Munto is a curiosity, a strange little show that holds the hallmarks of a junky OVA yet aspires to a great deal more. A short fantasy released in the US by Central Park Media, this quirky program appeals to me because it screws around with our expectations for the genre. Most one-shot OVAs that involve multi-dimensional worlds are strangely one-dimensional; though far too short to accomplish what it attempts, Munto's main character feels accomplished and fully realized.

Yumemi is a unique individual. For years, she has seen floating islands in the skies that only she can see. Only her two best friends, Suzume and Ichiko, know about this phenomenon, and though they believe her, nobody else has ever seen them. However, the truth behind Yumemi's vision is about to come screaming into reality. She is somehow interconnected with a parallel dimension, an opposite side to our world, which is falling apart. She alone has the ability to give to the "magical kingdom" the power of akuto energy, which has nearly vanished from the other world and has led to a vicious struggle. Munto, a young, fiery red-haired king, attempts to cross over so that Yumemi can play her part in their struggle.

Yumemi, on the other hand, has her own struggles to deal with. When Munto tries to bridge the worlds, Yumemi simply appears to be having a "zoneout" in her own reality. Ichiko is concerned for her, but they're both concerned for their friend Suzume. A naive, somewhat slow gal, she's fallen in love with Kazuya, an older boy who considers Suzume his only friend. Their decision to cross the local river together and "elope" has major implications...particularly if Yumemi can't help her friend because this other universe is pulling her away!

Munto dates to 2003 and has major signs of modern CG-based animation. The colors are impossibly bright and beautiful, and the artwork itself is very clean. Unfortunately, the DVD itself has quite a bit of line shimmering, something I haven't really seen much in a while but can be exacerbated by all-digital shows, for some reason. It's not terrible, but it's a problem I see so rarely on new DVDs that I was surprised to see it.

On the one hand, Munto is a case of trying to do far too much and winding up short at the end. The tale of a lone person being the connection to a magical world is overdone in anime, and Munto's world is far too unrealized in this OVA. Unlike a fantastic world found in, say, The Neverending Story, we have just enough information to appreciate what's going on but no good reason to really care. Other than Munto, the characters in this parallel dimension are placemarkers: an obligatory soothsayer, a grim opponent, a cool hellion playing the middle of the conflict, and so forth. None of them is compelling. Though the battle sequences are impressive, they are undone by our lack of interest in why they are in fact happening.

On the other hand, the Earth side of the tale is told with unusual care and precision. The three leads are compelling individuals, and the storyline about the classmate going off with her boyfriend was surprisingly affecting. In fact, as I write this review perhaps two weeks after watching the show, it is not the theatrics of Munto's world that have stayed with me but the real-world story that is essentially a background to the show. I like Yumemi and Ichiko and Suzume; for a 45-minute show, they are as attractive as characters known to us for only a short time can be. This whole side of the show was thoroughly realized, and I cannot help but wonder that the producers should have dropped the fantasy element altogether and created a small drama instead. I suppose dramas don't sell DVDs like exploding magical kingdoms and colorful fistfights, though.

Munto is a good rental possibility; I think it well worth a viewing or two just to see its potential, especially since rumors are floating about a possibly prequel and sequel. At its best moments, it gave me casual reminders of the much better Voices of a Distant Star. It's too disjointed and lopsided to consider great, but in its softer moments, it's really quite good.

Munto -- violence -- B