Airing back during the Spring 2014 anime season, Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii or The World Is Still Beautiful is a shoujou and fantasy mix that I have always wanted to get back to in passing it up. Not exactly in the mood for another romantic comedy, the murmurs and whispers on the internet of how decent it was didn’t fall on deaf ears and decided to bump it up on my priority list. Of course, tempering my expectations from anything gleaned by word of mouth, I was actually taken aback by what I seen. Is that a good or bad thing? Well, here is my evaluation.
Title: The World Is Still Beautiful
Studio: Pierrot (Licensed by Sentai Filmworks)
Genre: Fantasy, Drama, Romance
Nike, the fourth princess of the Rain Dukedom and one who holds the power to call forth the rain, travels to the Sun Kingdom to marry Sun King Livius for her country, despite her own reluctance. She soon discovers that the King, who conquered the world in only three years after his ascendance to the throne, is still a child. Furthermore, for trivial reasons, he has demanded that Nike call forth the rain, and when she refuses, he has her thrown in jail. The story follows the two who, while at first are a married couple only in name, gradually begin to establish an emotional bond with one another
If there is one positive point I can take away from this series it would have to be character: Nike and more importantly, her distinctive personality. Being far removed from the spoiled princess archetype, she is genuinely entertaining to watch, something I can’t attribute to many shoujou heroines. Spunky, full of attitude, and despite compared to her much more attractive sisters, no slouch the look department herself, Nike in actions and words is nice blend of femininity and strength that don’t get brought out in most series. Of course, instead of being made by design that way, she does make a nice foil for her betrothed Livius Ifrikia, ruler of the Sun Kingdom that is child, but much more of an adult and competent king. While I am a lover of the “opposites attract” trope, Nike’s headstrong behavior clashing with Livius and his cold-hearted and brazen perspective, the latter doesn’t make for a good leading male role just due to the inflexibility. Yes, Livius and his relationship with Nike does slowly evolve over the course of the series, but even in future episodes, his character personality just displays so many inconsistencies that is both frustrating and does present slight problems for other factors of the series. Despite the heap of writing done to humanize the brash persona and shed some light on why Livius acts the way he does (which is perfectly valid), it still fails to make him personable or sympathetic toward unlike that of Nike when she does face her own obstacles and in reality, has to look out for him more than her own well being. In other words, Livius is not a complex character, but he is a wounded one. The only problem is that the viewer doesn’t really get to see enough of his wounds and the severity to develop an empathetic link.
That point aside, the narrative structure does have it own shortcomings from a technical standpoint, episodes often feeling too rushed or too slow, but surprisingly, didn’t really mind that aspect as the events do make sense, however, just not all interesting. Being less compelled to watch the series for Nike and Livius try to develop their relationship in the face of bitter childhood friends and spiteful politicians, it was the worldbuilding that initial captivated me. Not particularly all that meaningful or even fleshed out well, the fantasy bits did manage to hold my attention and keep me watching through the entire duration. Sadly, as much as I like how the fantasy element was implemented, the series really does falter and flounder when it comes to the writing, especially how it chooses to manage the tone. Like all shoujou works that usually switches between drama, romance, and comedy, The World Is Still Beautiful awkwardly tries to play those avenues, but can’t seem to get it right and when it does, things feel out of place. For example: in one episode when events begin to take a turn for the dramatic near the end due to Livius insecure character, the following one opens on a comical bent and treats the former like it never happened. Even though the story arc does tie up appropriately, I just find it baffling and frustrating that the show has to play the jester card ever time the drama seems to be going south and even it doesn’t, just pops in comedic relief when it really isn’t necessary.
Speaking of jesters, it is only by pure coincidence that Pierrot happens to be the animation studio in charge and do pretty well for themselves on that front. Airing in the same year as titles like: Sabagebu, Tokyo Ghoul, and Akatsuki no Yona – ones that are also more action-oriented and heavy on visual flair, The World Is Still Beautiful holds its own remarkably well by comparison and benefits greatly from the artstyle it chooses to go with. The character designs are little on the bland side, but do like that they are far removed from the classic and overtly rout style most shoujou works go for. With Sentai Filmworks handling the home release, it is slightly disappointing that there is no English dub, yet Japanese voice actors do an excellent job and a pretty easy to follow story that really doesn’t call for it. For those familiar with Chihayafuru or any other scores that Kousuke Yamashita has done, the music has a very genteel and floating quality to it making fit very naturally made for the series. Granted that the tracks aren’t as emotionally effective or impressive as Chihayafuru they still do a great job of bring out the mood that each scene calls for and just very pleasant to hear.
Even with the individual issues I had with The World Is Still Beautiful, as whole, I can be proud enough to say that it was thoroughly enjoying. I wouldn’t be willing to recommend it or even call it a nice entry for the genre, nonetheless, glad to have it off my queue and not in a spiteful way. For those that enjoy the lighthearted and sentimental side of romantic works with some lively leading personalities, The World Is Still Beautiful might work for you, yet don’t set the bar too high for another ordinary experience.
Pros: Nice character designs and animation quality, fascinating fantasy adornment, solid female leading character, interesting dynamics to the romantic formula.
Cons: Humor and drama aren’t balanced or play well together, a few characterization gaffs for Livius.