Spirit of Wonder (Scientific Boys Club)

This is a rather curious DVD. It consists in a two episode main feature, bracketed by two shorts. If most anime and manga are analogs of novels with visuals replacing much descriptive text, then this and the manga it is based on are short-story collections.

The main feature, The Scientific Boys Club, is a whimsical homage to 1950's and pre-1950's science fiction (esp. to my mind Jules Vernes, though other reviewers favor H.G. Wells as the antecedent) and to Bristol and the surrounding English countryside. I should point out that I like whimsy. Many don't--if you're one of those, skip this review and this anime.

Still reading? A fellow whimsy-fancier? Good.

The protagonist, Windy, seems to want nothing more than to settle down with her husband, Jack, and live a quiet life on the outskirts of Bristol. One has the feeling she does in the end, but not until her father, two of his childhood friends, and a scientific treatise she had written before they were married land her and Jack in the middle of a amazing adventure.

"The Scientific Boys Club" of the title turns out to be Windy's father Gordon Lindoverberg and his two childhood companions, Cooper and Shepherd. In childhood, the trio were quite taken with Pervical Lowell's fanciful description of Mars, and still dream of traveling there. Windy has some lonely times when Jack takes up with the three as they try to put the theory in Windy's treatise into practice to make their dream a reality.

Bracketing the main feature are two shorts whose main character is Miss China, a martial-arts adept and proprietress of a popular Chinese restaurant in what looks to be a manor-house on the other side of Bristol. (She makes cameos in the main feature when Jack and "the boys" dine and drink more than is good for them at her establishment.) These are sequels of a sort to an earlier Spirit of Wonder anime I've not seen, in which China, her boarder, another 'mad scientist/inventor' Mr. Breckenridge, and his apprentice, Jim (who is definitely "sweet on" China) are the main characters. In the first, one of Breckenridge's inventions causes Miss China to begin gradually shrinking. Segments following the incident begin with her current height being reported (in English system measurement!). Her adventures are very different at 3ft. 11in, 1ft., 6in. and 3in. In the end she is restored. . .or, well, you need to see the end. The second ties more closely to the earlier anime, using the same one of Breckenridge's inventions to send China, Jim and Breckenridge on a wild adventure.

The drawing style is more realistic than is the wont in anime--realistic eyes, and only one or two instances of comedically exaggerated facial expressions, though even these are closer to what's feasible for human faces than is usual. The depictions of the English countryside and Bristol--complete with loving attention to detail in lots of long-shots of the Avon, the Clifton Suspension Bridge and Cabot Tower at all times of day and night, aerial views, and use of the passing of the seasons to communicate timespan--are worth seeing just as exemplars of the animators' art. The scenes on Mars are based on actual NASA footage both from flyovers and the Viking landers (whose mission is used to frame the main feature so that it is all told by Windy as a flashback).

The music and voice acting were competent, nothing to either complain about or get excited about.

Not worth owning, unless you're really into the English countryside or early science-fiction, or have a fetish for completeness in your anime collection. But, if you're in the mood for a nice quiet evening and somehow can't live without a dose of anime, put down the price of a rental and give it a look.

The whole story is very tame, and the only things parents might concern themselves with are the portrayal of drunkenness, Jack and his father-in-law come home wasted from Miss China's restaurant several times; Cooper's penchant for flipping up women's skirts to see their panties (gotta have one stereotypic hentai baka when there's a crowd of old men in the story), and the two nude sequences of Miss China. Neither is at all sexual. The longer one in the first short makes perfect sense in the context of the plot, while the shorter, in which she get out of her bath to look up at the Scientific Boys Club's spaceship as it passes overhead, is simply gratuitous fan-service. (This is an even better example than Tenchi Muyo of why ratings don't translate cross-culturally. Absent the nude shots, the whole thing could get a G--well at least if Dumbo with its famous drunk scene still gets a G.)

Ratings (out of 5, 1 being worst, 5 being best)

Plot 3.3
Voice-Acting (original)4.0
Voice-Acting (English dub)N/A

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