#1 Pick your gender
For video games it is standard fair to start your adventure with picking your gender, but Simoun explores what that would be like if it were the same in real life. In this show everybody is born female and each nation has their own means of making sure there is a male population. Simulacrum uses “The Spring”, a magical location with religious significance where young adults go to make their choice, whereas one of the “bad guys” just stuffs people full of hormones at birth.
Much of the calmer parts of Simoun revolve around the characters pondering about what to choose and how they imagine their life to be afterward. Some of the cast is eager to get the war over with so the military will let them go to the spring, whereas others dread having to make the choice and are delaying it as much as possible. After all, what would you choose after already spending your entire life female, knowing you’ll never get a chance to revert your decision later. It’s a fascinating idea and one of the many oddities that make Simoun so intriguing.
#2 Are we the bad guys?
The story of Simoun revolves around a cast of pilots (Sybilla) that pilot the titular Simoun, a type of aircraft manned by two that uses poorly-understood technologies from a lost civilization. Because of this the Simoun are considered sacred and flying them is referred to as praying, even when “praying” leads to massive explosions that wipe out enemies. Our cast is part of the nation called Simulacrum, a theocracy that is hoarding the lost technology to themselves out of religious conservatism while the rest of the world is left without and suffering because of it.
I found this an interesting perspective to be in, as our young pilots aren’t really politically motivated, they are just the equivalent of priests and protecting their people, even if the invasion launched by their neighbors is kind of understandable. The show even opens up on showing the polluted hellhole that one nation lives in, which stands in stark contrast with the beauty of Simulacrum that uses the technology which powers the Simoun to also generate infinite, clean energy. Simulacrum is willfully allowing an entire nation to suffer and die by not helping them get access to the same, clean energy, just because they feel they aren’t religious enough to get it.
It’s natural to be rooting for the main characters, but our heroines in this story are using super-technology to nuke entire armies from existence, thousands of warriors wiped away without a chance to put up a fight, all to protect a nation with questionable ideals and leadership. A nation that is determined enough to send children in to defend its freedom, but which is too conservative to work on better understanding their own technology or implement better strategies to help their defense, which leads to massive problems when the other nations begin to adapt and use techniques to avoid the destructive power of the Simoun. At that point you can’t help but cheer a little for the underdogs in this war.
#3 Deen does sci-fi and they do it well
Studio Deen isn’t exactly known for delivering quality. While they have made some great shows that I personally enjoyed a lot, see Higurashi and the original adaptation of Fate/Stay Night for examples, the quality of their animation is often lackluster and rushed. Perhaps it’s courtesy of the directing work of Junji Nishimura or maybe it’s because the show is generally kind of slow-paced, but those issues are a lot less prevalent in Simoun.
Simoun has action scenes that look really good, but it uses those sparingly and I wouldn’t be surprised if they could use some animations multiple times, since the Simoun fight primarily through drawing patterns in the sky. The rest of the show is more political or focuses on character development, with many of the busier scenes using cool-looking static images that convey a lot of emotion and tension. I never found myself blown away by the animation, but I sure wasn’t bothered by any of it either.
Meanwhile the actual character design is really cool, with a variety of nice-looking heroines that get some really cool sci-fi costumes for various occasions. The music they picked for this show is also interesting, with many orchestral songs and stuff that sounds sort of like Jazz. Just look up “Youen Naru Kizuna no Hibiki” on YouTube, it’s a joy to listen to and not something you’d easily associate with a sci-fi series like this.
#4 Emotionally-driven characters
Only young girls can pilot the Simoun and for most anime fans that might not sound like an oddity. After all, anime are made to appeal mostly to teenagers, so though it is unlikely in real life, it makes sense that in anime teenagers can save the day. Except Simoun doesn’t treat it as a benefit, but rather a self-inflicted handicap on the part of Simulacrum, whose religion and conservatism prevent them from using more sensible military strategy.
These kids are not ready to wage war, but are the only ones who can, and that realization brings up a lot of emotions in them. Early on in the show I was kind of bothered with how much everybody seemed to complain and bicker, but as each character got their spotlight episodes I began to understand them a lot more. These kids have some fancy technology on their side, but are still up against adults, and even when they are off the battlefield they are being tossed around by their superiors. In reality, they are powerless, and when some invariably bite the dust it begins to tear at them.
With 26 episodes to it, Simoun gets a lot of time to make these characters shine. In fact, I was surprised how much the war takes a backseat, as the show instead makes room to give each individual member of the choir time to develop. You can expect romances, conflicts, characters that help each other overcome deeply-rooted issues, and deaths, which are used sparingly enough to stay surprising and still manage to strike at the most devastating moments.
Another great touch is that the show spends a lot of time of the last few episodes showing what has become of these characters after their role as Sybilla is over and they have chosen their genders. It makes the otherwise baffling ending really satisfying and bittersweet to watch.
#5 “Where are they going with this?”
Simoun is nothing if not terribly slow-paced and there were definitely times where I found myself considering dropping it. What made me stick with the show in the end is the looming question of what in the world it’s all leading up to. Besides being slow-paced, Simoun is also an amalgamation of so many strange concepts and ideas, meaning it’s really incomparable to anything else out there. Picking your gender, an amoral theocracy as the protagonist, a war that the heroes seem to be consistently losing, these are all intriguing building blocks and story elements you won’t find very often.
It’s also a really unpredictable show, where events and twists always seem to turn out completely different from what you’d expect. These two qualities combined lead me to wondering what kind of pay off these building blocks would get. For example, whether or not the cast will win the war is constantly up in the air. In any other show you’d pretty much assume that the good guys win in the end, but Simoun throws you off with its many twists until you aren’t even sure of such basic storytelling elements anymore. Will the theocracy continue to exist now that the Simoun have been misused for warfare? Should it even continue to exist if it could?
I honestly had no clue, but darn it I was going to stick with this show and find out. And to Simoun‘s credit, the ending is exactly as bizarre as everything leading up to it, and again managed to go against every plot twist that would normally seem sensible. I was shocked, I was saddened, but most importantly, I was left utterly surprised. Chances are a romantic, yuri, sci-fi epic isn’t exactly what you are looking for in anime, but I could recommend the show for its unpredictability alone.