the show, they did a good of job of giving greater insight into what might be going on but didn't give away too much at any one time and thus completely ruin the built up tension and mystery. Even in certain episodes were they clearly clarify a few of the individual mysteries about particular elements of what is going on, they still manage to keep the overall truth about what is going on from being too obvious. I was satisfied with the final conclusion to the mystery though there were a few loose ends I wish they would have elaborated a bit more on.
Though the question, "Why are these girls disappearing?" helps generate the sense of tension and viewer curiosity that is one of the show’s main strength, certain plot elements related to the same question also highlight certain plot holes. When the show begins and the only girl who is missing is a girl who is known for occasionally disappearing, it made more sense that the St. Luminous staff would be content with doing their own investigation. They are, after all, an apparently prestigious private school and wouldn't want too much attention from the media or the police. When the number of disappearing girls start rising and there is even some suggestion it might be some sort of criminal, plausibility begins to get a bit stretched. They do address the issues somewhat, but this show was teetering on the edge of my personally acceptable suspension of disbelief at times because of that. I think they could have easily included a police element to help eliminate that plot hole without significantly weakening the show. It just seemed like people were a bit too blase about seeing people disappear right in front of them. As I noted earlier, the atmosphere of the show helps off-set some of this, but I think it should have been more directly addressed in a better manner.
There also was the inclusion of a few elements that seemed to, overall, distract from both the plot or the exploration of the personalities of the girls. Kaihei is accompanied to the school by his friend, Ryuuzo. Ryuuzo is determined to go to the school, so he disguises himself as a girl. I wasn't quite sure what they were trying to accomplish with this cross-dressing plot element. They do have a bit of the standard comedy associated with a man pretending to be a woman (and some brief confusion when the girls assume that Ryuuzo is Kaihei's girlfriend), but it just seemed a bit out of a place in a show that is more serious in tone. They do briefly have some good use of Ryuu's cross-dressing when another student apparently falls in love with Ryuuzo and has some difficulty with her perceived homosexuality. That element could have been explored in greater depth for some interesting drama (or comedy depending on how they wanted to approach) but it was only minimally explored, an unfortunate waste of potential in my opinion.
Besides the mystery aspect, the show's other main strength involved its character work with the girls. As it simultaneously explores some of the standard existential issues that young people grapple with as they face their future and issues more particular to certain individuals, we are introduced to a number of distinct and interesting young women. They all have a different problems, different concerns, different goals, and different talents. They all have distinct personalities without seeming too overly artificial even if a few tend to fit into a few archetypical roles (e.g. uptight nerd, flighty artist). Also interesting to me was how the show explored the network of social relationships and friendships of the St. Luminous student body by the reactions of those left behind. Some girls seem not to care about what is going on and others are completely crushed. I thought it was done well and helped bring the whole St. Luminous community a bit more to life. I think they introduced almost a bit too many characters, as I would have liked to see them concentrate on many of the characters for maybe two episodes instead of the one that many of them got.
Though I had only minor issues with the character design work (though certain characters seemed liked they could have been given a bit more detail), but something about the coloring seemed a bit off, particularly when the characters were combined with the digital backgrounds. It wasn't that it was bad as much as it just seemed that the characters lacked some depth of color and some of the shading work could have been improved. The animation itself is average but there was very little action to really tax that aspect of the show. I will give them credit for a number of interesting alternative shot angles.
I liked the music, though there the limited number of tracks gets recycled a lot for a show that is only thirteen episodes long. There is no opening sequence for this show, but instead the show immediately begins as the rather mood setting theme plays in the background. Most of it tends toward piano work, a bit of saxophone, or the slight occasional bit of string work with the exception of a more straight forward J-Pop ending by ALI Project (actually one of their most normal sounding songs).
While some of the flaws I outlined above keep from me really saying St. Luminous Mission High School is an excellent title, I do admire what they set out to do and I found the overall result entertaining, even if I did have some issues with individual parts of the show.
St. Luminous Mission High School is an intriguing mystery with several interesting characters but it is somewhat weighed down by certain distracting plot holes, extraneous elements, and a certain amount of wasted potential in regards to plot and character development. — Jeremy A Beard
Recommended Audience: For the most part there is very little that is objectionable in this title. There is a bit of fan service in a few scenes, but I suppose the worst element is a pervert teacher who apparently attacks (but is stopped before anything happens) one of the students. Though they don't show it, they do dwell on the idea of the teacher attempting to molest his students for a bit. The very final episode includes some brief imagery that might be disturbing to younger viewers. Ryuu/Ryuuzo's cross-dressing does raise a few issues of homosexuality as a girl does fall in love with him thinking he's a ... well, a her. There are certain other scenes that briefly address that theme as well. Viewers sensitive to such elements should take that into account. I'm probably being overly conservative but I’ll go ahead and say this is best for teens and up. Younger children wouldn’t really be able to relate to the various existential issues and angst of many of the girls anyway.
Version(s) Viewed: digital source
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Saint Luminous Mission High School © 1998 Pioneer LDC
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