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Jyu-Oh-Sei: Planet Of The Beast King
voice cast: Koichi Domoto, Nana Mizuki, Sean Michael Teague, Trina Nishimura, and Eric Vale

director: Hiroshi Nishikiori

250 minutes (15) 2006
widescreen ratio 16:9
Manga DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Sarah Ash
In the far future, the human race has migrated to the terraformed Balkan system of planets. The comfortable life of Thor and Rai Klein, silver-haired identical twins, suddenly disintegrates when they return home to find that their scientist parents have been murdered. Overcome by a noxious gas, the twins next awaken in a harsh and unfamiliar place where they are instantly attacked by giant carnivorous plants and aggressive natives, led by a boy calling himself Zagi. It seems that they have been transported to the penal planet Chimaera where the worst criminals are sent to die. Brutally separated from Rai, Thor finds himself fighting for his life.

To his astonishment, he is rescued by a young girl, Tiz, who reveals herself to be the Second of a woman-only clan, the Sun Ring. Tiz has taken a liking to Thor and fills him in on the harsh facts of life that he will have to endure. On Chimaera, the humans not only have to battle the plants and the harsh extreme elements, but, most of all, each other. They have divided themselves into four clans, or Rings, based on skin colour (Ochre, Sun, Night and Blanc) each with a strict hierarchy: the Top rules, having killed his way to the position of power, supported by his Second and Third. And the only means of escape, as the desperate Thor soon discovers, is to become the Beast King. The Top who kills all the other contenders in a savage gladiatorial-style combat, is named Beast King, and is awarded the prize of leaving Chimaera via the Dagger Pagoda for Hecate. The 12-year-old resolves to fight his way to become Beast King so that he can escape and bring his parents' murderers to justice. But in such a hostile world, death is an everyday reality - and who dare he trust?

The women of Chimaera live apart from the men except for the month of Joining, in which they choose the partner who will father their child. But now that the feisty Tiz has not only saved Thor's life, she declares that she will marry him! And it seems he has found another ally; the Third of the Ochre Ring, a laconic, laid-back young man, who has been observing his progress with interest. Adopted into the Ochre Ring after winning a violent confrontation, Thor sets out to achieve his aim, no matter what the personal cost. As the story takes a sudden leap forward to his seventeenth year, some startling revelations from an unexpected source precipitate him to a final confrontation with world-changing and tragic potential.

Jyu-Oh-Sei is set in a future dystopia where mankind has established a new life far from Earth - but at a terrible cost. Like many such anime dystopias, names for the characters and planets are borrowed from Scandinavian and classical mythology (Thor, Loki, Juno) lending an epic quality to the narrative. Yet, unlike those series, it has a distinctively shojo flavour (the original manga dates from 1993 and was penned by shojo mangaka Natsumi Itsuki who also prepared the anime treatment). This means that, while still offering plenty of action and suspense, the main focus of the anime is on character development and interaction. And, given some striking and attractively-drawn character designs by Koji Aisaka (a little reminiscent of those for Escaflowne) and high production values, Jyu-Oh-Sei makes a gripping and involving watch. Nevertheless, at 11 episodes, it's a little too short to resolve all the issues satisfactorily, especially given the major revelations that occur thick and fast towards the conclusion.

Dub-wise, Funimation have produced a convincing translation (or reversion, as they term it) although one or two of the voice actors are not so well-cast as their Japanese equivalents: I found Alison Viktorin too girly in portraying the 12-year-old twins, compared with seiyuu Minami Takayama. But in the role of the enigmatic Third, both Shin Oguri and Duncan Brannan are just right, and Eric Vale, as Thor's rival Ring leader, Zagi, delivers a well-judged performance that brings out the inner conflict of one who knows far more about the true role of the Beast King than he should.

Looking back at Jyu-Oh-Sei, I realise that I could very easily have dismissed this series on science fictional grounds; none of the ideas here (main protagonist marooned on a harsh alien world where he must fight to survive, unethical genetic manipulation, etc.) are particularly original and the events that unfold at the denouement offer nothing to alter that initial judgment. However, there's something compelling about the way the story unfolds, drawing us into the individual characters' dilemmas, which allowed me to forget my initial qualms and just sit back to enjoy the ride.
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