In the country of Simulacrum, gender is not something you are born with- instead you must choose it by visiting the Spring in your seventeenth year. For those who have not yet chosen, however, a sacred duty awaits- the chance to become a sibylla and ‘pray to the sky’ within the vehicle known as a Simoun. But Simulacrum is also at war with its neighbouring countries, and under these conditions, flying the Simoun is less a holy task than it is a form of aerial combat. With the fate of their nation in their hands, how will the young sibyllae cope with the burden of their duty?
Way back when it was actually airing, my relationship with Simoun was a brief one- when its dull first episode shattered my expectations, I felt unwilling to continue with the series. Flash forward eighteen months or so, however, and over time a renewed desire to watch it had accumulated to the point where I decided to give the series a second chance.
Perhaps it was having endured the monotony of El Cazador, but on renewed viewing, Simoun didn’t seem as boring as it once had- in fact, whilst it was still far from perfect, there was now an oddly watchable quality to it. A sort of poor man’s HARD YURI version of Last Exile, Simoun focuses on the adventures of Chor Tempest, a group of twelve young “females” who are tasked with piloting the Simoun and protecting the skies from invaders. All of them have different reasons for being a part of the team, not to mention various issues that ensure the series is never short on angst. Doubt, insecurity, gender issues and even incest- Simoun has it all, and there’s no doubt that each viewer’s mileage for it will vary from person to person.
What we are offered overall, then, is a very mixed bag indeed, containing elements both worthy and forgettable; there are powerful moments as characters reveal their deepest feelings, but equally you are just as likely to come across an angsty or over-the-top scene that drags on for too long. What should be a smooth ride of growth and development is instead a jerky and uneven course, with characters spending episode upon episode agonising in their rooms before abruptly emerging to make life-changing decisions in the blink of an eye. It’s a shame, really, because although the potential for a proper coming-of-age tale exists here, the pacing is so inconsistent that much of that promise is lost.
Similarly, the world in which the series takes place turns out to be one of unfulfilled potential- a place that surely needed more episodes to properly explain it. Interesting enough as the gender selection process is, it is somewhat marred by the fact that even the adult male characters have female VAs and often effeminate appearances to match (one man even sports a pair of breasts more impressive than anything seen on the female characters). Even so, this is but a minor complaint compared to other issues- for example, although we are given tantalising hints here and there, the mystery behind the Simoun technology is never fully explained, and when the series ultimately resorts to falling back on the old staple of time travel, it becomes apparent that satisfying explanations will not be found. Even the war that is at the centre of the series proceeds and concludes in an unsatisfying manner; had the character drama been better written, such things would have been forgivable, but as it stands, Simoun wasn’t able to get it quite right on either count.
Amidst all this, Simoun boasts a well-populated cast of characters, and thanks to the aforementioned unevenness of their development, they never really get to live up to their potential. Whilst our lead, the positive-thinking Aaeru, ranges from inoffensive to likable, the general range of personalities are quite one-dimensional in their execution; we have aptly named leader type Dominura, the distant and angsty Neviriru, her admirer Paraietta, loli Limone, siscon twins Alti and Kaimu and so forth. It’s not that you don’t want to like the cast, but that on reflection, there isn’t a great deal to their personalities- and again, that is a shame, because Simoun could really have done something with this raw material.
One place where the series does excel is in its character designs, which are generally attractive if not particularly revealing of a character’s intended gender. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the animation in general; settings are solid and the CG Simoun and airships aren’t too bad once you get used to them, but the series seems to have been produced on a tight budget which ensures that cost-cutting still shots and poorly drawn scenes are liberally employed. Fortunately, however, the music is far more consistent, offering a solid range of themes that include sweeping orchestral themes and even some tango music.
As omo wisely said, Simoun is very much an acquired taste; its hardcore (and HARD YURI) following will adore it, whilst most others will fail to derive much enjoyment from it. Personally, however, I found it to be something of a rough gem- attractive for its potential, but ultimately never delivering the sparkle and polish it could have been capable of.