Spirit of Wonder

UK Distributor:  Beez

BBFC Certificate:  12

Suggested Retail Price (SRP):  £24.99

Episodes:  1-4 (of 4)

Audio Options:  English 2.0, Japanese 2.0

Subtitles:  English

Reviewer:  Rich (Webmaster)


When most people think of Beez's anime released they generally think of multi-volume sci-fi epics like Eureka 7 or Gundam Seed.  However, Beez have snuck out a few standalone titles in between the big series, and Spirit of Wonder is certainly an interesting one.

Beez's two disc release combines two loosely connected sci-fi video series which owe more than a small debt to H G Wells.  The first disc features a two episode story called The Scientific Boys Club, which follows a trio of ageing Bristolian inventors who are working to realise the 50 year old dream that inspired their titular club.  The group were captivated as children by the now discredited claims of real-life scientist Percival Lowell of an intricate network of artificial canals on the surface of Mars.  Despite being the passage of time their dreams of travelling to the red planet have not dimmed, but whilst they have formidable engineering skills they lack the mathematic ability to master the intricacies of ethereal travel.  However, Wendy - the daughter of one of the inventors - does have the knowledge.  Her book on the subject was largely discredited though, and she is reluctant to help - particularly as they have monopolised her husband and keep bringing him back from their meetings in a local Chinese Restaurant blind drunk.  Can they persuade her to help them, and if they do will her theories actually work?

The second disc features two short stories based on the short-tempered Miss China, owner of the restaurant the Scientific Boys Club frequented for their regular drinking binges.  They aren't the only inventors that Miss China has on her hands, she also has to put up with Dr Breckenridge and her fiancée Jim who lodge with her but seem to spend all of their rent money on their wild machines.  The first short story, the Shrinking of Miss China, sees the rent-chasing Miss China burst into their room only to get caught by a machine which causes her to slowly get smaller in size.  She tries to make the best of it and continues to run the restaurant until she is too small to do so, whilst Breckenridge and Jim scrabble to

make a machine to enlarge her again.  The second story, the Planet of Miss China, is slightly longer and focuses on Breckenridge & Jim's latest machine which aims to warp space to project the surface of Mars onto a small area of beach.  The idea is to create a kind of virtual holiday, but it of course goes disastrously wrong and creates a strange vision of Mars warped by Miss China's subconscious.  Will the three of them be able to escape from Miss China's strange planet?

There is something refreshingly old-fashioned about Spirit of Wonder.  It evokes an air of Victorian invention despite being set in the 1950's, with spacecraft and ingenious ideas straight out of the classic age of nineteenth century sci-fi.  The stories are clever and entertaining, packed with interesting ideas and likeable characters, the only real surprise is that it's on two discs.  The Scientific Boys Club story is the strongest of those on offer here, with a real sense of adventure underpinning a good plot that manages to overcome its own improbabilities.  It's fun, entertaining and unashamedly feel-good, with the long-suffering but feisty Wendy managing to steal the show from the trio of mad scientist types her husband hangs around with.  The animation and art is excellent, really capturing the style of the manga artwork featured on the DVD cover and giving the series a unique feel that is enhanced by the unusual choice of Bristol as a setting.  It's nice to see a British city that isn't London featuring in an anime, and the frequent use of Victorian landmarks like Clifton Suspension Bridge and Cabot Tower as a backdrop really adds to the series' old-fashioned feel. 

The episodes on the second disc are not quite as good as those on the first, something which isn't helped by their short length.  The Shrinking of Miss China is the funniest of those on offer, but also the shortest, and in fairness the premise of someone shrinking is a pretty standard one in anime and elsewhere.  It does have some surprisingly heartfelt moments that stick in the mind though, such as when Miss China shrinks to a point that no-one can see her and wanders naked and alone through the towering wood-grain of her own floorboards.  The final story has probably the least believable premise of any of them, and also the hardest to get your head around.  However, it also has the only real action scenes of the

entire release as Miss China battles a monster from the id, and some quite sad scenes as she sees moments of her childhood that have long passed.  It does make some references to an earlier Spirit of Wonder anime that is not included on the DVD as well, which is a bit confusing.  The artwork in these second two episodes isn't quite as individual as that in the first two, and this is another aspect in which these episodes lack some of the quality shown before.

As a whole Spirit of Wonder is a bit mixed, and it seems odd that it's on two discs considering it's only four episodes long.  At its best it is a wonderfully animated piece of old-guard sci-fi the likes of which you generally don't see nowadays, and the first two episodes definitely reflect this.  However, the other two episodes are entertaining but don't really hit the same heights that set the first two apart.  This said the second disc does have a major redeeming feature, a further short episode explaining some of Miss China's background and the series' title which is tucked away in the Extras menu.  Why this isn't one of the featured episodes I really don't know, as it is a wonderfully enjoyable story synopsis lined with a beautifully executed air of melancholy.  This additional story is the best on the second disc and has more of the feel of the Scientific Boys Club about it than the other two episodes, even if the art isn't quite up to the same standard.  All in all though Spirit of Wonder is a unique and entertaining slice of sci-fi that manages to do feel refreshing despite its old-fashioned air.  It's a shame that the earlier anime episode isn't included as it may have helped explain the Planet of Miss China episode, but there is still plenty here to enjoy.  Nowadays Spirit of Wonder is quite cheap when you find it and well worth a look if you want to add something a little bit different to your collection.


All of the extras are on disc 2, and we get the usual trailers along with some TV spots for the series and character profiles.  The best extra however is the bonus episode which sees Miss China explain her past and present, cutting between her day-to-day life and moments of reflection on a moonlit beach.  It's very well handled and is the best episode on the second disc despite not being part of the main feature.


Feature:   Extras:

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