Halloween Week: The Melody of Oblivion (TV)

I'm amazed that this is a show nobody seems to remember. It's hard to forget a single second of this concentrated madness. The Melody of Oblivion is some weird mashing of Revolutionary Girl Utena, Kino's Journey, FLCL and Tokusatsu shows, and it may very well be the single most original and absolutely fascinating thing I have ever laid eyes on. I am dead serious, I have fallen head over heels in love with this show. I have seen absolutely nothing like it before, and it is something that needs to be seen to be believed. The Melody of Oblivion is a damn masterpiece on nearly every level, with even its more troubling elements adding to its personality and identity.

The series takes place in the 21st century, where mankind is a shadow of its former self. A great 20th century war ended in victory for the so called "monsters," and now man's world is under their direct control. Children are sacrificed to the creatures in human disguise, and all the young are kept completely in the dark over the truth. A young man named Bocca, however, believes something isn't right, and he's proven correct once he meets a Melos warrior named Kurofune. Melos warriors are people gifted with a magical mark that allows then to shoot mystical arrows that can harm monsters, along with allow them to look upon a monster's true form without turning to stone or a wooden puppet. They can even use robotic, living motorcycles called Aibar machines, which are also gifted with the ability to fly. Bocca ends up discovering he's one of these warriors, allowing him to see the "melody of oblivion," a mysterious girl who sings a strange melody and speaks of how the previous world ended. Bocca decides to leave his town and hunt the various monsters in the world to set humanity free from their status as livestock and slaves, partnering with a thief named Sayoko (whom is searching for Kurofune) and meeting other Melos warriors on the way, including a girl who fell in love with her Aibar machine named Tone, and the mischievous Koko and her "acting trope." However, Bocca also discovers another sad truth about the world; some humans have chosen to fight for the monsters via the Monster Union organization, and they may be his worst enemies on his quest.

The Melody of Oblivion is the most symbolically dense piece of media I have ever come across. I am honestly amazed this got animated, but considering some of the staff, I shouldn't be that surprised. Several Utena staff members came back for this project, most notably the art director and character designer, so the show has an unmistakable style similar to that series, but with the CLAMP noodle people replaced with a more 90s fantasy style (think Slayers). This also explains why just about every single frame is populated by at least one symbolic object or character, no matter how little sense it makes within the context of the series. Of course, since the world is run by monsters and drenched in subtle, abstract madness, the strange sights and sounds never quite manage to make the situations shown impossible to believe. The last four episodes are about the only point where the series begins to lose itself, with a strange series of short scenes with girls dressed in cow-print bikinis on a field, not to mention the absolutely bizarre, tone crashing karaoke scene in the second to last episode. I understand the purpose, but it really is one of the most insane decisions in the entire show (and trust me, that's saying a lot).

There's a lot of mythology from all over the world mixed in here (look up the Wikipedia page, it's nuts), but I was only able to pick up on certain bits, like the monsters being based on Roman and Greek beasts, or the Monster Union members being themed off of the Chinese Zodiac. What stuck out to me most where symbolic items meant to inform more to a character's current state of mind, conflict, or simply informing to their personality. For example, Tone first appears in a schoolgirl sailor uniform, despite being one of the oldest characters, it's only until a later arc, after she's accepted herself as a Melos warrior, that she's in more normal wear and more open in her relationship with her Aibar machine Skyblue. She also holds an apple on a train in a much later arc, in a moment of deep indecision. The Christian connection is pretty obvious, and when she finally takes a bite while finding her resolve, it could possibly mean that she's ready to accept becoming closer to Skyblue while holding back her fears that their time together may bring him harm.

Oh, and the sexual symbolism. There is a ton of symbolism based around sexuality and gender, while it just appears to be complete absurdity when you first see it. I mean, Tone's Melos mark is on her inner right thigh, and when she puts an arrow near there to enchant it, she ...uh, she seems to enjoy the ...sensation. I was confused at first, until I started to pick up on how the Aibar machines of the girl warriors work. The machines can take humanoid form, and Tone fell in love with her's when she met him in humanoid form. Said machine can't have proper intercourse (a living robot motorcycle having reproduction organs would just be silly!), so using her Melos powers via a long arrow (aka phallic object) represents ...well, that's why the mark is high on her thigh. Yeah. It's even stranger with Koko, who shoots four arrows. The significance of this is that she has three Aibar machines she seems obviously attached to, but she also hits on Bocca commonly, and once on Skyblue. Basically, the show is quietly telling you that Koko is a polyandrist through the form of her power.

