OVA Week – Day 6: Open the Door (Tobira wo Akete)

Day 6 already!

So, if you’re new to ‘OVA Week’ here at the heap, basically speaking, I’ve got some dot points on the OVA form itself, and then the review.

Hope you enjoy these and again, I’d love to hear any suggestions you might have for future OVA-weeks 🙂

  • An animated film or series made for release on video, rather than for broadcast/theatrical screening
  • Generally, high budgets that can mean visual qualities are better than a typical television series
  • No fixed length, nor broadcast time-constraints when it comes to storytelling
  • To some extent, created outside regulation – and so they have a reputation for ‘anything goes’ when it comes to restricted content
  • Often (but certainly not always) based on original scripts, rather than being adaptations
  • Long wait times between episodes/installments for some OVAs
  • First OVA to be described as such was 1983’s Dallos from Mamoru Oshii
  • The ONA (Original Net Animation) is an obvious more modern equivalent

Open the Door (Tobira wo Akete) 1986

In the past, portal fantasy/isekai anime didn’t always use video games as the medium or impetus for the main characters to leave their home world, and this time around it’s more of a summoning actually… a small fact that’s probably most important toward the end of the film. 

Open the Door is a full-length release but it doesn’t quite evoke the word ‘epic’, despite having the lead characters raise an army and despite including both a fair bit of travel and several battles. It’s not quite as ‘fun’ as an adventure-film either.

Nor is it full of angst, precisely.

It really has a tone that I’m struggling to describe. And I don’t want to suggest that the movie comes across as being so little of any one genre or mood that it actually ends up evoking none of them, either.

Nor do I want to say that things are rushed, though the anime could have been expanded into a short series with little trouble, I reckon.

What I do think Open the Door features is an interesting combination of sword & sorcery and a mix of shoujo/josei aspects, not limited to the leads being college students.

Here’s the premise from MAL:

In modern day Tokyo, three university students, Negishi Miyako (Neko-chan), Saiki Haruka, and Yamagishi Keiichiro, have magical powers that make them feel like outcasts. They come together one night and are transported to another world. They open a massive door and Neko finds that she is the Princess Neryulla, who must defeat the evil Duran III to free her people.

Having the main characters be university-aged seems like a hallmark of some older anime, and it was nice to see Neko operate in a pretty confident and competent manner, compared to her potentially being clumsy or merely a damsel, while at the same time the story doesn’t show her as a rash hot-head either.

Especially welcome perhaps, considering how easily she takes to her new role of saviour in an unfamiliar world – or also how skillfully she deals with the advances of Saiki the ‘player’.

But before I get to some spoilers, I want to cover some dot-points:

  • Of the supporting cast, coming in closer to the ‘hot-head’ archetype is Dimida, who was definitely one of my favs
  • As was shapeshifter Keiichiro, who had a fun Wizard of Oz kinda design, too
  • I did enjoy the vague ‘He-Man’ feel to some designs of the supporting cast
  • Around the mid-point or so, there’s a reflection scene where Neko is smoking a cigarette in the fantasy world, and for me it worked really well to remind us that she’s from our world. Not a huge thing, just something effective that I liked
  • And finally, I have to mention that there is an actual pillow fight in this film – I reckon it’s meant to function as a ‘girls-bonding’ moment but it’s possibly just an excuse to animate feathers 😀

All right, time for a spoiler before I wrap up this review.

I mentioned the summoning aspect to Tobira wo Akete earlier, which is sort of how Neko and co all end up in the fantasy world.

This is revealed during the villain’s monologue, where the audience also learns the motivation for his action – and it’s basically boredom. Which just seems a little flat to me – I mean, “I was so bored that I tried to start a new war” doesn’t really impress 😀

More, it doesn’t make too much sense – for instance, if Duran was so hard-up for war and death, he could have gone around colonising other parts of his world, could have started plenty of conflicts at home, instead of spending 500 years searching for a physic girl from another world to use as a pawn.

… but all that aside, I still enjoyed this OVA/feature film and while the budget/animation isn’t on the scale or quality of a similar text (in terms of genre and era), like say Arion, it’s still above plenty of average TV series from the decade in terms of visuals.

Maybe not a gripping storyline, but the characters stood out enough for me to say I enjoyed it and most fantasy fans probably would too, along with fans of the era and overall 1980s aesthetic.

3.5 Stars

Guin Saga

Guin Saga is one that I’m having trouble deciding on a rating for – I liked it enough but I don’t know if I’d actually recommend it, unless you’re a fan of the novels this anime is based on, perhaps.

