Eleven-year-old twins Thor and Rai Klein’s carefree days spent dreaming about humanity’s long-deserted and distant home of Earth are shattered by their parents’ sudden deaths at the hands of Federation soldiers. Before the boys can process what’s happened, they’re whisked away and abandoned on the inhospitable surface of Chimaera, a secret prison planet where only the fittest survive.
As Thor struggles to protect himself and his brother from killer plants and territorial humans, he meets others who teach him about his new home and about the strict clan hierarchy that both governs its resource-scarce society and offers the only way off the planet in the form of an official pardon — a coveted reward only granted to one strong enough to rise to the top and take the crown. Trusting in luck and the support of those closest to him, Thor resolves to become the next “Beast King,” leave Chimaera behind, and uncover what really happened to their parents. But not even mysterious Chimaera’s harsh proving grounds can prepare him for the revelations that lie ahead.
If you don’t think too much about the fuzzy logic of some of its plot mechanics, this philosophical sci-fi drama is an emotionally engaging, if somewhat rushed, tale. Adapted from Natsumi Itsuki’s dense, three-volume manga series (now out of print), Jyu-Oh-Sei is a compact space opera with a personal focus. At just eleven episodes, the show doesn’t have time for unnecessary filler, and the action picks up even more following a time-skip midway through the series. For the most part, this compressed storytelling works. However, some of the manga’s complexity and helpful context has been lost in the adaptation, and you’ll wish there were more time to explore the world-building and watch sympathetic everyman Thor’s more significant relationships develop. And yet even with its imperfectly-connected dots, the series successfully raises a surprising number of philosophical questions about responsible stewardship, humanity’s ability to adapt, and the plight of the individual versus the greater good.
One of the odder aspects of the series is its curiously inconsistent philosophy when it comes to naming people, planets, and secret government projects. Many heavily symbolic names pulled from multiple mythologies mix unevenly with a handful of mundane ones from random European and Asian cultures and a solitary made-up one inspired by an English contraction. Impressed with the likes of Thor, Odin, Eve, and Tiz, it’s no wonder the English staff bonus commentary dissolves into giggles at the momentary entrance of a minor minion named Kevin.
The casts of the Japanese and English dubs fit their variously-named roles well, although Thor’s otherwise accomplished Japanese voice actors both sound older than his given years (particularly with 16-year-old Thor); but the boy also looks slightly older than he should in both segments, so the mismatch isn’t too distracting. The attractive character designs reflect the source manga’s early-nineties style without looking too dated, and the animation is smooth, especially in the fast-paced action scenes. Unfortunately, the aesthetics are hampered by the series opener, an upbeat pop tune ill-suited to the sobering drama and violence of the series.
Despite the youth of the protagonists at the beginning, this is not a cheerful adventure series for younger teens. Between murder, suicide, and sheer survival, enough blood is spilled by blades, guns, and voracious greenery to edge the series toward horror near the climax. The story also often addresses the importance of begetting children (members of Chimaera’s proportionately smaller female population regularly choose partners for the “month of joining”), but the subject is treated seriously as a matter of species survival rather than as fanservice, comes up almost exclusively in conversation, and involves no nudity and only very vaguely implied sex.
Bonus features on this 2-disc box set include an amusing English staff commentary for episode 6, textless songs, original commercials, and a handful of trailers.
Jyu-Oh-Sei: Planet of the Beast King: The Complete Series
directed by Hiroshi Nishikiori
255 minutes, Number of Discs: 2
Company Age Rating: 14+
Related to: Jyu-Oh-Sei by Natsumi Itsuki