Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito
Hatsumi means everything to Hatsuki. They were always together growing up, like sisters, and Hatsuki wants things to stay that way forever in more than a platonic or filial sense. The only problem is that on the stroke of midnight on Hatsumi's sixteenth birthday, she vanishes surrounded by a green light leaving Hatsuki all alone with no idea where her love has gone. Luckily, thanks to a magical round, yellow parakeet named Ken, she finds out that Hatsumi (or Eve as he calls her) has moved onto a different world and she quickly goes off in pursuit, searching for her beloved Hatsumi across worlds and dimension.
When people have talked about guilty pleasures in the past, I am always slightly bemused. What is there to be guilty about liking? What you like is what you like and you will always have your reasons for doing so. Do I feel guilty about watching a kids' show if it is really, really good? Not at all and I can usually explain why, too. But in a way I'm happy now, I am no longer alienated from those conversations - for now I have my anime guilty pleasure and it is called Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito. This is definitely the worst series I have ever loved.
Where do I start, the good or the bad?
The first thing you will notice about this show, for better or for worse, is that it is definitely an eroge adaptation. Practicality was the last thing on the artists' minds when they drew those character designs but, boy, did they do a great job. Hatsuki's sailor suit is simple but immaculate in design, suiting her character perfectly; Lilith's frilly blouse, high waist skirt, black stockings and high heels are fetish in flesh and Hatsumi/Eve/Jill (a single person, by the way) looks fantastic whatever way the animators choose to dress her up. The character designs in themselves betray the show's heritage in their very strong bishoujo designs. Big eyes, hourglass figures with ample busts and long luscious hair comes as standard for any female past puberty but even with that, there obviously has been a lot of thought and care put into the designs. A 'sameness' of character design often plagues series that come from an eroge background (the same face, different hair syndrome) but the individuality of even one-off characters is striking. Even with the concerted (and very successful) effort the series makes to have its female cast all be as attractive as possible, characters have different builds and face shapes that make them instantly recognisable at all times. Throw in some great backdrops and the artwork becomes the part of the show that about which I can see no complaints forthcoming. The plot structure on the other hand...
This show is aimless, if not in reality then certainly in delivery. Aside from the final few episodes, you could almost have watched this series in any order and it would have made as much sense as it did if it were not for its habit of having its individual stories cross over and around episodes whenever it felt like it. In the opening episode alone, we face the opening I described in the synopsis and then find ourselves immediately whisked off to a Trans-Siberian sleeper train where a mysterious girl, called Lilith, with a huge hat, accompanies Hatsuki for no stated or even implied reason until we get to watch their first meeting later on in the show. In fact, outside of Hatsuki and Hatsumi, the show makes a habit of only giving characters a full introduction an episode or two after they first appear - whether it is Lilith, Gargantua, etc. To be fair to the series though, I actually found this set-up quite interesting. It certainly added a context and an interest to the 'flashback' sections and avoided uselessly introducing characters then immediately adding their back-story. In that sense, the series used its runtime well but it still remains a rather viewer-unfriendly method of working.
Where the show's use of runtime is questionable is in some of the content of the stories. A few of the episodes have no bearing on the main plot and sometimes consist of one-off side characters taking the fore, leaving Hatsuki and Lilith as bit players in a series where they are meant to be protagonists. These stories are not boring or bad really but they are certainly digressions from a much more interesting main plot and characters. It is not helpful that the majority of the side characters are completely underdeveloped and fail to be particularly interesting. The comic relief is also a mixed bag; Lilith and Ken make a funny team but characters like Gargantua's minions are just painful to watch. People uncomfortable with lesbianism played for laughs (the series plays it serious and silly) might find many of the Lilith/Hatsuki interactions particularly off-putting though it never hits us over the head too hard with it.
Where YamiBou does get it seriously right, though, is with its main characters. I can honestly say, in one way or another, that I adore every single one of them. As a group, they have depth, loveable amounts of character and are fascinatingly relatable. Best of all, the show has no problems looking at its cast critically - letting each of them exist in shades of grey rather than black and white like so many other shows. Even Garguantua, the man with 'token villain' written all over his forehead, is painfully pitiful and sympathetic and casts a really interesting reflection of Hatsuki (our supposed protagonist) in terms of motivation. They are not too dissimilar in many ways. Hatsumi, a character who lauded as an almost messianic figure throughout by a large number of the cast, is far from immune to this critical analysis and comes across as a fully-fledged three-dimensional character with her own strengths and flaws despite such a limited amount of airtime. It is also impressive how the characters transcend whatever cliche they might have been based on. Hatsuki is an ice queen through and through but we see much more than just that through her interactions with others, especially Hatsumi, and by these we see both strengths and weaknesses in her character, her desires and her ability to interact with others. Lilith, at first glance, seems to be little more than a comic relief character with added fetish fuel (an unsubtle fanservice vehicle in the broadest and narrowest sense of the term). She is as sultry as a desert wind but as cute as a perfect kitten/puppy/bunny rabbit hybrid with a speech impediment; but she even ends up being perhaps the most complex character of them all! Her relationship with Hatsuki, despite being played for laughs, gives us real clues to her character and insecurities. Her relationship with Eve (i.e. Hatsumi) we see also has its own serious complexity despite the limited time they spend together on screen, but even their limited interactions reveal more about each character than an episodes worth of exposition.
That all said, the show's tone and presentation do not help its cause when it comes to delivering its serious moments. As I mentioned before, for a show that is a tragic love story at its heart, YamiBou spends too much time being quite silly. I would not blame anybody for missing Lilith's complexity under all her ditsy antics and tail chasing or Garguantua's tragic nature under all his campy prancing. I will admit that shouting "What were you thinking!?" at the screen was almost an episodic ritual that equalled every moment of brilliance almost one for one. That, alongside plot threads or thematic points that seem to drift off into oblivion, were starting to give me a bruise where I kept slapping my forehead. It is also hard to take a series this erogenous seriously. To its credit, this show does ecchi seriously well and any director looking to make an ecchi show should sit down and watch this first before they are let loose. I am not someone too keen on fanservice but even I am forced to take my hat off and shove a twenty into this show's g-string for the sheer quality of it and with extremely limited nudity too.
The thing is, though... I can overlook almost everything for one simple reason:
Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito is not boring. Even when I am screaming at the screen for the show's stupidity, I am having fun. Even when I am fascinated by a revealing moment that adds so much depth and thematic weight to the proceedings, I am having fun. Even when I do not have a clue what is going on, I am having fun. Fun is what makes this show worthwhile. Even when its great plot and fantastic characterisation are floundering in periodic missteps this show never loses that key attribute that makes it my guilty pleasure. Sometimes so bad, it is good and sometimes so good it is great but always, always fun.
It is a soft four stars I will admit but an average score of three would not do such an interesting show justice (it is interesting if nothing else). A lot of it will be subject to personal taste, more so than normal, so take a star away if you need your plotting to be tight, take away another if you find ecchi content off-putting, take away another if you are not in a forgiving mood but add one if you just crave something different. So your personal rating should be somewhere between one and five stars - it is just that kind of show. — Aiden Foote
Recommended Audience: Teens and above. Lesbianism might offend some and there's implied incest and torture. Plenty of fan-service and minor violence.
Version(s) Viewed: Pre-license digital source
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito © 2003 ORBIT / Yamiyama Library Management Association
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