I thought I'd go ahead and post a review about Earth Girl Arjuna
(also commonly known as Earth Maiden Arjuna
or simply Arjuna
), since I've recently been watching it with some friends. Basic plot: Our main character, Juna, is in most respects a fairly average high school girl. She and her boyfriend, Tokio, decide to take a motorbike drive to the sea one afternoon. However, they are involved in an accident along the way, and Juna dies. As her spirit leaves her body, Juna sees an Earth that is suffering and dying. A young boy then appears beside her and offers to save her life, on the condition that she save the planet.
I'll begin with the artwork. It's quite nice much of the time; good colouring, easy on the eyes, and complimented by some reasonably smooth animation. I personally think this is then promptly ruined by the live-action sequences that appear on occasion, and for no good reason that I can discern. It just feels really abrupt, and the live-action sequences themselves are fairly dull in any case and don't add anything to the story. It might have been a lot better had the series just stuck to animation the entire way, because I don't think the flow of the story benefits in any way from the transition. Still, that's not a real biggie - more like personal taste - since the live-action sequences are comparatively few and far between.
Music. It's pretty awesome. Yoko Kanno. Say no more.
Here's where it gets more tricky. This series pushes it's environmentalist agenda extremely heavily and shamelessly. In essence, the whole show is not actually about the plot or even the characters anywhere nearly as much as it about the environment. And I'm not talking about "hey kids, it's bad to pollute" a la Captain Planet, either. There are simple messages like that all the way through, sure, but the series is focused more on pushing ideas and issues such as pantheism, the removal of nature from modern life, natural farming (as opposed to organic farming), and the pole shift hypothesis, among others. There's series was also very obviously influenced by Hinduism and a lot of aspects of Indian culture in general.
I think though, that it is possible to these kinds of messages across in anime without hitting the audience over the head with a sledge hammer about it. Many of Miyazaki's works are fantastic examples of how messages revolving around environmentalism can be boldly stated without actually jumping up and down and waving your arms over your head about it. So on the one hand, I applaud Earth Girl Arjuna
for going the whole nine yards and openly stating what they want to say, within a story that can be quite compelling at times (heh, definitely no subtle indoctrination here). On the other hand, because the way those messages are presented do lack subtlety, the story at times feels quite jarring - like it's way too busy declaring it's messages as loudly as possible to focus on other aspects of the show (for example, it might have been nice to see a little more character development). In short, the series in terms of overall story is detailed and innovative, but also excessively heavy-handed and sometimes repetitive.
I'm going to be fairly harsh and give this title a 3 out of 5 stars (more generous people might want to give it a 4). It is good and it is enjoyable, but it's also not as epic as it thinks it is.