Robotic maids from Japanís past that are powered by the hearts of angels? Suspend a little disbelief and youíll find out that this show actually manages to pull it off pretty well.
Thanks to his rather untrustworthy friends young Nakahito Kagura finds himself alone in an old and seemingly abandoned military building, which is not the sort of place a young mystic of the Onmyo Way is expected to find himself. As he searches for a way out he finds what appears to be a life sized doll, but before he knows what is happening the building starts to get demolished, and the Ďdollí falls forward onto him. While the kiss was unintentional it seems to be enough for the doll to activate, because she is actually a very bubbly, naive and amazingly strong robot, a Steel Angel, called Kurumi, and now that Nakahito has woken her he is her master. Quite what to do about the situation Nakahito doesnít know, but he has her now and her devotion to him makes it obvious they will be together for a while. And if that wasnít enough the Japanese army sends their agents to keep stock of the situation, Kurumi find that she has sisters with very different personalities to hers, and that as Steel Angels they have a destiny to fulfil. Assuming they can find out what it is!
Being in three parts might be a little much for one review, but in the end this all slots together as one large whole. The first series makes up the bulk of this show and is set in the Japan of the past, as is Encore which is basically a set of epilogues for that story. The second series picks up in the present, with the Steel Angels now being upgraded and ready to meet new masters, this time female ones! On the whole though the theme of the show is the same. It is a very light-hearted comedy that doesnít like to take itself too seriously, but (in the first series at least) sticking with the story will let you in on a surprising amount of depth. The most surprising fact of this show is that while there are a lot of episodes overall each is only fifteen minutes long. Sometimes, particularly in the first series, this doesnít seem long enough to tell a story as it will split one over quite a few episodes, but it is easy to get used to and means that it never feels like it is a burden to sit down for an episode or two.
With the original storyline being set in the past you would be forgiven for thinking that all the military robots and Steel Angels would seem very out of place, but from fairly early on the mix of science and mysticism seem to fit pretty well, especially since it is as much a mystery to the characters as it is to us as the viewers. All the main angels are charming in their own way and Kurumiís sisters (Saki, who has certain affections for her older sister, and the younger, antagonistic Karinka) get good time on screen to be themselves. In fact all of the cast, even the supporting players, get a good look in and they all grow as people as the series goes on, especially as Nakahito gets used to the idea of having feelings for Kurumi. The Encore episodes are a nice way to round out this side of the series as they leave behind the heavier ending and stick to the character fun that we have come to like as the show has progressed. Seeing all the supporting angels vying for a chance to power up via Nakahito is very amusing, and each of the main angels gets an episode to really show themselves at their best.
Unfortunately the second series seems very underdeveloped thanks to that. It still has the same formula, but translates it to the present day then takes the undercurrent of sapphic romance and places it firmly in the centre stage. Unfortunately it has lost some of the charm in the process, and the new twist to the relationships isnít enough to compensate for that, although it tries bravely. It feels that bit more generic, and the only characters that really seem to develop as it goes along are Kurumiís new master, the introverted cello playing girl Nako, and Kurumi, and Saki, but even for the two of them it only comes down to learning that their affections for their masters sometimes have to be overridden for their mastersí sake. It seems very shallow compared to the type of material the first series gave us, with not as much closure at the end as it could have had. Overall it is still fun, but there was a lot of potential in the setting and the character relationships that just didnít get used, which is a great shame.
For a show that is so cute for so much of the time there is a lot of nudity here, and the violence can get surprisingly harsh, especially when Karinka is around. Itís not that graphic, but it can come as a surprise, especially with some of the combat situations that are used. On top of that there are the unconventional relationships since Nakahito is so young, and Sakiís affections for her Ďsisterí are obviously pretty strong. And thereís the overt lesbian angle used in the second series should that matter, though Saki still gets rather jipped despite getting a master of her own to fawn over as well as Kurumi. Teens and up for the most part.
Visually this is a pretty good show, although I must say it took a while for me to get used to the designs for Kurumi and Nakahito themselves. Still, for a show with lots of opportunity for fanservice like this one has it looks good, though the production values of the second series donít quite match up to the first. The colours are great on the whole though, and the fluidity of the animation is more than acceptable for the most part.
The dub on this one is the above average sort that Iím coming to expect from the more recent ADV releases, and while it can get patchy with incidentals and minor character most of the main cast fit the bill very well. Kurumi and Karinka in particular hit the mark often and well, and most of the others are not bad. It was a shame that Claudia Black didnít live up to what I was expecting from her though, especially since they made something of a big deal about her doing a voice for the first series. Sheís good enough, but sometimes she didnít get across the right level of feeling or edge for her character, most noticeable when compared to the Japanese voice. As for the script they do a decent job, but itís the deliveries that make it entertaining rather than the writing for this show.
In the end this is fluff with a great deal more depth than one would expect in the first series and the Encore, but itís still fluff. Fans of such fluff will really want this one and will get some good laughs out of the characters, but some people my find it a bit too much to swallow in the lighter, more comedy oriented earlier parts. It is one to watch out for though when youíre in the mood. The second series is really just for the die hard fans of the first and for the shoujo-ai audience. On its own it is enjoyable enough, and has some good laughs with its girls, but it doesnít have what it takes to live up to being a real sequel or continuation.