Review: Red Data Girl

A Shinto themed story full of teenage drama awaits in today’s review. It’s a series where a girl’s struggle to make the world see her differently brings on more attention than she ever wanted.

Title: Ārudījī Reddo Dēta Gāru (RDG: Red Data Girl)
Original airing: April 4, 2013 to June 20, 2013
Studio: Progressive Anime Works (P.A. Works)
Episodes: 12
Duration: 24 mins/episode
Genres: Drama, Supernatural, Fantasy, Romance
Source: Ārudījī Reddo Dēta Gāru (Novel Series) by Noriko Ogiwara

Where I watched: Netflix (English dub and subtitle available)

Watch the trailer here

Brief Synopsis and First Impressions:

Fifteen-year-old Izumiko Suzuhara just wants to be a normal girl, but that is easier said than done. Raised in a shrine deep in the mountains, she grew up extremely sheltered and painfully shy. She also has the unfortunate tendency to destroy any electronic device simply by touching it.

Despite this, she still wants to try and change her life. To mark her determination to follow through on this transformation, Izumiko begins by cutting her bangs, which shocks both her classmates and protectors. And that’s only the start! Her guardian, Yukimasa Sagara, forces his son, Miyuki, to come to the mountain shrine and become Izumiko’s lifelong servant and protector. Too bad Izumiko and Miyuki cannot stand each other. They have known each other since they were children, and Miyuki bullied her terribly. He simply does not understand what is so special about Izumiko. His father calls Izumiko a goddess, but that cannot be true…can it?

Credit: myanimelist.net

This was another series in the Netflix ‘anime’ category that I passed by numerous times. The premise was a little too generic to make a good assessment: “This anime series follows the adventures of 15-year-old Izumiko, a vessel for an immortal goddess, and Miyuki, a boy who serves as her guardian.” Maybe it’s a story about a boy slowly falling for a girl, who struggles to control the spirit within her? A typical damsel in distress plot? Where does the ‘Data’ part come in?

Perhaps it was a bad sign that I had so many questions going in. The MyAnimeList premise helps a little with this, but even that is slightly vague. The reason I eventually ended up watching this is because my wife thought it might be interesting. Given that her last suggestion was Ouran High School Host Club, I had little reason to doubt her. At a mere twelve episodes I also felt there was little to lose. While I wish RDG had been another pleasant surprise, things turned out a little differently this time around.


Story

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From the opening title cards, we’re told that the term”Red Data Girl” is derived from the Red Data Book, published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to catalog the world’s endangered species. The Red Data Girl is thus a girl in danger of extinction, as she is “an entity with such rare and unique powers that everyone wants her for themselves.” Already stretching to make this title work, this anime sets itself up for a difficult challenge.

The series begins with Izumiko, a timid fifteen year old who has been raised in Tamakura Shrine, an ancient holy site (and part of the Kumano Shrines World Heritage Site) tucked deep within the forest. This peculiar teen has an unusual and seemingly uncontrollable ability of disturbing any electrical device she uses. Computers, cellphones, and practically any other modern day technology is thus off limits. Naturally, this (coupled with her painful shyness) leaves Izumiko with few friends.

Hindered by her strange circumstance, she feels isolated from her peers. To rebel against this isolation, Izumiko decides to cut her bangs (Of course she did. How did you not guess that?). While this sounds strange, in the context of the series, it does have some sort of plot significance. It was also supposed to symbolize the beginning of her change and personal growth. The initial episodes are used to introduce Izumiko’s guardian, Yukimasa Sagara, and his son, Miyuki. It is through them that she discovers she is a yorimashi: a vessel for a powerful Shinto spirit – the Himegami. Miyuki, who has trained to become a yamabushi all his life, has been assigned to protect her. As her bond with Miyuki grows stronger, the spirit dwelling within her begins to grow restless.

DSapwLs.jpg
Cutting your own hair for the first time – A surefire way to avoid social anxiety.

Before I go any further, I’ll try to explain (as simply as possible) this complex idea of a Himegami spirit dwelling inside our protagonist Izumiko. It is initially unclear if the Himegami and Izumiko are one in the same, but they are actually two entirely separate beings. The Himegami was once a human being from the future. Viewers learn that she somehow was responsible for bringing demise to future human beings and was murdered because of this. So, her spirit travels back to the past in hopes of finding a way to change the future (and save humanity). This is actually her third attempt at traveling back through generations of women in Izumiko’s family. Because the Himegami is starting to forget herself, she fears this will be her last chance to change the future. Did you understand all that? Good! Moving on..

