There are some anime out there awesome… and then there are the series that go one step beyond. These are the series that just somehow go against all boundaries and expectations I could have had for it, and have something nearly impossible to describe. When I take a look at the series that I managed to rate at 95/100 and 94/100 through the nearly four years that I’ve been blogging, I keep getting surprised at how little of them look like the masterpieces that they are from the outside. I guess that such a list of personal favourites is incredibly personal, and different for everyone, but every time one of these appears, they truly remind me why I’m still blogging.
As for Strange Dawn, it too doesn’t look like anything special from the outside, however, I was completely proven wrong when I started watching it, about two years ago. Unfortunately, it was nearly unfindable for neither subs nor raws, but I finally managed to find a bunch of French subs for the entire series. It completely blew me away; Junichi Sato (who directed also Kaleido Star, Aria, Magic Users Club and Umi Monogatari) has done an absolutely fantastic job on this series.
Anyway, about Strange Dawn. Its basic premise has been done many times before: high-schoolers end up in some kind of parallel dimension and have some adventures. What sets itself apart from the others is a terrific execution. For starters, it breaks tons of stereotypes that these series have. Usually when a lead character crosses into a new world, he turns out to conveniently acquire some new superpower or something: either he becomes incredibly good at swordfighting, or has the magical Deus ex Machina beam, turns out to be royalty or gets saved by some sort of royalty. Yuko and Eri instead stay exactly the same. Instead, their importance to the story comes from the fact that they ended up in a country full of midgets, hence their natural strength when compared to all of these small people, and that becomes the major driving force of the story.
And there are more of these things: the creators take nothing for granted here, they explain the problems the two girls face when they have to deal with the strange world they ended up in; from eating and taking care of their clothes to sleeping and going to the bathroom (especially the latter is a running plot thread). In fact, the entire series has an incredible sense of detail: during the quiet parts in the series, whenever characters aren’t fighting or in the midst of dramatic climaxes, you can see them taking care of their own food, sharpening their weapons, caring for their horses (okay, flying snails), and doing all sorts of things that most anime nowadays take for granted or only show one or two scenes of.
The same amount of detail you can see in the animation: characters move realistically and relatively few corners are cut in comparison to your average anime. When characters move, they hardly ever look out of place and they’re always doing something meaningful that might not impact the story, but brings SO MUCH life to the setting and the world that the story plays in. For the past few years I’ve been a real advocate of series that manage to make the setting that they’re played in come alive, and this series really is the school example of how to do this right.
And as for the plot, we’ve got ourselves another case of wrong advertising here. The promo art might make you suspect that this is a fun and light-hearted fantasy adventure, mainly aimed at kids. It is not. In fact, don’t even dare to try and watch this series for the lighter parts, because Strange Dawn is dark. It’s not just dark in its atmosphere, but also in its themes. When people get cut up, blood appears without any hints of censorship; themes of war and death play a HUGE role in this series and heck, a certain episode even what can be qualified as an attempted rape in it. The amount of drama throughout the entire series is immense, but at the same time it consistently stays away from emo and melodrama, and stays genuine and never drags on.
Then there is the amazing voice acting cast. Especially the two lead characters are magnificently voiced, but the rest of the cast also shines throughout the series. They perfectly manage to capture the emotions of their characters, making the entire series an emotional roller-coaster along the way. And speaking of the audio, I also have to mention the amazing soundtrack that was compiled for this series. The tracks fit the atmosphere perfectly, and are a joy to listen to throughout the series.
Overall, there wasn’t one episode that didn’t have me clutched to the screen in near-tears, but the thing that blew me away the most was the ending. For the sake of spoilers I won’t say anything more, but the final episode was the single most emotional episode I have watched this year. Do not get fooled by the childish exterior, because inside Strange Dawn is a mature and intense roller-coaster ride. There are probably a lot of people who disagree with me on this, considering the abysmally low ratings on sites as Anidb, but I loved every minute of it.