“Even if the whole universe comes between us, even if you lost every single memory, I’ll still find you and we’ll start again and again.” -Keiichi Morisato
With this special feature on Ah! My Goddess: The Movie, this blog passes the eight hundred post milestone. It’s a nontrivial marker, coming as a consequence of nearly five-and-a-half years of writing about anime, games and other things. That I’m still here after all this time is a consequence of having a fantastic group of readers who’ve been kind enough to provide discussions and feedback, motivating me to continue writing despite the other things that occur in the real world. After looking through the post count and the timing, I decided that reviewing Ah! My Goddess: The Movie would be appropriate for this eight hundredth post, given that it’s been ten years since I developed an interest in anime, and that Ah! My Goddess: The Movie was the work that precipitated this interest. The story, recounted in brief elsewhere on this blog and only in a fragmented manner, is as follows: some of my friends during my secondary school days decided that I should join them for lunch hours at the school’s anime club. After managing to evade and decline for several weeks, I finally caved and attended a meeting. They were screening Ah! My Goddess: The Movie, and while I was disinterested initially, by the time the movie finished, I was moved. That evening, I began hunting for the movie’s soundtrack, found the soundtracks for Ah! My Goddess‘ 2005 anime, and decided to give that a whirl. While I never did finish, the episodes I did watch of Ah! My Goddess were modestly enjoyable, so when another friend wished for me to watch Gundam 00, I yielded and began watching the anime. In Gundam 00, I found something to look forwards to weekly, and while my interest in anime waned briefly during my first year of university, it returned in full force after I picked up Five Centimeters per Second. This brought my interests in anime back to life, leading me to watch Sora no Woto, and from there, my interests in anime are rather easier to follow, having been thoroughly chronicled here at this blog. Thus, for the remainder of this post, I turn my eyes towards looking at the movie that started it all.
Three years after her arrival on Earth, Belldandy and Keiichi Morisato begin their new term; recruiting for the different clubs is well under way, and the Motor Club, hopeful of gaining new members, showcase their vehicles. However, Toraichi Tamiya and Otaki Aoyama’s actions frighten off most prospective members, including the stern-looking Morgan. Later that evening, amidst the Motor Club’s celebrations, Belldandy encounters her old mentor, Celestin. Unbeknownst to her, Celestin had broken out of the lunar prison, and seeks to meet her. She collapses after Celestin kisses her, reawakening the next morning with no recollection of Keiichi. Meanwhile, Heaven’s supercomputer, Yggdrasil, has been compromised by a powerful virus: Peorth and her assistants are working around the clock to contain it, but in the meantime, much of their infrastructure is crippled. Skuld’s efforts to restore her memories are unsuccessful, and Keiichi agrees to make the most of things. He breaks news of her situation to the Motor Club; the members are disheartened, as there is an upcoming race. Morgan arrives and agrees – the trial’s results are solid, and watching the pair race leads Belldandy to recall some of her past memories with Keiichi. The next day, Belldandy comes across some old photographs of her and Keiichi: she decides to participate in the race in spite of her amnesia. Later, Belldandy overhears a conversation between Urd and Keiichi, revealing that Celestin was responsible. It turns out that he had rebelled against the Gods, destroyed the Gate of Judgement, and intends to continue his machinations to destroy the current world and create a new one, free of all suffering. Feeling she’s brought only suffering to Keiichi, Belldandy accepts a dangerous procedure that will eliminate the virus but also clear her memories. In order to deliver this program, Heaven directly links with Belldandy, allowing the virus to override Yggdrasil’s core functions, exposing the tree itself and a leviathan that attacks the trunks. Out of options, Peorth authorises a direct strike using Gungnir; refusing to allow Keiichi to die in the strike, Keiichi and Belldandy move to block the attack after they convince Celestin to assist. Transported to the Gate of Judgement in the aftermath, Belldandy and Keiichi pass Heaven’s test. Belldandy returns to Earth, and with both Urd and Skuld’s help, they restore Yggdrasil with their song and eliminate the virus. With the damage to Heaven records, Belldandy offers Keiichi a new wish, and Keiichi uses it to reignite their love for one another.
