published in Empire No.66, Sydney
Anime can sometimes border on the unclassifiable. Not because it's weird or freaky, but simply because the way it has been composed and arranged defies expected logic. This Ugly Yet Beautiful World will provide scant rational access to story structures typical of western cinema. Yet this dreamlike teen comedy-drama will appeal to those interested in exploring ways in which reality can dissolve into fantasy.
On the surface, the story appears familiar. School friends Takeru and Ryou lead a moderately dull life in rural Japan until a blinding beam of light blasts into their local forest. The beam carries two life forces who take the shape of cute human girls - Hikari and Akari. Each girl ends up staying at each of the boys' houses, therein precipitating a range of pubescent comedic moments. All standard fare, but even in this first chapter of the series, This Ugly Yet Beautiful World subtly rings with s strange otherness. Maybe these cute aliens are not what they seem, plus the unclear situations that have left both Takeru and Ryou without parents posit them as haunted waifs displaced from the normality of everyday life.
The series title obliquely refers to the traditional concept of wabi sabi in Japanese culture: the notion that beauty can only be truly defined in relation to imperfection. This Ugly Yet Beautiful World almost pretends to be a perfect teen comedy (and it abounds with many hilarious moments full of fast-flying otaku in-jokes), but it also seems intent on revealing the cracks in the otaku universe. The series radically shifts gears, moving from lingering sombre poetry to amazingly animated action sequences, particularly when Takeru transforms into a genetic hybrid monster-killer of sorts. This is a series that will only become more complex as the story unfolds, and will be well worth one's persistence in viewing.
published in Empire No.78, Sydney
Its initial volume reviewed here one year ago, the final release of the This Ugly But Beautiful World box set calls for a prompt to viewers to consider this distinctive series in its entirety. Everything suggested by the first volume plays out with consistency and cascading ingenuity throughout the full 12 episodes. Takeru and Ryou develop further their fated connections with Hikari and Akari – the strange light beings who have mysteriously become earthbound and now take female pubescent human form. Set in a rural prefecture and centred around the high school and the dorm-like environment shared by the key character gang, the series is a delicate investigation of teen life in Japan.
Maybe not the mega-hit all-round universal entertainment that translated anime hypes these days, This Ugly But Beautiful World is a polyrhythmic multi-toned study of the teen temperament and the ways in which one (as a teenager) recognises his and her entrapment within its permeable walls. Lots of lessons are learnt – with Takeru especially grappling with primal urges, emotional waves and inflicted responsibilities – but the series avoids preachy voicing and pap homilies. Bit by bit, Takeru and Hikari are interchangeable as they each experience something fundamentally common to both humans and aliens: life.