Exploring the enduring legacy of a guy and his goddess through the history and popularity of Ah! My Goddess.
Okay, here a question for you. What do you get when you put three Norse deities, a hapless (and short) college student, adorable mutant bugs, angels and the occasional demon together in an abandoned temple?
Aa Megamisama, also known as Ah! My Goddess, is one of the best-loved manga and anime series ever to come out of Japan, created by mangaka Kosuke Fujishima. The Ah! My Goddess universe includes a five-episode OVA series, over thirty volumes of manga, numerous CDs, a forty-eight episode series of shorts focusing on the goddesses' exploits in miniature, a movie, and to the delight of fans everywhere, a new anime series which began in January.
Keiichi Morisato was a normal university student until the day he accidentally called the 'Goddess Relief Office'. The next thing he knew, a goddess named Belldandy stuck her head through his mirror. She offered him a wish, his heart's desire, and when Keiichi wished for Belldandy to stay with him forever, a contract was forged between them.
After the success of the manga, which first ran in 1988 in Afternoon magazine, the OVA series debuted in 1991. These five episodes introduced Keiichi, his sister Megumi, the motor club of Nekomi Tech, and the three goddesses.
Belldandy is introduced in the first episode, with her meeting with Keiichi happening scarcely two minutes in. After being kicked out of the dorm because of its 'no-women' rule, they eventually find a home in an abandoned temple, only to be gatecrashed by the members of the motor club for an impromptu housewarming party.
Urd joins them in the second episode, set during the summer vacation. After arriving through a porn video, she meddles in Keiichi's fledging relationship with Belldandy while they have a vacation at the beach. Belldandy also feels the wrath and jealously of Sayako Mishima, the 'Queen of Nekomi Tech', but ultimately, she reveals her love for Keiichi. At the end of the episode, because of her own actions, Urd's goddess license is suspended and she becomes a permanent houseguest.
With her sisters on Earth, poor Skuld is left alone in Heaven to fight hoards of Bugs on her own. Desperately lonely, she arrives in Keiichi's bath during the third episode and takes an instant dislike to him. She tries her best to break up the happy couple, but her love of technology causes conflict. In many respects, goddess or not, Skuld is very much an immature twelve-year-old, but she does love her sister and learns to tolerate Keiichi.
In the final two episodes, Keiichi's contract with Belldandy is threatened by the appearance of numerous mutant spider-rabbits, the incredibly cute Bugs of Heaven and Skuld's sworn nemeses! It seems that Belldandy and Keiichi met as children and entered into an unauthorized contract, meaning that their meeting as adults was not entirely by chance. In the end, however, happiness reigns. Fans were left then with only the manga and the Goddess Family Club to sustain them.
The Goddess Family Club comprises of Kikuko Inoue (Mizuho Kazami in Onegai Teacher and Onegai Twins and Chitose Hibiya in Chobits), Aya Hisakawa (Kero in Cardcaptor Sakura and Hinoto in X) and Yumi Touma (Suppy in Cardcaptor Sakura and Helba in the .HACK series), the actresses who voice Belldandy, Skuld and Urd in the Japanese version. They sang the opening and closing themes to the OVAs and also released various CDs and character singles relating to Ah! My Goddess.
With the release of the OVAs, Belldandy became one of the most beloved figures in anime. Even in 2005, she still ranks as one of the most popular female anime characters in polls conducted by Japanese magazine Animage. Belldandy is actually the Japanese attempt at pronouncing Verdhandi, the name of the Norse goddess of the present and one of the three Norns. Urd and Skuld are the names of the other two Norns, responsible for the past and future, respectively. Kosuke Fujishima created a four-panel comic featuring the characters from You're Under Arrest praying to the goddess of luck and good fortune before a race, and it was this deity who became the inspiration for Belldandy.
In the series, each of the three goddesses has specific powers and attributes, but more interestingly, they also have unique modes of transportation. Belldandy travels through mirrors, Urd through television sets (although it could also be argued that she travels through videos containing porn!), and Skuld uses hot water, hence the reason she appears in Keiichi's bathtub! Each goddess also has an interesting way of recharging their magical batteries when their energy runs low or they need an alternate power supply: Belldandy passes out, while Urd drinks copious amounts of sake, and Skuld consumes huge amounts of ice cream!
Urd is also the self-appointed 'Cupid of Love', dealing extensively in love spells and potions, while Skuld is a technology whiz who can create the weirdest of machines, including Banpai, a fan favorite. Just as her sisters seem to do everything in extremes, Belldandy is the balance between them as she uses her powers to help others. Her strengths certainly seem to lie within her compassionate nature and people skills, rather than her desire to solve problems magically.
The first proper Ah! My Goddess series did not stem from the main manga, but from a volume of short four-panel sequential comics, where the goddesses miniaturized themselves and tormented a rat called Gan-chan. The series comprised of short episodes, typically around eight minutes long, that were aired in groups of three and were dominated by Skuld and Urd, with occasional appearances by Belldandy and the odd cameo of Keiichi's shadow. The storylines were varied and surprisingly entertaining, including everything from parodies of Godzilla and Tokimeki Memorial to episodes poking fun at the Japanese love of pop idols and fortunetellers. Several episodes even featured Mara, one of the most popular demons featured in the manga.
In 2000, the wishes of fans were granted when the Ah! My Goddess movie was released. An original story, it was set three years after the OVAs and focused on Belldandy's relationship with her sensei Celestin. The movie also introduced Peorth, one of the supervisors of Yggdrasil, Heaven's mainframe, and the goddesses' angels: Holy Bell, World of Elegance, Noble Scarlet, and Peorth's angel, Gorgeous Rose, all of whom are characters from the manga.
In 2004, it was announced that the team who animated the movie and the original seiyuu would be reuniting for an all-new television series that would follow up on the success of the OVAs and the movie. The series debuted on Japanese television in January 2005, and it completely rewrites the series, instead of continuing on the plot of the OVAs, as fans were led to believe.
While the series does seem to follow the canon of the manga and the OVAs to a certain extent, some major changes have been made. Now Keiichi's meeting with Belldandy does not come about through his frustrated attempts to order takeout (as in the OVAs) or through a completely accidental wrong number (as in the manga). Instead, it seems that Urd and Skuld, whose philosophical dialogue on fate and destiny comprises the first five minutes of the first episode, wish to see if a human cursed by the star of misfortune could have their fate changed by the intervention of a higher power - them! In fact, reflecting on their first meeting, Urd almost seems to view the whole situation as an experiment. Whether or not this is a legitimate use of their powers as members of the Goddess Relief Office, or if Belldandy and Keiichi's meeting was engineered by them purely to prove a point remains to be seen.
As of writing, the length of the series has not been announced, but the director, Hiroaki Goda, has expressed his wish to follow the manga as faithfully as possible. While the series has not yet been licensed for the US and UK, the first Japanese DVD, containing the first three episodes is due out in April.
In the meantime, for those of you who need to catch up on the original story, the manga are published in the US by Dark Horse and the original OVAs are distributed by AnimeEigo in two DVDs, both of which feature commentary tracks by the English language cast! The Ah! My Goddess movie and the complete Adventures of the Mini Goddesses series have been released by Geneon, along with the soundtrack to the movie. In the UK, the movie and the OVAs are available from MVM.