An off-shoot of the Ah! My Goddess series, Ah! My Goddess: The Movie adapts none of the elements from its source manga, and instead, focuses on the nature of love. This particular theme has been explored extensively in the 2005 TV series, whereas the prior OVAs’ short runtimes meant that the comedic situations and situations that Keiichi and Belldandy find themselves in dominated any sort of overarching theme. With this in mind, Ah! My Goddess: The Movie presents a much more tangible idea, in that the time Keiichi and Belldandy have spent together is precious, creating feelings that can survive even the most ardent tests that fate and the heavens have set against them. Despite losing her memories and subsequently made to stand before the Gate of Judgement, it turns out that (unsurprisingly) the love Keiichi and Belldandy have is genuine. While Morgan has seen loss before the Gate of Judgement and consequently despises the heavens for marking clearly what constitutes a relationship of value, she later learns that there can be love in the world, making it worth protecting. That love is very much a reality thus forms the main message for Ah! My Goddess: The Movie, and the movie’s climax, featuring Belldandy, Urd and Skuld wielding their feelings to run a system restore on Yggdrasil, serves to emphasise this point further. Although this theme is an immensely familiar one by this point in time, it was my first exposure to such a portrayal (and anime in general), and in the movie, I found an exceptionally moving story.
Screenshot and Commentary
- Being a combination movie discussion and serving as a bit of a milestone for this blog, I’m classifying this post both as a general discussion post (for the milestone) and as an anime reflections post (for the fact I’ll be running through Ah! My Goddess: The Movie). The occasion also means that I will be running with forty screenshots in this Ah! My Goddess: The Movie post. The movie was released in 2000 and runs for 100 minutes, making it perfect to be watched over the course of several lunch breaks, each lasting some forty minutes.
- One of the initial limitations about the movie is that it is not particularly friendly for first-timers, who won’t know how Keiichi and Belldandy first met. Prior to 2000, it would have been necessary to either have some background with the manga or the OVAs, which show Keiichi making a phone call, only to connect to Belldandy, who arrives to grant any one wish of his. Certain it’s deception from his seniors, he decides to test things and asks her to stay with him. Here, it’s spring, a new semester, and the Motor Club is recruiting new members; Keiichi initially joined owing to his interests in mechanical engineering. He himself is capable as a mechanic and highly skilled as a racer, demonstrating a new vehicle here in the film’s opening.
- The unusual dynamics between Belldandy and Keiichi drive the romance-comedy aspect of Ah! My Goddess, but these elements tend to be present in the manga and TV series – overall, the movie comes across as being more of a romance-drama, having a much greater focus on what love means to both Belldandy and Keiichi. The two share a moment under the cherry blossoms here, after a misunderstanding causes Belldandy to take off.
- Celestin is Belldandy’s former mentor, and after a short introduction, incapacitates Belldandy. Bearing the appearance of ancient deities from Chinese folklore, his actions come from well-intentions, but his “means justify the end” outlook paints him as the films main antagonist. Only seen in the movie, Celestin does not return in the 2005 series, which is a re-telling of the entire story and places a much greater emphasis on comedy than drama.
- When they return home that evening, mysterious crystals have formed on Holy Bell, Belldandy’s resident angel. The dynamic between Heaven and Earth is portrayed as one powerful computer system that manages reality; the system would suggest that all of existence is a simulation (akin to but rather more being than the one seen in The Matrix), and Heaven’s entities are caretakers to the system. With this in mind, I arrived on Ah! My Goddess much too late (2007-2008) to see much discussion on it, and so, any speculation on how their world actually works is likely to be lost to time.
- When Celestin kissed Belldandy, he copies a virus into her that impacts her memories, completely eliminating her memories of Keiichi. The anomolies are noticed in heaven, where Yggdrasil’s technicians notice a virus moving through their systems. Fictional computer viruses are always portrayed as something that can be traced, moving through a system and methodically targeting systems, leaving a clear signature behind. Real-world viruses are rather more dull, with most writing themselves onto regions of a hard drive and duplicate themselves before executing their functions: doubtlessly, this is very difficult to visualise, hence the stylistic choices movies take.
