With the mass popularity of The Sims in the U.S. bringing a lot of new computer users into the world of gaming, it's surprising that there hasn't been more of an effort for other companies to capitalize on the trend. Sure, there are now a bunch of "business mogul" games playing off the success of Roller Coaster Tycoon, but there aren't many other games on the market that present vaguely real people doing real things. In Japan, the so-called "dating sim" genre has been around for years. In these games, you are typically responsible for a gaggle of girls of different personality types. You're supposed to get them all through high school, into a good college, and perhaps together with a fine pick of the opposite sex. Make too many wrong moves, and your characters wind up juvenile delinquents or old maids. The 1995 2-OVA series Marriage is simply a dating sim in animated form. Unfortunately, it does the games it's based on no favors. Trite, condescending, and transparent, this Marriage should have been annulled.

The two episodes focus on women that their girlfriends feel are in danger of getting left behind in the marriage chain. (Though the character designs are virtually the same between the two episodes, the character names are different. It's strange and confusing, and it doesn't help the show become any more palatable, but I digress.) In the first, Shizuka is a beautiful, shy, spectacled gal who doesn't have the nerve to ask anyone out and spends far too much time at work. She runs into her dreamboat when getting coffee from the new machine down on another floor, but she can't talk to him. Though her friends try to set her up through a matchmaking service, she is convinced that the red string of fate is determined to keep her mateless. In the second episode, Kiyomi is our, protagonist. She's a slightly chilly lady who nevertheless has a suitor, Mikimaro, in her office who's desperate to confess his love. Mikimaro has the support of Kiyomi's married sisters, but will Kiyomi's frosty reception keep him from making his move?

Marriage is so shallow, the DVD insert should have come printed with "No Diving" signs. There is nothing here that even hints at real romance or relationships. It is a superficial look at desperate people who are willing to find whomever will take them as a companion. I try to give shows a little more breathing room, but this program just frustrated me to no end. With little actual animation, just frame upon frame of still backgrounds (even in the opening intro!), there's nothing catchy to distract from the loathsomeness of the way the subject matter is handled. Each story (if it can be called that) has no real purpose other than to get each woman together with someone...and who that someone is really doesn't matter. Now the character designs themselves are quite nice...the guys are handsome, the women attractive. But that's all there is.

Now I will say this: for those interested in studying modern Japanese society, you might get a bit more out of this than my rating would suggest. Marriage does go into detail about how dating and relationships happen in Japanese society in the modern age, particularly in super-deformed five-minute segments that split each episode in two. The fact that automated dating machines will match people up by blood type and astrological sign is scary yet bizarrely fascinating. It also says a lot about Japanese culture that the best date is considered to be a quiet walk through the park. Now anyone who's actually been involved in Japanese language studies or cultural exchange probably has picked up a lot of this. However, to those who are new, it reveals some often-unseen facets of Japanese life most anime won't ever show you.

I guess I'm most disappointed because, at heart, I'm an old-fashioned romantic. Marriage's tag line on the box is "the greatest love that can be shared," and so I expected some actual passion and tenderness. The program itself, though, is in love with the concept of matrimony rather than the love between the two people joined in the ceremony. If you're a student of Japanese culture interested in modern mating rituals, then be my guest. Otherwise, just leave this one behind.

Marriage -- no objectionable content -- D