Premise: Jing, the infamous King of Bandits, finds himself and his feathered partner Kir behind bars in Seventh Heaven, the most notorious prison complex in the world. There, they seek to steal the Dream Orb from the convict Campari. But before doing so, they must escape from the prison of dreams that Campari has conjured for them.
Wow. Just...wow. Jing: King of Bandits in Seventh Heaven (it's a mouthful, so I'll just call it Seventh Heaven) is a very confusing show for a number of reasons, but there's one in particular that astounds me: how much better Seventh Heaven is than the original anime. How can the staff, studio, and source material remain the same and yet come together to make such a superior series? It simply baffles me. But, you probably want a review, not questions, right? Right. Let's get started, shall we?
|Any series that starts with comic-book style sound effects clearly has an excellent sense of style.|
|It looks weird, and that's kind of the point|
|Wacky stuff like this is cool and you know it.|
|The kind of cool and crazy environment you'd only find in a dream. Or a M.C. Escher illustration.|
|Guess what you see on your screen when this shot comes up|
|Jing (left) and Kir (right)|
Jing is still a pretty cool protagonist. Now, if you were to pick one thing that wouldn't change from anime to OVA, it would probably be the main character. And indeed, Jing is not very different in Seventh Heaven. But his character is so much better executed. He shows his emotions a (very) little more and is a little less in control, but he is no less cool or confident because of that. It's the little things, like him shouting in surprise when the floor gives way and he falls, that make Jing's character better in Seventh Heaven. He feels more alive than he did in the original anime. The other reason Jing is better in this is that he has more empathy. One of the reasons we liked Jing despite him being a thief was that he's a nice guy. This is even more true in Seventh Heaven. I mean, he's still not a saint, and he's pretty short with hostile people, but he's polite in a "dude" kind of way. He even spends the second half of the last episode helping someone out (though it furthers his goals). Of course, Jing is still not an especially deep character. Though the second episode involves his past, it reveals little about him as a person, and is vague on the life-changing details of his early childhood. Little new information is revealed about him, nor is he very dynamic. Still, that's in keeping with his character and the style of the story, and a dynamic main character is rarely a good idea for a serial adventure like JKB. All that aside though, the bottom line is that Jing is still cool, still collected, and still never at a loss, but he feels more alive and more likeable. Next is Kir.
|Never change, Kir.|
|You know that any series which shows a random still of the protagonists before the title has got to be classy.|
Yet another area in which Seventh Heaven surprised me was the story. First, the basics. The story at face level is pretty good. The plot advances in a straightforward and logical (at least, as logical as one could expect from a dream setting) fashion, and it pulls you in and along well enough. Although the second episode is devoted to a story from Jing's youth (it concerns his first meeting with Kir), it does still serve some purpose in furthering the story. Without getting into it too deeply, the construction of the story is superior to the three-parter in the anime by far and feels more cohesive overall (second episode included). Again, kind of ironic, considering the setting. What surprised me the most about the story, though, was something I didn't even notice the first time I watched Seventh Heaven. This thing is advanced storytelling. I was absolutely amazed to see things like symbolism, image foreshadowing, and deeper meaning, and in Jing: King of Bandits, no less! These are the kinds of things I expect from Kino's Journey, not mainstream OVA's. That said, it was a pleasant surprise. I mean, none of these aspects are done as well in Seventh Heaven as they are in Kino's Journey, but the mere fact that they are included is a reason to rejoice. But enough about their inclusion; let's get a little more specific (not too much more, mind you. This is already a hefty review, and this is the kind of thing that could fully occupy its own post). There are a number of examples of foreshadowing in Seventh Heaven, worked in very subtly in the art. Additionally, little pictures and phenomena that seem insignificant actually serve to set up future events. Even our first view of Campari includes some hints that let you start piecing things together before you're told what's going on. The symbolism and deeper meaning are a little harder to identify, but they do exist, if you look hard enough. Again, there's nothing super amazing in terms of higher storytelling, but it's just so refreshing to see it in a "popular" anime.
The atmosphere of Seventh Heaven is superb. Where much of the charm of the original came from its atmosphere, the OVA's atmosphere simply oozes style. I mentioned that the anime felt "weird, psychedelic, and even dream-like." Imagine how amplified these things are when the show is in a dream. You're almost instantly caught up in the mood of the show, and it really feels like you're watching the characters move from dream to dream. I also said that the ideal conditions for watching the original were if you were watching a sleepy, possibly drunk version of yourself watch the show. For Seventh Heaven, just imagine that feeling, but even more. Granted, Seventh Heaven is good enough that such things are not necessary to enjoy it, but if you want to experience the full potential of the show's atmosphere, then that's probably the best you can do.
There's one last point I want to make before I end the review. In my review of the original, I talked about how it was actually a quote-unquote kid's show, and how that made its mistakes more excusable, because the standards were lower. Its mistakes were excused because of its intended audience. In Seventh Heaven, the dream setting may have seemed to be similar. I talked about how things are better because of the setting. But, there's a fundamental difference here. In the original, the mistakes were mistakes, and those mistakes were made partially excusable because of who it was intended for. In Seventh Heaven, however, the "mistakes" (such as environmental inconsistencies) are not mistakes at all. They add to the atmosphere, and make perfect sense within the setting. This, perhaps better than anything else, exemplifies how much better Seventh Heaven is than the original.
Jing: King of Bandits in Seventh Heaven is a drastic improvement over the original anime. Literally everything is better. The characters feel more alive, the visuals are without mistakes (and add a lot to the mood), the sound is more focused, and the story is actually good. If every episode in the original had been like this, than Jing: King of Bandits would have been an amazing show.
Plot/Story: The story of Seventh Heaven is interesting and well made. The plot progression is natural, and since Jing isn't in total control of things, there's some actual tension involved. The second episode slips a little, being devoted to a story from Jing's past and not the one at hand, but it does serve to advance the plot and it sets some things up for later. Probably the best thing about the story, though, is the fact that higher tier storytelling techniques like subtle foreshadowing and deeper meaning are worked in. Overall, a good story.
Characters: The characters are a step up from the anime, which comes as a big surprise, considering that the same two characters are in the lead. The characters of Jing and Kir are implemented better, and Campari marks the first time someone other than a Jing Girl goes through an arc. Additionally, the minor characters don't feel as much like plot tools or cardboard cutouts, and are enjoyable despite their relative lack of growth or screentime.
Sound: The sound in Seventh Heaven is fantastic. The music fits the visuals, story, and style of the series perfectly, and is well made to boot. The sound effects are fairly negligible, but are solid nonetheless, and the voice acting is also a step up. The script has a little more substance to it (though not much), so the protagonist's VA's are able to showcase their abilities a little more. The voice acting for the supporting characters is also quite good. Great sound.
Visuals: One of the best things about Seventh Heaven is the visuals. A lot of weird things happen in dreams, which are largely a visual experience. Yet somehow, this series manages to capture that experience accurately. Excellent use of shadows, slick animation, and eye-catching perspective shots add up to make this show a rich visual experience. Superb art and animation all around.
Overall: Jing: King of Bandits in Seventh Heaven is a good show. A refreshingly well told story, solid characters, and strong visuals and sound make this series worth your time. I recommend Seventh Heaven to anybody who likes psychedelic settings, anime that appeal to the senses (good visuals and sounds), and/or an OVA that is greatly superior to its source.
Got feedback? Be it suggestions, requests, criticisms, or even <gasp> compliments, I read it all, so go ahead and post a comment!