- Peorth stands before the highest members of Heaven’s leadership to report on the situation. The Peorth seen in Ah! My Goddess: The Movie is serious, dedicated and focused on her duties, standing in stark contrast with her depiction in the other works – she is rather more flirtatious (thank goodness for spell-checking, I believe this is only the second time I’ve had to use this term) and does her utmost to win Keiichi over from Belldandy initially as revenge, only to do so for real when she realises that she harbours feelings for Keiichi, as well.
- In the morning, Skuld exhausts her memory-enhancing devices that were intended to help her remember Keiichi; the most effective device only allows her to recall that she’d forgotten to give Keiichi her business cards (remark: that Goddesses have business cards is an interesting one). In the face of adversity, Keiichi and Urd settle on that it is probably best to try and live as normally as possible, a method that is often suggested by experts in order to survive challenging times.
- A færie of sorts, Morgan was the one who had freed Celestin from his imprisonment on the lunar surface at the movie’s beginning with the goal of assisting him. With her hime-cut and narrow eyes, she possesses the characteristics of the stern ojou-sama archetype while in human form, and is seen communicating with Celestin while he is in a more mobile form.
- The Motor Club grows disheartened to learn that Belldandy has become amnesiac, made especially difficult by the fact that they have an upcoming race. When I first watched the movie, I wondered if the race itself would be seen in-movie, but this turned out not to be the case, being a secondary element to the machinations that Celestin is planning. Morgan steps up and offers to race in Belldandy’s place.
- The two seem to perform quite well, triggering some memories for Belldandy. This moment suggests that, however sophisticated the algorithm that Celestin used, some of her memories endure. This moment also begins to showcase the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra’s exceptional performance with the film’s soundtrack: the song playing as Keiichi and Morgan fly across the track is titled “Kizuna Motomete” (“Searching for a connection”) is a majestic piece with horns, strings and woodwinds that captures the rush of speed on a racetrack in a highly elegant manner. The entire soundtrack is an amazing listen that really brings out the emotional tenour of each moment in the film.
- The different tracks convey different feelings, ranging from longing and hopefulness, to doubt and confusion in the film’s darker moments, masterfully using specific instruments to create a very unique sound that evokes a very particular feeling in every scene of the movie. It is the first anime soundtrack I’ve listened to, and stands even against the likes of Howard Shore or Hans Zimmer with respect to quality.
- Despite lacking her memories of Keiichi, Belldandy nonetheless strives to fulfill her directive in the knowledge that her original goal was to help Keiichi find happiness, and here, prepares a fantastic evening meal for him. Back in high school, for my art class, one of the works I made for an art class was a playing card, the Queen of Spades, featuring Belldandy. It was here that I realised that Kōsuke Fujishima renders ears in a very distinct manner, with concentric rings visible in place of the structures of the Auricle.
- Later, she finds a photo album detailing the time they’ve spent together. Realising the depth of their relationship, Belldandy resolves to restart anew and learn more about Keiichi. While Ah! My Goddess: The Movie is an older film, the artwork remains of a superb quality and can stand against modern titles with respect to detail and smoothness. However, the character designs in Ah! My Goddess: The Movie clearly are from an older age: the 2005 incarnation of Ah! My Goddess features a Belldandy and Keiichi with larger eyes.
- My last lecture was eleven months ago, but I still recall the days when I attended classes in large lecture halls. While some of the newer lecture halls have spacious desks, other, older facilities were remarkably cramped: I did not field a laptop at all throughout my undergraduate, and even though I had access to MacBook Pro laptops during graduate school, I continued to take notes by hand, since material proved easier to recall if I had handwritten it. Keiichi is shown to study German, and here, is hauled out of lecture by Morgan. Ah! My Goddess is one of the anime I’m familiar with to feature university-level characters, compared to almost everything else I’ve got, which is set during the high school range.
- Despite having no memories of Keiichi, Belldandy recovers more of her memories when she agrees to a challenge that Morgan presents: in a mock race, Keiichi and Belldandy handily best Morgan and her partner, Megumi (Keiichi’s younger sister). Unlike the song played during Keiichi and Morgan’s first run, the competition has a much more urgent sense to it. While most of the songs in the soundtrack are orchestral, there are a few songs that make use of electronic and synthesiser elements, giving them an other-worldly vibe.