As the series progresses, the plot starts to pick up. Izumiko’s life (and the story) began to change after she and Miyuki enroll in Houjou Academy – a boarding school for students with supernatural abilities. Sounding much like Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, I’ll admit that I was a bit disappointed in the relative lack of mutant battles. In relation to this it becomes apparent that there is a contest to become the student council president. Rather than deciding the winner through an election, it involves some sort of spiritual battle that will also give them the honor of being a World Heritage candidate. Don’t ask me why a UNESCO landmark conservation program would want or need someone well versed in Shinto magic (and don’t ask the series because it won’t tell you).

At the same time, Izumiko is trying to keep from being completely taken over by the Himegami spirit.  Her mother explains that Izumiko’s body can be shared between her and the spirit. In order for that to happen, Izumiko must become stronger, which I guess will help restrain the Himegami and keep it from killing off humanity.  Honestly, this is never entirely explained, so a lot of this is vague conclusions drawn on my part.

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Better get used to that face now. You’ll see it a lot.

A Shinto spirit dwelling inside a young girl, a battle for control of student government, and some old fashioned teenage angst surely makes for an interesting plot, right? Well, it might have if the series hadn’t left so many unanswered questions. Initially viewers are led to believe that Izumiko’s connection to a familiar are going to be highly significant to the series, but this arc becomes neglected fairly early and is never fully resolved. The phenomenon of causing electronic devices to go haywire, after the first few episodes, it is also never really used significantly again. Finally, while the relationship between the two main characters is shown to grow steadily through the series, it is unclear what will become of it by the end.

After winding through a strange path full of dropped plot elements, the pieces that remain are not really cohesive. Viewers are left with the feeling that there has to be more to the story than what is being told. Given that there are long stretches where nothing significant happens in the story, more time could’ve likely have been spent on the narrative and world building.


Characters

RedDataGirlGroup

As I mentioned earlier, the story centers around Izumiko Suzuhara, a teenage girl who happens to be a vessel for a powerful, vengeful spirit. Being a meek and rather innocent girl, she is constantly driven by her circumstances or her parents wishes. Unable to see to look after her directly, her parents assign Yukimasa Sagara to act as her guardian. This leaves Izukimo perplexed when Yukimasa explains that she may possess some sort of spiritual power. Having grown up in an isolated Shinto temple, Izumiko seems to accept all her strange abilities as normal, never attributing them to a another spirit.

Izumiko is later introduced to Miyuki Sagara: Yukimasa’s son and her future guardian. Miyuki appears to despise his father, even callously referring to him by his first name. At first, Miyuki refuses his father’s order to serve Izumiko, believing that a powerful Himegami  would never choose such a dull girl as a vessel. In response, it is implied that Yukimasa follows his son into the woods and beats him until he complies. Yukimasa also habitually belittles his son, reminding Miyuki that he is unworthy of protecting Izumiko. This only serves to further strain their relationship.

Miyuki is initially bitter towards Izumiko as well. Viewers learn the pair have had an uneasy relationship since childhood and even after being separated for a few years, Miyuki still seems to harbor resentful feelings towards her. The relationship between the two slowly begins to change as the series progresses in subtle ways. Again, viewers have to speculate as to why, since it isn’t spelled out in the series. It seems like Miyuki begins to realize that Izumiko’s life was more like a prison, controlled by her parents and guardians. He thus appears to gain a sort of respect for Izumiko, since she has chosen to write her own future (even though she still struggles to make her own decisions). Miyuki’s strong, aggressive nature serves as a natural foil to Izumiko’s shrinking violet personality. This animosity towards one another transitions into unspoken romantic feelings.

When the pair transfer to Houjou Academy, to better protect Izumiko, viewers are introduced to some rather interesting characters. Izumiko’s roommate, Mayura Souda, is intelligent, beautiful, and happens to be a triplet. She and her brother, Manatsu, have the ability to contact their deceased brother, Masumi, who maintains a strong connection to the spirit realm. Though they have a complex and unique relationship, much of the story focuses on Izumiko, making it difficult to understand the triplets’ motivations or their sudden changes in behavior.

 

The other notable attendant of the school is the scheming Takiyanagi, who isn’t above using some dirty tricks to ensure he becomes the next student council president. Though his motive isn’t exactly ambiguous, the series has a difficult time making him compelling as a villain. Like the Souda triplets, we are given little idea as to why he pursues often dangerous avenues to get what he wants or what he truly has to gain by doing so.


