Ah! My Goddess: the Movie

Once upon a time, young gearhead Keiichi, dateless and hungry in his college dormitory on a weekend evening, phones out for Chinese food. He gets a wrong number; what he reaches is the Goddess Help Line. Belldandy, goddess first class with no restrictions and a second category license, emerges from a mirror and informs Keiichi that he is entitled to one wish. Keiichi wishes that he had a girlfriend just like her, and his wish is granted: Belldandy stays with him. They establish a household in an abandoned temple, where they are joined by her sisters Urd and Skuld.
And so begins the Ah! Megami-Sama saga. Its initial form was a manga by Kosuke Fujishima. Begun in late 1988, it now runs to at least 26 volumes. Several years later a short OVA (direct-to-video) series was based on the manga, which was released in the USA as Oh, My Goddess! A few years after that, there was a movie, Ah! My Goddess. Most recently, the manga has been the basis of a television series. Finally, there’s The Adventures of Mini-Goddess, a series of shorts in which Urd and Skuld in miniature form play with their friend, the hapless rat Gan-chan. Visit Gateway to the Goddesses (no longer online, unfortunately) to get an idea of the intricacy of Fujishima’s universe.
If you know your mythologies, the sisters’ names might be familiar. Urd, Verthandi and Skuld used to be the three Norns of Norse mythology, representing Fate, Necessity and Being, or, Past, Present and Future. Nowadays, they are domesticated and living in Japan. Urd and Skuld work as systems administrators for Ygdrasill, the operating system on which Earth runs. Belldandy worked at the Goddess Technical Help Office, at least until Keiichi’s phone call.
The movie begins three years after Keiichi’s wrong number. He and Belldandy have been living together happily in love (and apparently chastely; the two have separate bedrooms) in the temple while he continues his studies and his activities in the university’s “motor club.” Their idyll is interrupted when the outlaw deity Celestin is freed from his prison on the moon. He had been Belldandy’s tutor when she was small, and she is part of his plan overthrow the goddess system and establish a New Order more to his liking. He finds her and gives her a kiss, which leaves her unconscious. When she finally wakes, her memories of Keiichi and their time together are gone. Meanwhile, a virus attack imperils the Ygdrasill computer system.
So, does this melange of mythology, computer science, motorcycles, romance, magical battles and college life work? Quite well, actually. Belldandy and Keiichi are both strongly sympathetic characters, and most of the other characters are well-defined and colorful. The story is interesting, builds to a dramatic climax and has a satisfyingly happy ending.
Ah! My Goddess is one of the prettiest movies ever made. The art throughout is detailed and the animation is smooth. Although there is plenty of computer-generated art, some of it obvious, it mostly fits fairly well with the more traditional drawing. The magical battles are as spectacular as they should be.
There are some problems with the movie. It assumes some familiarity with the manga or at least the OVA series. I did some research on the web before I saw the movie and had some idea what to expect. Someone coming to it cold might be a bit confused the first time through. There’s a stretch early in the movie introducing Keiichi’s motor club which is an ordeal to watch. Fortunately, the gruesome part doesn’t last long.
A more serious problem for some people might be the personality of Belldandy. My first thought when I watched Ah! My Goddess was that it would make a great date movie. On second thought, perhaps not. Belldandy is sweet, gentle, kind and utterly devoted to Keiichi. She can be interpreted as a male fantasy of the perfect woman, and she might make female viewers uncomfortable. (It should be noted that Keiichi is also kind and gentle and is as devoted to Belldandy as she is to him.)
I suppose that some people might find the idea of pagan goddesses operating a celestial computer system offensive, but otherwise there is nothing seriously objectionable in Ah! My Goddess. One of the characters is a sort of fairy and in her normal form needs no clothing. That’s it for fan service. There’s also no sex and very little that’s off-color. There’s a fair amount of magical fighting, but it’s mostly bloodless. The movie is suitable for anyone high-school-age or older.