Movie: Bandai is one of my current favorite anime companies due to the high quality of many of their releases. They have some great series but they also release some very superior stand alone movies. Their latest such release is a compilation of sorts called, appropriately enough, Spirit Of Wonder. While it's quirky, it's also quite original and creatively made, reminding me of Read Or Die, a story with a female lead that is clever, cunning and still manages to be nice.
The movie is a combination of two short films and two very short films using one of the lead characters as the focus. The main story here is about The Scientific Boys Club (volumes 1 & 2). Set in the recent past, initially at least, the story began with a scientific convention centering on the Viking spacecraft mission to Mars. It then flashes back to the main narrative of the 1950's where a group of men have a club, the aforementioned club, that are holding a fifty year anniversary meeting. At the meeting, they decide to make their dream of voyaging to Mars, using some obscure scientific text as the basis for the means to do it, and the story chronicles their efforts to reach the red planet. Much of the story concerned a new member, Jack, and his wife, Windy, who's dad was a founding member of the club, as they helped to make the old men's dreams come true.
Okay, the lead scientist of the club is a character that is patterned to look like Albert Einstein and is somewhat of a mad scientist. Jack is an eager helper but out of his league compared to the others. His wife, however, is the smartest one of the bunch and they routinely use her brilliant mind, and common sense, to solve problems they encounter. Strong female leads that aren't just eye-candy in anime are rare but so are such characters that are exceptionally smart rather than busty. That makes this one a good choice for all those gals who like anime but find their role models somewhat limited. Except for a couple of other characters, the cast was mostly stereotypes but they were mostly window dressing anyway so it wasn't a big deal.
The science of the show was also pretty interesting, drawing from a couple of now disproved theories that were in vogue maybe 50 years ago. How the story follows those theories in a fashion of Victorian science made me think about the whole matter a bit too. When I learned the show was made over 10 years ago, I was surprised if only because the artwork was very well done and stylish to say the least. While it wasn't designed to be a super big hit, it was very interesting to watch compared to much of the contemporary anime that is being released.
The other two shorts attached here were the cute take off of The Incredible Shrinking Man which was titled The Shrinking of Miss China and Planet of Miss China. In the first, the landlord known as "China" interrupts a scientific experiment with really disastrous results and in the second, she is the centerpiece of another experiment involving a simulation gone awry.
I liked this enough to give it a rating of Recommended although science buffs may want to rate it even higher. The style, story and lead characters were solid enough to suggest it as worth checking out to anyone who likes intelligent anime that doesn't focus on killing, smashing, or silly humor (there was some of that though).
Picture: The picture was presented in 1.33:1 ratio full frame color. While the colors were a bit on the flat side, it lent a feel to the story that assisted in the atmosphere of the show. I didn't see any compression problems and it looked very well made.
Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of either English or Japanese (with English subtitles) Dolby Digital stereo. The vocals were very clear and the music was enjoyable, also lending authenticity to the show. Most of the separation between the channels was for a few special effects but it was well done.
Extras: There was a section with four interviews of the creative staff in written format. Each addressed certain issues about their roles, including the two directors, the publisher and the creator of the original Manga himself. All were solid in that they provided plenty of background data to enhance the feel of the show. There were also some trailers, a photogallery, and liner notes for the show as well as a paper foldout insert.
Final Thoughts: I liked this one, even if I didn't love it. The older style anime was cool to watch and the fact that it told a story without the need for the loud, obnoxious style so many other shows seem to need was a big plus. In all, it was easily worth checking out for anime fans or those who want something a bit more cerebral.