Animation

rdg-01

Known best for popular animes like Angel Beats and Another, P.A. Works seems to love doing stories with supernatural themes. The special effects in RDG are not overly spectacular, or even particularly abundant, but the ones that are featured are done so in a beautiful and fluid manner, albeit assisted by CGI. Do you remember what I said about Myriad Colors Phantom World? The animation can be considered the saving grace in this series as well.

Focusing mostly on a group of schoolkids, the animation team isn’t terribly challenged in creating attractive visuals to portray everyday life, but the studio still makes the art look consistently good. Soft lines and muted colors are the predominant style here, and the artists maintain a focus on realistic body proportions and movements throughout. That isn’t to say that there isn’t much to look at in the ‘mundane’ scenes; it’s quite the contrary in fact. The scenery in this anime is done incredibly well, even for simple things like a walk through the forest or sitting in a room at school. These settings are made to look natural and serene by expertly using light and shadow to highlight the ambiance. Even while researching for this review, I’m reminded just how good the art can look at times. You can look at the below scenes for some examples.

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Scenes featuring supernatural beings and effects are much more vibrant, giving off an otherworldly feel. It’s not as easy to know what these are supposed to look like as it is with the ‘natural’ scenes, but they are still handled with the same careful attention to light sources and direction. Spirits are often depicted with bright lights, but the animators take care not to make them appear blinding. The Himegami, often wrapped in ornate kimonos, has a brigher aura around her than most of the characters, and even the small details in her clothing help to set her apart as a being of elegance and grace.

Scenes taking place at night are especially nice in this series, allowing the animators to depict the sky with a variety of colors and patterns. Living in a suburb, it’s rare for someone like me to be able to see the stars  and night sky with such clarity, so it was always nice to see how intense such displays could look in the remote or high altitude settings that the characters sometimes travel to. The picture at the top of this section is a prime example of this effect (if a little unrealistic, but it takes place in the spirit realm!), making use of CGI to create a great backdrop.


Sound

rdg-izumikos-dance

Op: Small Worldrop by Annabel
Ed: Yokan (Premonition) by Masumi Itõ

The sound for RDG is nothing spectacular, but it is decent. The opening theme, Small Worldrop, is not particularly memorable, but the melody is pleasant and compliments the animation nicely. The Yokan ending theme is charming and somewhat more memorable. The melody takes on a traditional Japanese feel (that was desperately needed in the OP) to tie the Shinto premise of the series together. Masumi Itõ’s whimsical style, coupled with the mellow music, gave Yokan a relaxing vibe; definitely worth a listen.

The sound director for RDG is the extremely talented Kazuhiro Wakabayashi, known for his  work on Ghibli films like Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle. He also worked on notable anime series such as Ghost in the Shell, Ouran High School Host Club, and Soul Eater. While the score itself is not particularly memorable, it’s rather effective when utilized properly. During intense moments, tension is heightened through the accompaniment of an eerie score. Moments of supernatural beauty are likewise met with a sweeping orchestral sound and folk instruments, giving the scenes a light, opulent feel.

In the original version, Saori Hayami brings the main protagonist, Izumiko, to life. She has a long list of notable titles under her belt, including voicing Reina Izumi from Myriad Colors Phantom World and Shirayuki from Snow White with the Red Hair (look for my review on this at a later date). Miyuki’s actor, Koki Uchiyama, lent his voice to other well-known characters, including Melzargard in One Punch Man and Soul Eater Evans from Soul Eater. The English dub didn’t disappoint either. Overall, the voice talent for this series was remarkable and served to add a bit more depth to the characters personalities. Viewers may have recognized the voice of Izumiko, Bryn Apprill, from the series Noragami as Hiyori Iki or the recurring character Krista Lenz in Attack on Titan. Similarly, the voice of Micah Solusod (Miyuki) also appears in Noragami as Yukine and plays the same character (Soul Eater Evans) as his Japanese counterpart, Koki Uchiyama, in Soul Eater.

 


Overall Appeal

With a mildly interesting (if not a little confusing) premise, it’s unfortunate that this series ended up falling short in many ways. The narrative and pace jumped around so much that it was easy to lose focus. It’s difficult to enjoy any series when you are constantly left wondering where the story is headed, but it’s even worse when the show provides so little to flesh out the paths it does take. In the end, I was left with more questions than answers. Additionally, I felt as if I spent entirely too long making assumptions about the plot, and the direction it was going, in a desperate attempt to piece the story together. This might very well have spoiled my overall enjoyment of the series.