- Bothered by her memories, and the realisation that Celestin was responsible for her memory loss, Belldandy is drawn by a moving light crystal and follows it to a coastal installation, where Celestin reveals himself and tells her the story of why he’s returned. Unwilling to accept Heaven’s mandate, he sought to destroy the Gate of Judgement (showing Morgan and her lover crossing it, only to be separated forever). His actions also led to the destruction of other entities, causing Heaven to issue an arrest warrant for him.
- When Heaven sends out beings to arrest Celestin, Belldandy slaughters them. She is taken in, and in the aftermath of the incident, is deemed too valuable an asset to lose. Hence, Heaven suppresses her memories of the incident and allows her to continue as a Goddess, while Celestin is tried and imprisoned on the lunar surface for all time. Had SATO explored the moon, however, they would be unlikely to locate Celestin’s prison: the film’s opening shows Morgan as passing through a portal to reach him.
- One of the best-known anime review sites out there notes that there’s a “scene in which Urd kisses Belldandy might startle Westerners…unaccustomed to that”, but she’s actually transferring a special potion to Belldandy via mouth-to-mouth. Upon seeing that for the first time, I assumed that Urd was taking the potion for herself, so trying was their situation, but it seems to make little sense on closer inspection, hence the newer conclusion. The same site gives this movie a perfect rating, counting it as a masterpiece
- Urd and Skuld arrive on station, but Belldandy, still under Celestin’s influence, begins to engage Urd in a direct confrontation. Urd is plainly holding back, aware that Belldandy is not fully in control of her powers. In the aftermath, Skuld lashes out at Celestin, releasing a large amount of water. Keiichi manages to protect Belldandy from this torrent but is knocked unconscious, later reawakening back home.
- Back in high school, this scene did not particularly make much sense, but it appears to be a visual representation of the present Belldandy accepting the past Belldandy’s mistakes, reassuring her past-self that things are going to be alright. The rationale for “past and present self” is based on visual elements within this moment that should become apparent merely by staring at this screenshot. This scene is accompanied by a synthesiser-like instrument that brings to mind the instrumentals from Miyazaki’s Totoro, giving it a very surreal, yet comforting feeling, and coming to an acceptance about herself, Belldandy manages to prevent her powers from running amok.
- While Belldandy’s character remains largely unchanged in Ah! My Goddess‘ 2005 incarnation, Urd, Skuld and Peorth are markedly different with respect to their personalities. One of the biggest strengths in the movie that is lacking in the TV series are the implications of higher-order beings interacting within a world of mortals: comedy reigns supreme in the 2005 television series, with the antagonists motivated by weaker elements than Celestin, who shows that there can be dissent amongst the Gods with respect to how Heaven runs. Consequently, Ah! My Goddess: The Movie ends up having a very well-defined narrative compared to the looser feel that Ah! My Goddess‘ 2005 series (and its second season) conveys
- Belldandy’s jealousy is an aspect of her character that has been exploited on numerous occasions in the TV series, and is never too far from the forefront of discussion in the movie – subtly hinted at when she inadvertently causes glass bottles to shatter during the Motor Club’s party earlier in the movie as a result of seeing Sora and Megumi clinging to Keiichi. Celestin exploits this, and here, Morgan forces a kiss unto Keiichi that Belldandy witnesses. She takes off, her feelings tumultuous as she struggles to comprehend what she saw.
- Keiichi and Belldandy share a moment together after Belldandy decides to accept a dangerous procedure that might wipe her memories entirely. Keiichi resolves that, whether or not Belldandy’s memories are restored, they can start again as many times as they need. This lends itself to the page quote, a rarity in that it was taken directly from the movie rather than being a generic quote or a mutated one. Throughout these moments, the song “Hoping For Happiness” can be heard playing in the background. A truly wistful song, the single element that stands out is a flute that materialises when Belldandy walks into the temple hall; the short motif captures Belldandy’s gentle yet determined spirits.
- I listened to the whole of Ah! My Goddess: The Movie‘s soundtrack during the summer of 2007, having only previously heard individual songs. I subsequently loaded up the tunes onto my iPod and took the album, amongst others, with me during my vacation in Yellowstone National Park. The hills in the backdrop here bring to mind the hills of Yellowstone’s western end, which has gentler slopes than the eastern end. At this point in the film, it’s the deep breath before the plunge. Progressing at a steady rate up until now, Ah! My Goddess: The Movie‘s pacing quickens as the movie enters its final stage.