Yup. I could go on an on with the symbolism talk (even the male warriors having their mark on their forearms has significance), not to mention all the twisting of the hero myth and weird transitions and stills, but what it comes down to is that Melody of Oblivion is kind of brilliant in its own hair-brained way. Absolutely nothing in this series is straight forward, not even the relationship that Bocca and Sayoko gain, and the series is not afraid on commenting on platonic relationships through the most physical element of it. Even the human villains are drenched in sexual symbolism, with them using their mechs via tight bondage and some unnerving scenes of monsters branding them to bring them into the union, while the monsters display their dominance through sexually charged sequences beyond just those branding sessions. The idea is to push forward the idea that man is living their life as livestock for creatures that only see them as objects or food, and they only continue to let them live so they can grown valuable stock. It's disturbing, especially around the halfway arc where we get an idea of what goes on inside of a monster's stomach. It's not pretty. It's all brilliantly obtuse, and that aforementioned cow thing is the only point where the series started to lose me. That was just far too obvious and ridiculous.

The characters are all really interesting, even Bocca, though it takes him some time with Sayoko before he grows a personality. Bocca is introduced as empty, a shell of a person who believes his calling is somewhere else and can't find satisfaction in a life he suspects is completely out of his own control. When he learns about the monsters, he becomes a Warrior of Melos and starts to struggle with how the world rejects him for fighting back against the monsters. Why he chooses to continue fighting forms the show's main theme, but the clever part starts to come in with Sayoko and all those relationships I brought up. The hero myth the series is so interested in is the one where the hero saves the world that desperately needs them and ends up with the damsel that needed rescue, while guided by a wise mentor. Everything about Bocca's journey subverts this and points out the problems with said story.

Kurofune, the mentor character, is barely in the series, and when he returns after the first two episodes, we begin to see more of his narrow minded thought process that paints him in a light where he's the least wise character in the series. As said before, the world rejects the warriors of Melos and Bocca; they feel that the benefits from the monsters are worth the sacrifice of children, while they're also terrified of the enormous power said monsters have and fear their wrath being awakened. Lastly, Bocca's status as a "hero" is portrayed as cowardly towards the person he cares most for; While much of his desire to defeat monsters for the sake of children is genuine (and Sayoko shares it with him), their relationship is in constant strain because of Bocca's growing obsession with his mission becoming an excuse to avoid becoming more intimate out of fear of being hurt. The series is making a point that the perfect heroes we idolize don't exist and never will; humans are more complex and interesting, and living as a hero would only cause far more problems. The presence of Tone and Koko further supports this, as the two fight for more personal reasons and find strength from there, embracing their feelings, all while fighting for a greater mission as well.

The series is wonderful to look at. It's weird art style mashes well with all the odd visuals, allowing just about anything to exist at anytime with no dissonance. This allows for a lot of interesting sights, like eerie Egyptian/Mayan pictures in the Minotaur's labyrinth, or high tech computer screens in Monster Union bases. It's a massive mixture of fantasy and sci-fi, both serious and silly examples, and it never feels like its clashing, unless that's the intent. The music is haunting and beautiful, with several unnerving, metallic pieces for tense scenes. The animation itself ranges from constant and detailed, or flowing and otherworldly (the first appearance of a Monster Union mech is quite the sight). Notably, the series uses a lot of still shots, but it's always for emphasizing something and not simply budget cutting. It's very effective, especially when said stills are shown for only a brief moment. It's a similar technique SHAFT uses a lot in their modern works, but far more reserved.

The mech designs were made by Gainax, and it shows. The designs are very reminiscent of Neon Genesis Evangelion and FLCL, with an eerie fluidity for certain mechs, while others are ridiculous and covered in strange touches. The first Rooster mech almost feels like it was an unused design from FLCL. Like everything else, they don't clash unless intended to. The few shapes of the monsters, however, are a bit lacking. The Minotaur's weird car thing is so silly that it's hard to take seriously (although it does have greater symbolic meaning), while Hecate feels wasted in her few appearances as a woman with a dog. That's her entire thing ...she has a mean looking dog.

While the monsters themselves aren't major players in the series (which is a bit important to the series endgame), The Melody of Oblivion really comes together into a masterpiece without them. There is absolutely nothing that has ever been close to like this series, and it's something I believe everyone should experience at least once, assuming you don't mind obtuseness. This is one of those few series that I actually feel like re-watching; it's truly something special. The subtitled version is up on Crunchyroll if you're interested, just not in the best quality.


  1. I mostly agree with all of this. I think it kind of loses itself more in the middle when there's the underage Melos warrior constantly hitting on Bocca and the "monkeys" working the engine. Not that there isn't good stuff there, but it has the middle-of-the-series problem most series have of not being able to construct it as well as everything. Even with the episodes towards the ending, everything else gets upgraded, so why not the insanity? My favorite detail on the DVDs is they have a text explanation of exactly what the hell just happened on the second-to-last episode, ruining artistic ambiguity and everything. It got so out there Geneon felt they HAD to put an explanation to it on there.

    Anyway, the tears in the dam arc is a brilliantly surrealistic look at-in my view, at least-modern parents whose work sacrifices the happiness of their family jockeying for a position that is, in the grand scheme of things, pointless.


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