Despite these criticisms, RDG  does have some noteworthy elements. Izumiko is a very sweet girl, and although she seems painfully indecisive at times, it isn’t hard to find yourself caring about her circumstances (when you have the slightest clue as to what it is). The animation and music also helps to immerse viewers in the aesthetic beauty of historic Japanese culture, mixed with the modern world.

With only sporadic action sequences, the emphasis is placed on Izumiko and her development over the series. So while RDG is listed under the genre of supernatural fantasy, it is essentially a story of adolescence and personal growth mixed with mystical elements. The series can thus be enjoyed for its focus on a slow relationship story, transitioning from a bitter resentment, to respect, and ultimately to fondness. It serves as a somewhat realistic growth between two people amid a sea of unrealistic plot elements.

 


Summary and Recommendations

While Red Data Girl had an interesting premise and beautiful animation, viewers may be left feeling as lost as Izumiko was in the beginning of the series. She might have been able to find herself, but I feel like I’ve been left still searching for a way out. This is what happens when a series has all the necessary elements to be successful, only to be brought down by less than spectacular writing.

The pacing of the story was inconsistent throughout the series, shifting between slow reveals, quick results, and story arcs that lead to nowhere. There were plenty of moments where I ended an episode like an inept Sherlock Holmes; trying to decipher what just happened for a few minutes, only to say “screw it… lets have tea instead.”  Honestly, I wouldn’t have even realized the series was over if Netflix hadn’t told me so.

Those of you who are compelled by decent music and above average visuals can find something to enjoy, as the effort made to create beautiful scenes is clearly apparent in their execution. I was torn between thinking how sweet the ending song sounded and sad that it will forever be associated with disappointment for me.

In the end, if slow paced mysteries are your cup of tea (why do I keep talking about tea?), then Red Data Girl is definitely worth trying out. Perhaps a more sophisticated anime fan will find much more enjoyment from it than I did. For a weekend otaku like me though, I will be shelving this series for good.

Watch if you:
Are very interested in Shinto beliefs and practices
Like technically impressive animation
Prefer slow relationship stories

Don’t Watch if you:
Become puzzled by messy plots
Need compelling character development
Are annoyed by meaningless story arcs

 


My Rating

Despite having a passably interesting premise, weaknesses in its story and characters distract from the more enjoyable aspects of this series. RDG earns 2.5 out of 5 Izumikos.

rating


Final Thoughts

The merits of RDG remain debatable. It enjoys high praise from those who enjoyed it as well as harsh criticism from those that didn’t. For me, I was left craving more detail to the story. I thought Izumiko was a compelling protagonist and I wanted to see her overcome her challenges. Even so, there were times I literally had to pause the show and question why seemingly significant points made in prior episodes no longer seemed relevant. The entire connection to the World Heritage program and the very odd stretch of logic that gave the series its title in the first place felt equally unexplained. Why would a series that clearly spent so much effort on visuals and voice work fall so short on narrative?

Given that there were 6 volumes of the novel I can’t help but think that the series attempted to adapt a large portion of it into the short twelve episode run, as the odd pacing seems to indicate. Many events are shown to appear significant, only to be forgotten or minimally consequential later on. With so little time, the story direction could have edited the material to form a more sensible plot for the anime. Perhaps P.A. Works felt it would have been too far removed from the source to cut more than they did.

From what I’ve heard, the novels are much more detailed and manage to fill in some of the gaps left by the series. Novels tend to help delve into the minds of the characters, giving insight into their inner emotions and reasoning for their actions. A great anime can do this as well, allowing viewers to experience the struggles and achievements as the characters do. Unfortunately RDG’s narrative wasn’t adapted well, making it difficult for viewers to acquaint, let alone relate, to the characters.

My next review features a more popular series with an expectantly larger number of fans, but also faces a challenge in adapting its source. My continued adventures with supernatural animes are also far from over, and it isn’t even Halloween yet!

As always, you can check out my other reviews on my Reviews Page or click on the tags below to see posts on similar shows.

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10 thoughts on “Review: Red Data Girl

Add yours

  1. I enjoyed watching this sereis but felt it needed to be longer and we really needed a lot more time to learn about the characters and the world for the story to be effective. I also kind of felt that moving to a ‘magic’ school setting was kind of silly given the initial mountain setting was so much more interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a good point. They go to the school to introduce Takiyanagi, and then immediately leave for the field trip, coming back only for the finale.
      I feel kind of bad for not enjoying this more though 😦 It was just really hard for me when I was shouting “What even is this?” every five minutes.

      Liked by 1 person

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