Spirit of Wonder: The Movie

It's hard to capture on film the feeling you get when the fall leaves vacate their trees and the cold winds blow through your soul. It's melancholy: that wistfulness of unavoidable change mixed with hope for the future. It's an emotion that the Spirit Of Wonder series has managed to portray perfectly, and I'm glad that it's continued. In the first OVA released by AnimEigo, "Miss China's Ring", we got to know China, Jim, and the crazy but wonderful Dr. Breckinridge in a reflective story set in an alternate history where the physics of Jules Verne turn out to be true. This second set of OVAs, released by Bandai, takes a different path. It includes a couple of vignettes about the characters from the original, but its core story involves a completely new set of folks. The latest story is even better than the first, and I give it much credit. Although those who loved the old characters might be disappointed, the new tale is worth seeing.

There are three stories that make up the new disc. Two of them are stories about our famous trio, and they bookend the main story. The first one, "The Shrinking of Miss China", is a goofy tale about the predicament that happens when one of Dr. Breckinridge's inventions winds up turning China into the Incredible Shrinking Woman. The second, "The Planet of Miss China", involves us with yet another of the good doctor's contraptions, one that brings Mars to Earth for our intrepid band to explore. Both of these tales are entertaining and cute, though slight in terms of length and character development. You need to have seen the first OVA to really appreciate these tales, but they add little to the relationships we grew to love in that story.

The centerpiece and reason to watch the disc is "The Scientific Boys Club". It's made up of two half-hour episodes that introduce us to Windy and Jack, a young married couple just starting their lives together. Windy is a housewife now, though she remembers the days when she wrote a scientific book that espoused theories only her husband believed. Meanwhile, Jack's joined up with a few quacks who've been obsessed with getting to Mars since they were young fifty years ago. They run the Scientific Boys Club, but they're about as interested in drinking sake as they are in accomplishing their far-fetched mission. Windy knows Jack truly loves her, and yet she pines for his attention. But she is surprised to find that the Scientific Boys Club might just put her discredited theories to the test and reach the red planet after all.

This main storyline is by far the best of the three, and it's really compelling while still entertaining. It's rare to see a happily married couple in any film, let alone an anime, so it's a nice touch. The story is sweet and enjoyable, and like the first OVA release, we go from a sense of disheartenment to a sense of awe. I really loved this story and wished that the creators had taken even more time with it. I would recommend it on this section alone.

The puzzling part, however, is that the two "Miss China" episodes come before and after the "Scientific Boys Club" episodes. Combine that with the fact that the character designs between the two are virtually identical and the personalities are similar, and the uninformed viewer will think that we're dealing with the same characters when we're not.

There are a few other problems, too. The stories deal with technology and ideas that have long since been disproven, and so there can be some confusion as to what these folks are talking about. There are liner notes on the DVD which explain all of these old theories, and that comes in handy. But how many people check the extras first? Meanwhile, there's also a bit of nudity and fan service here, which is frustrating because children would love the stories but (in my opinion) probably shouldn't see this. Finally, I don't know that the "Miss China" stories will really appeal to those who haven't watched the original Spirit Of Wonder. On the converse side, I don't know that people who loved the first one will really like "The Scientific Boys Club" since it contains none of our favorite characters. It's a quandary.

If I sound like I have difficulties with recommending this disc, I don't. I loved the main story and smiled through the secondary ones. I really enjoyed the unique design work and excellent animation. I had a good time watching it all. So, for my two cents, I suggest watching Spirit Of Wonder: Miss China's Ring first. Then skip around the second disc and watch the two "Miss China" stories. Then watch "The Scientific Boys Club", knowing that it's a separate entity in the same universe. If you do, I think you'll have a great time.

Spirit of Wonder: The Movie -- nudity -- B+