A bit delayed, but as part of Reverse Theives’ Secret Santa project I was given three series recommended by another blogger and chose Simoun from among the three. It ended up being much more than I ever expected it to be and earned a spot in my top five anime series on MAL. Many thanks to Kimaguresan for the recommendation, it was an excellent show. I don’t recall much fuss about the series back when it aired but I can understand why. The description blurb about the series on MAL makes it sound atrocious, like another run-of-the-mill fanservice bishoujo series with a yuri bent. It’s made by Studio DEEN. And the animation serves its purpose but certainly didn’t have the biggest budget. But the show ended up pretty much the opposite of what one would think from the description. It’s a rich series with depth, heart, and beauty to it. It is at times romantic, GRIM DARK, funny, sad, and hopeful. And in this spoiler-free post I will elaborate on what made it one of my favorite series of all time.
A New World
Simoun is self-contained in its own fantasy world. There’s no connection to ours, or at least none that is ever revealed. This is one of the strengths of the series, the foundation for much of what makes it great, but it’s also a little jarring at first. There’s a lot that different and the viewer just has to accept the rules and facts of the Simoun world to enjoy it. For the longest time during the series I kept waiting for the ‘reveal’ moment when it would link the Simoun world to ours through some kind of ‘THE ANCIENT CIVILIZATION WAS US!!!’ or other usual tropes. But it isn’t. Starting from the bottom level up everything is different. All people in the Simoun world start out as females and then become male or female (permanently) later on. For the people of Simulacrum they choose at a certain age but the priestesses who pilot the Simoun, machines based around ancient helical motors, they can delay this choice while they serve. This is something that the viewer just has to accept as a way the world works in this series. The sibyllae serve an important function to Simulacrum and its governing theocracy. Religion is what binds the society together and the sibyllae are both traditional priestesses and the country’s main defense. The individual pilots work in teams to pray to their god by weaving RiMaajon patterns in the sky. These patterns can be merely ceremonial or very destructive. This latter effect has allowed Simulacrum’s Theocracy to fend off invasions by the less technologically advanced countries for centuries. Those other countries desperately want the helical motors and other technology to improve their living standards and recently the country of Argentum has mobilized to once again attempt an invasion. This is the starting point for the show, historically, socially, and geopolitically.
That’s what’s on the surface. Some of the elements of Simoun are there to serve as devices for talking about some of the main themes or to add flavor to the series. It’s pretty obvious from the start that there’s plenty for yuri fans. But it is and isn’t yuri. Remember what I said about accepting the world by its own standards and not ours. The sibyllae have to kiss and then kiss their Simoun before taking off as part of the ceremony that’s become associated with making the Simoun work. It could be called yuri fanservice in the mildest of ways, sure. But when you’re judging this it has to be seen from the context of the Simoun world. Many of the characters develop feelings for each other but when we see adults there aren’t any lesbian couples seen. Same sex pairings after permanently choosing a sex don’t seem to exist or even be considered by most people in the Simoun world. But what this does is serve as a catalyst for romance, self-discovery, and as one element of many that makes the characters ask who they are. Choice is a great thing, but it can also be a confusing or even torturous thing. This is a theme that runs throughout the series.
Just as the characters change, willingly and not, the nature of conflict in the Simoun world is changing. For centuries Simulacrun has enjoyed unparalleled superiority in technology, though not in numbers. This hasn’t matter because the Simoun and their RiMaajon attacks are so powerful that they can wipe out whole formations of enemies if they have the time to write the designs in the skies. But like many religions and theocracies the Theocracy in Simoun has relied on the same methods for centuries. The Simoun are the ‘Chariots of the Gods’, not machines to Simulacrum. But Argentum hasn’t been idle. Their country is a smoky, polluted industrial mess and getting their hands on Simulacrum technology is a matter of life and death for their people. Their aircraft and zeppelins are far inferior to the Simoun and floating carriers of Simulacrum, but they have numbers and their technology is getting better. This is already starting to change the way Simulacrum is looking at this war, and it will change the way the characters experience it.
A nice touch to the world and the conflict is that each side speaks different languages. On rare occasion we’re privy to seeing things through the eyes of the Argentum soldiers, but otherwise they speak another language that the viewer and the sibyllae cannot understand. And while things seem ornate and clean back on the sibyllae’s carrier Arcus Prima war is still war, and a desperate one at that. It’s brutal and bloody and not even the priestess sibyllae are removed from that. Early in the show an Argentum soldier attempts to steal a Simoun and after dying from his wounds inside the cockpit his hands must be cut off to loosen his grip on the technology he so desperately wanted to bring home.