This series is a fantasy epic from the early days of CGI that gives you a taste of a really big world. If you tend to go for large and also long stories with adventure, intrigue, war and romance told from the viewpoints of multiple characters, then Guin Saga has you covered!

For me, the sprawl of the story was one of the aspects that I didn’t enjoy as much as the series neared the end. I’ll expand on that quickly – the story starts off with young twin royals having to flee their besieged city, where they are quickly thrown together with a strange warrior bearing a leopard’s head; Guin.

At this point (and for the first third of the show) the story is focused on getting the twins to safety and Guin’s quest to learn who he is and why he has a leopard’s head – all awesome in my book… but as the scope of the story expands, his quest fades into the background far too much for me.

And so while there’s some of a ‘bait and switch’ feel to all that – I think if you want a really large story with a large cast, full of competing interests, then you’ll enjoy Guin Saga. I mean, it’s right there in the title: Saga. You’re promised sprawl right away!

There are heaps of fantastic, sweeping wide shots in this series, I should have captured more of them.

Having said that, this is based upon a massive novel series that kicked off in 1979 and comprises 130 volumes and 22 spin-off novels. I assume that author Kaoru Kurimoto still holds a record for that, surely. Of course the anime doesn’t cover the entire saga, and (thankfully) nor did the production team at Statelight even try to do so.

Instead, they focused on what almost feels like a bit of a prologue, one that clearly establishes a lot of main (and interesting) characters, conflicts and their respective quests. Some storylines do have resolutions, but some are rushed and compressed, and by the end there is still too much left open, or left ‘ready for the next adventure’ which never came about in the end.

Now, that was no deal-breaker for me, but part of the problem I had was that the narrative spent a lot of time with people who were essentially scum and straight-up villains. Even some of the heroes became loathsome too, which wasn’t for me – since when I choose a heroic fantasy series, I’m looking for actual heroism.

Heroism isn’t absent by the way, since Guin is probably (to some extent) an actual hero, whereas some people who help the kids throughout (like Istavan) are portrayed as fickle sociopaths and one antagonist, Lady Amnelis has a fantastic character arc… but I couldn’t care about a character bent on genocide.

Plenty of these sorts of cool shots with character faces (and particularly eyes) dominating the frame in ‘Guin Saga’

Okay, placing those issues aside for a moment I didn’t hate this show at all.

There’s a lot of things I enjoyed, bold character design and a few exciting action sequences here and there too. The CGI seems fairly top-notch for the era, and visually the show is quite lush in terms of colour and setting – especially toward the end, some of the city-based establishing shots are ace.

There’s also a haunting ending theme and some great music throughout too, often really stirring – and most of it I think composed by Square legend Nobuo Uematsu. So, Final Fantasy fans at least, should enjoy the OST.

Ultimately, I liked this series more than it sounds but I definitely craved a narrowing of focus. And due to the studio having to compress a lot of source material, I found sometimes important things weren’t foreshadowed enough, so they came across as deus ex machina a few times.

And all of that combined with the mixed bag that were the characters, I don’t know whether this is a 2-Star show for me or a 3-Star.

So… 2.5 stars I guess?

I hadn’t realised this at first, since it’s been so long since I played the game, but I wonder if King from Tekken is inspired by Guin? Or maybe ‘Tiger Mask’ from the wrestling world?

(Or more likely, considering the dates now that I look them up – the Tiger Mask manga may have been a bit of an influence on Guin? Of course, mythology certainly has plenty of examples of animal head + human body.)

Grimoire of Zero (Zero kara Hajimeru Mahō no Sho)

Grimoire of Zero (Zero kara Hajimeru Mahō no Sho) 2017

I finished this short series definitely thinking that I’d like to see a season 2 (so a certain unresolved plotline could be given some more attention) but I get the feeling Grimoire of Zero wasn’t popular enough for the studio to take the plunge.

Still, it has a nice blend of humour, action and magic, along with an engaging main character in Mercenary, the ‘beastfallen’ half-human/half-tiger searching for answers in a world that mostly wants him dead.

He was the main draw for me, whereas second lead Zero felt a little under-developed in comparison.

While there were some world building niggles for me, a somewhat flat villain, and some pretty odd choices re: Zero and her interactions with Mercenary, the art was great and the bits of character development (especially Holdem) were enough to keep me engaged.

Again, I will say that one thing I wasn’t sure about was the pacing as it seemed geared toward multiple seasons… or, as you must be tired of hearing form me, it seemed paced to lead folks into the manga rather than resolve big issues in these episodes.

Maybe worth a look if you like fantasy/quest/anime.

3 Stars