She, the Ultimate Weapon
A region 2 DVD review by CNash
 

Recently we've seen many animé focused on a theme of innocent-looking young girls who are also (somehow) vicious killing machines. Gunslinger Girl, Burst Angel, Battle Vixens and Tenjho Tenge all follow this same theme. On a conceptual level, She, The Ultimate Weapon (released 15th May by Manga Entertainment) most closely resembles Gunslinger Girl. On the one hand, you've got a sweet, romantic story about a shy girl falling in love with a hesitant young man. On the other, you have the realisation that this shy, petite girl can be ordered to destroy whole cities, and will do so without hesitation and with startling complacency. Our main female protagonist – and titular Ultimate Weapon – Chise believes that she's being punished for some unknown wrongdoing, and accepts that she is an Ultimate Weapon. It's left to her boyfriend Shuji – as the only one who knows her secret – to offer love and support to her, as with each action she takes, she becomes more machine and less human.

The backdrop to She is one of unease. It is set in the near future, in a world where both the internet and cellphones have been banned, and the threat of war from an unrevealed enemy looms over Japan. Nonetheless, the lives of the people go on as normal, with just the occasional rumbling of an F16 fighter jet overhead. In the midst of all this are Shuji and Chise, high-school students who've decided to fall in love with each other. Shuji is calm and often seems aloof, but isn't beyond emotional outbursts; Chise is very shy, apologises a lot, and is rather slow and clumsy. She asks Shuji to be her boyfriend, but it's more of a test to see whether she can do it than anything she's thought over.

When a surprise air-raid strikes their home, killing thousands, Shuji is shocked to find Chise in the midst of the warzone, with angelic wings and futuristic weaponry grafted to her body. Again, this evokes themes common to Gunslinger Girl; how could anyone do this to such a young and innocent girl, against her will? Shuji is understandably concerned – will their relationship survive Chise regularly being called out to war? And just how much of her humanity is Chise prepared to lose?

All these questions, and so few of their answers, are posed in Volume 1 of this thirteen-episode animé series (based on a manga by Shin Takahashi). Four episodes are contained in this volume; in them, we see Shuji and Chise's relationship begin, witness Chise's gradual transformation into a weapon of war, and along the way see how Shuji's past girlfriend Fuyumi causes him to have second thoughts – he asks himself whether he'd prefer a simple, easy-going relationship with a "normal" girl, and begins to wonder whether he's really in love with Chise. Finally, Chise realises that she can control her new "powers", and decides that she'll protect everyone in the world from harm – but soon discovers that it's never that simple.

She never forgets its perspective – it's a love story, pure and simple. No details of Chise's modifications are given to the viewer – Chise explains "A lot of important-looking people explained it to me, but they used such big words!". The viewer doesn't need to be told the technical details of what's been done to her, as that's not the focus of the series. It purposefully avoids showing overblown action scenes of Chise attacking the enemy, content to have her allies congratulate her after the fact. Instead, what we see are the harsh realities of Chise's condition, both from her perspective and from Shuji's, and how it turns a budding, tender relationship into an unpredictable situation.

The animation of She is a continual delight. The "clean"-looking school and suburban city backdrops look ok, but what really shine through are the grasslands and forest greeneries, faded ever-so-slightly against the lighting. Character designs are done in a traditional animé style, with a distinctive ruddiness around the cheeks. One comment I can raise against the character designs of Shuji and Chise in particular is that Shuji looks far too old – his build and hair colour make him tower over the tiny form of Chise, and this has a knock-on effect of making her seem far younger – to the point where they appear (at first glance) to be brother and sister instead of girlfriend and boyfriend.

Incidental music is almost entirely absent in these first few episodes. Both main characters will occasionally hum a love theme, which I think is based on one of the two image songs, and a powerful electric guitar riff kicks in whenever Chise has to use her powers. Voice acting is well-performed, if a little hesitant in some places where the sentence structure perhaps needn't have been quite so disjointed.

She is a story that (by the nature of its plot) will most likely end in tragedy, and yet it's enjoyable to see the characters try to make the best of such a tragic situation. Although I've said that the details of Chise's modifications aren't necessary for the viewer to know, I'd like to see how the scientists who've done this to her think about what they've done. Even though the focus is the love story between Chise and Shuji, ignoring the equally-important background players would be a mistake. Roll on Volume 2.

sound and vision

The 16:9 transfer here is decent enough, but disappoints by being non-anamorphic. Colours are well reproduced, but the contrast lacks punch, although this could be deliberate to the look of the show.

The soundtrack is offred in 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround, both Japanese and an Eglish dub. The 5.1 has better clarity and does spread the sound around, though somewhat arbitrarily, with sound effects emerging from the rear speakers for no good reason. As so often with Manga animé, disc 2 contains the same material but with a DTS track, which is basically the same as the 5.1, but louder.

summary

She's extra features – all on disc 2, with the DTS audio track – kick off with Conversations with Voice Actors (13:19), an interview with Fumiko Orikasa (Chise) and Shiro Ishimoda (Shuji). There's a featurette, "All About Saikano" (24:05), which is a basic "behind-the-scenes" documentary going into more detail about the series' manga roots. You can access a collection of short TV commercials for the series (3:08), see a feature from a Japanese animé/manga news program, ("Saikano Times"), commenting on it (20:07), and finally flip through character sheets

She, the Ultimate Weapon, vol. 1
Saishû heiki kanojo

Japan 2002
100 mins
director
Mitsuko Kase

DVD details
region 2
video
16:9 letterboxed
sound
Dolby stereo 2.0
Dolby surround 5.1
DTS surround 5.1
languages
Japanese
English
subtitles
English
extras
Conversations with voice actors
Behind-the-scenes featurette
TV commercials
News programme
Character sheets
distributor
Manga
release date
15 May 2006
review posted
15 May 2006