Love and Identity
While I just spoke above on why this show shouldn’t be judged just on its yuri element, it is certainly something that flavors the world. The Arcus Prima is a converted luxury liner complete with all the trappings of yuri romance series: elegant tea cups, a ballroom, fencing, and gilded windows. For those viewers who enjoy that style of romance you won’t be disappointed. Personally I greatly enjoyed it. Yuri series tend to emphasize subtlety in their romance and interpersonal drama and I couldn’t get enough in Simoun. The little details, the short glances or minor signals could mean everything between the characters. There was a lot of romance going on in the series, both successful and failed. And along with this comes angst, doubt, goals, choices, and conflict. All of these in a good way, even the angst. A few of the characters have some baggage they’ve brought with them, some don’t but nonetheless things happen that can lead to internal or interpersonal effects. Even with a fairly large cast Simoun is a show with the writing and pacing to really show these characters develop over time. From Paraietta and her responsibilities to Limone’s child genius to Mamiina’s social class issues and all the others, it was a wonderfully rich experience.
Identity and one’s place in life is usually a feature of shows with a coming-of-age theme, but Simoun complicates that further with religion and people’s choice of gender. The new war is pushing some in the theocracy to think of the Simoun and sibyllae differently. Dominura and Wapurif begin to work on the Simoun as machines built for a purpose and not as ‘chariots of the gods’ as they’re supposed to. The prayer-based nature of the RiMaajon and the central place of religion in society is also something on the minds of all, but especially Yun and Morinas. These characters are supposed to be the priestesses of their god but at the same time war is forcing them to reconcile the way their prayers are used as weapons. More directly weighing on identity is the looming thought of one day having to choose a gender. When all this ends, when the war is over all the characters will have to go to the Spring, the location where they stand before the oracle Onashia and have their decision enacted. The society seems patriarchal since it’s mentioned that men serve in the military and inherit property but women do not, but choosing to be male would mean a physical change and uncertainty in choosing to be something else than the default (non-permanent) female gender. And each character also has to find their way among their own circumstances within the theocracy, their families, and with those they love.
Why You Should Watch It
Simoun will appeal to you if you like at least two of the following: mecha, fantasy, yuri, and intrigue. The Simoun are unconventional for mecha but they do have their appeal after a while and the air-to-air and air-to-ground combat scenes can get really good, especially from the mid-point of the show onwards. For fantasy fans the show has one of the most interestingly constructed worlds I’ve seen in some time. A fantasy world that operates by its own rules and has advanced technology without it being linked in a sci-fi way to our own world. There is much yuri romance for fans of that, and a large cast for lots of drama. And the series has a lot of intrigue as to the way the world works, the way the war will go, and in interpersonal relationships for those who love to keep peeling back layers of plot.
However much I enjoyed the series overall, I do have a few cautions. The series starts out a bit slow in the first 4 to 6 episodes or so. Simoun is like that rolling ball in Indiana Jones: it’s massive and starts moving slowly but just keeps gaining momentum once it starts and just gets stronger and stronger. Another point would be that if you’re one of those shallow, ‘oooh shiny pretty animation’ people then it may not be for you. The animation is fine but it’s far from stunning. It’s good enough but isn’t high budget and uses some basic watercolor shots for backgrounds at times and pencil-sketch stillshots for a few important moments (which I rather liked in a ‘throwback to old super robot shows’ kind of way.) This also may not be the show for you if you’re looking for Macross-level dogfights. Simoun certainly has some good aerial combat, but not on the level of Macross, nor with the same frequency. There are shots and scenes that really do show a love for flying in a way that draws you into the pilot’s head but this isn’t an action series exactly.
The bottom line: I absolutely LOVED Simoun and am really glad that it was recommended to me. 10/10 on my MAL, #3 favorite series of mine after Legend of the Galactic Heroes and Honey and Clover. It’s that good. Love, war, intrigue, drama, it really couldn’t have been a better recommendation. Additional thanks to Shinmaru and Hellomotto for recommending it when I was mulling over my three Secret Santa choices on Twitter.