- The delivery of a “Vaccine”, really the execution of an anti-virus program, serves to only exacerbate the situation further by offering a direct connection between Belldandy and Yggdrasil’s mainframe systems. As it turns out, anti-virus programs are becoming increasingly ineffective in the face of new techniques of introducing viruses and malware into a system: while the programs themselves can remain effective, it is social engineering employed by criminals that allow these programs to enter and compromise a system. Like how Belldandy’s memories of Celestin allow him to damage Yggdrasil, most viruses out there arise as a consequence of inadequate caution.
- Belldandy comes to recall Celestin more fully in a flashback; he resurrects a dead bird and takes her under his wing, eventually raising a capable goddess who graduates with top honours but is also a little naïve about the nature of reality. This moment here brings to mind the dynamics between children and adults: the problems that children face, from their perspective, are world-breakers, but having been around for a considerably longer time, adults can quickly locate solutions. It’s similar to how children would approach me with broken crafts during my time as a TA for children, and I would fix said craft, restoring their cheerfulness in the process.
- Celestin presumably has root access into Yggdrasil (technical jargon referring to the ability to completely modify and access all parts of an operating system, including critical system files), allowing him to summon a physical manifestation of the World Tree, along with a vast being that begins hacking at the tree (likely deleting data that runs the universe and allowing Celestin to rewrite the world in his image). Belldandy’s initial efforts to stop them are futile: Morgan uses
Force lightning to slow her down before taking off.
- Transforming into their combat attire, Skuld and Urd attempt to stop the being from dealing any more damage to the system. Despite summoning an exceptionally powerful blast of lightning, the being is protected by an energy shield that repels all attack. Morgan subsequently engages in battle with Urd to buy Celestin more time to complete is machinations.
- Possessing Keiichi’s body, Celestin explains to Belldandy the rationale for his plans. I’ve typically found that misguided idealists often make the most intriguing villians, since their cause and initial reasoning for executing a particular plan is prompted by a desire to do what they feel is correct. However, their methods wind up being inappropriate, either causing unnecessary death or destruction. Such villains are not above seeing the error of their ways, either accepting the protagonists’ perspectives or else gracefully yielding when bested (Gundam Unicorn‘s Full Frontal and Raʾs al-Ġūl of Batman Begins come to mind).
- Belldandy’s facial design in the movie allows her to properly be depicted with a serious expression as she counters Celestin, explaining that happiness and sorrow can only exist in the other’s presence. She arms herself and prepares to stop Celestin, donning a combat suit of her own. It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen Ah! My Goddess, and I think that last I checked, there were some OVAs bundled with home releases back in 2011.
- Higher up in the branches, Skuld drops a pair of explosives resembling the Model 24 Stielhandgranate. Essentially a cluster of grenades taped together to yield a larger explosion, they could deal damage to armour of the WWI era and are equipped by Battlefield 1‘s assault class for anti-armour combat. However effective they might have been historically against armour, the modernised versions Skuld uses deals no damage against the leviathan hacking away at Yggdrasil.
- It stands to reason that this behemoth of an entity is a program tailored by Celestin to destroy Yggdrasil. Since I no real remarks about this entity, except maybe to re-dub it “Walrus Face”, I will take a look at the inconsistencies between Ah! My Goddess and Oh! My Goddess. In Japanese, ああっ女神さまっ is romanised as “Aa! Megami-sama“, so phonetically, “Ah!” makes sense, but the authors meant for it to convey a similar meaning as “Oh my God”, hence, Oh! My Goddess is technically correct. However, I’ve typed it out as Ah! My Goddess for the past ten years, and all sources seem to give the title as “Ah!”, as well, so this is what I will stick with.
- In response to their desperate situation, Heaven authorises the use of Gungnir, which manifests in Ah! My Goddess: The Movie as an energy sphere whose effects on organics are unknown as Belldandy moves to stop the sphere from impacting Celestin. Realising her devotion to Keiichi, Celestin concedes and helps her stop the weapon. Like almost everything else in Ah! My Goddess, Gungnir is inspired by Odin’s spear of Norse mythology, being so well-crafted that it could strike any target with perfect accuracy.
