Thursday, August 13, 2015

Review: OH MY GODDESS!

It's rather appropriate to review this series now, considering that it's finally ending after running for nearly THREE DECADES and getting an omnibus rerelease.  After reading this volume, though, it's easy to see how this series could stick around for so long.

OH MY GODDESS! (Aa! Megami-sama), by Kosuke Fujishima.  First published in 1988, and first published in North America in 1994.



PLOT:

Keiichi Morisato is a poor college student who orders out for food one night only to end up reaching the goddess Belldandy instead.  She offers to grant him one wish, and Keiichi offhandedly wishes that a goddess like her would stay with him forever.  His wish comes true as he and Belldandy are now inseperatable, and while this causes a lot of trouble Keiichi soon finds himself smitten with sweet, gentle Belldandy.  Now he has to find a way to declare his love for her, keep Belldandy's true identity a secret from others, and help his friends with their own problems.

STORY:

Oh My Goddess! is a very sweet, very casual, and slightly unfocused manga (although how unfocused depends on the edition you read).  It's not perfect, but it's one of those rare magical girlfriend series that can appeal to both sexes and it's easy so why it's still so appealing even after all these years.

Fujisawa wastes no time getting the story going.  Within the first twenty pages, Keiichi and Belldandy are bound together and the premise is set.  After that, though, he hits the brakes hard and is more than content to take his sweet time with the story.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it means that Fujisawa can take his time and come up with all sorts of equally sweet and funny scenarios to throw his cast of characters into.  Best of all, it's driven more by conflict and farce than the sort of raunchy fanservice that defines a lot of later magical girlfriend manga, which means that Oh My Goddess! avoids a lot of the lame gags and tropes that tend to come with that territory.  The only problem is that all that meandering doesn't do much for the characters.  They might get plenty of screen time, but they don't change all that much from beginning to end.  Belldandy is always sweetness and light personified, Keiichi remains as hapless in life and love as ever, and neither of them are willing to make the first official move towards becoming a proper couple.  Still, compared to a lot of other characters in his position, Keiichi is fairly dignified.  He may be short and unlucky in love, but he has an education and some skill with machines, and gives him an edge that the Tenchis and Keitaros of the manga world will never possess.

Now, I've not discussed the plot in any detail in part because what stories you get depend on what edition of the first volume you read.  The first edition was heavily edited to help it more closely match the then-current OVA and to help the story move along more quickly.  These missing scenes were put back in all of the later editions, and having read both versions I can say with some authority that the later editions flow so much better than the edited one.  Yeah, that means it takes a lot longer to get to Urd and Skuld, but it gives our leading couple plenty of time to get relatively comfortable before things start getting really wacky.  It also allows a lot of the supporting cast to get their moment to shine, be it Keiichi's school friends, his sister, some of his other classmates, and even some of his teachers. It'll never be mistaken for an eventful manga, but Oh My Goddess! remains an eminently comfortable and endearing manga as well as one of the finest examples of its respective genre.

ART:

Fujisawa's character designs are decidedly odd even for its own time.  For reasons I cannot explain, both Keiichi and Belldandy have these weird, heavy-browed, diamond-shaped heads.  It does tend to distinguish them visually from the rest of the cast (who tend to be drawn in a blocky, cartoon-like manner), but it goes tend to make their faces shift about strangely when viewed from an angle.  Expressions tend to be big and cartoony all around, which means that Keiichi in particular gets to make some spectacular Tex Avery-style bug-eyes.  The recent omnibus rerelease features color pages at the beginning of some of the chapters, and they look great so long as you can get used to Belldandy's old, silvery hair.  Otherwise the presentation is quite sedate, with very little flair to the panels or the pages.  It's not a flashy series, but that lack of flash just adds to the coziness of the work instead of against it.

RATING:

Oh My Goddess! is rambling and occasionally a little odd, but its gentle pacing, general innocence, and entertaining cast make this one of the few magical girlfriend manga that's worth seeking out. 
It was true way back when, and it's still true now.

This series is published by Dark Horse.  This series is complete in Japan with 48 volumes available.  All 48 volumes have been published in both single volumes and 3-in-1 omnibuses, and all are currently in print.

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