- There should be no doubt as to Keiichi and Belldandy make it through the Gate of Judgement. The song that plays, “Testimony Between Us”, when they pass through together, is a triumphant song brimming with optimism and faith.
- Their faith stands against the Gods’ exams – Belldandy and Keiichi find themselves staring at a verdant alpine forest that would not look too out of place in either the Canadian Rockies or parts of Yellowstone National Park. Realising that the system is not rigged to pull people apart, Morgan resolves to stay behind and pass on the two’s story. Their love for one another reaffirmed, Belldandy finds a renewed spirit in her to set things right: she and Keiichi return back to Earth.
- While the damage done is immense, Belldandy is confident that by putting their true feelings into song, they can yet save Yggdrasil. Together with Urd and Skuld, Belldandy reverts her gear back into her default Goddess state, and they begin singing Coro Di Dea, a song written in Latin that, despite its sort length, brought a single tear to my eye, followed by several more individual tears. It’s the first time I cried when watching an anime, so moving was the song – this is the magic moment, that turning point that triggered my interest in anime.
- Coro Di Dea is probably the equivalent of a combination of a powerful virus quarentine and Windows’ System Restore tool; the latter allows users to restore their operating system back to a functional state without altering the file, but is ill-advised for removing viruses, which can hide themselves in temporary files. The Goddess’ song prompts Peorth and the others to begin singing, as well, rapidly repairing Yggdrasil. With the crisis over, some of the other Goddesses remark that they’d love to take a break, but Peorth orders them back to work to ensure the system is stable.
- Dawn settles over the world; with the restore and all that has happened to Yggdrasil over the past several days, Belldandy notes that all records have been removed of past wishes, leaving Keiichi free to make his wish to be with Belldandy forever once more. Skuld and Urd share a humorous exchange in the film’s final moments. The question then becomes: what is my verdict for this movie? With its standalone and cohesive narrative, fantastic artwork and top-tier soundtrack, it’s easy to give this movie a strong recommendation to existing anime fans. New viewers might not find this an appropriate gateway into anime, but will nonetheless enjoy the film.
- Quantitatively, Ah! My Goddess: The Movie earns an A+, a 10 of 10 – clear and precise in its message, and delivering a song that can make someone as stoic as myself to shed several tears, this here’s a fantastic film that left a very profound impact on me. So ends Ah! My Goddess: The Movie, and with it, my first-ever proper Ah! My Goddess discussion here, along with the 800th post. Regular discussion resumes with the upcoming posts, where I will be taking a look at Gabriel Dropout and Titanfall 2, alongside my thoughts of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare at the halfway point.
Because Ah! My Goddess: The Movie was my first-ever anime, there existed almost no baselines for which to compare it against at the time. However, the artwork, narrative, character dynamics and world-building that I did see in the movie came together to create a standalone story that was well-worth watching. I thoroughly enjoyed Ah! My Goddess: The Movie following watching it ten years ago, and even now, the movie remains reasonably enjoyable on its merits. This movie set in motion my interests in anime, and by the time Gundam 00 had begun airing, anime-watching became one of my hobbies. While seemingly a frivolous one, watching anime and discussing it with friends motivated me to start a website to write about my thoughts. The practise of writing bolstered my writing skills: prior to anime, my written English was of a low standard, leading one of my high school instructors to wonder if English was a second language for me (for the record, it is: Cantonese Chinese is my first language). By the time I was through Gundam 00, writing to clearly express an idea became second nature for me, and in my final year of high school, the same English instructor had wondered what precipitated such a profound change in my writing. My enjoyment of anime and the attendant enjoyment of writing would carry over to university; I was more fond of writing papers than my peers. Maintaining my website and writing in university created a sort of positive feedback loop, and eventually resulted in the creation of this blog, as well as affording me the practise to write a graduate thesis paper. It’s surprising as to how much of an impact a single anime movie had, and ultimately, the learnings from having watched (and reflected upon) Ah! My Goddess: The Movie is that an open mind can create paths that are unexpected, but also highly fulfilling. This is certainly not a bad legacy for a movie that’s now seventeen years old, to say the least.