Hermes - Winds of Love Anime Review
(HERMES) ヘルメス 愛は風の如く
Herumesu - Ai wa Kaze no Gotoku
Hermes - Love is like the wind
US Release By
In ancient Greece the son of a king is born--Prince Hermes. He is born into a troubled land, constantly threatened by a nearby empire, but Hermes may be the one capable of freeing his people, and indeed all Greece, from tyranny. But many trials will stand in his way--captive princesses, his secret heritage as the son of a god, and the evil king Minos, who even death cannot stop.
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The big budget but little-known Hermes is an odd combination of realistically re-interpreted Greek myths and a rather odd, pseudo-religion-heavy, Fantasia-esque take on other, related myths, packaged as a shoujo fairy tale. The realistic parts, though idealized, benefit from historically accurate backgrounds, political intrigue, and richly produced battles (elaborate, creative, and full of great sound effects). The mythology is conceptually interesting, but suffers from some mashed-up classical stories and a weird amalgamation of more modern theology and cheesy pastel imagery of fairies and flowers (with the notable exception of a visit to a Dante-inspired Hell). Its biggest crime, though, is that the story meanders from one scene to the next, lacking any sense of urgency, punch, or even flow in what could have been a tight, exciting yarn.
Hermes is not without strong points and may appeal to those enamored with the idyllic settings and idealized characters or fascinated by the battles and history, but on the whole I found it too weird, too weak, and too shoujo-heavy to get into.
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Hermes is billed as a big-budget Japanese blockbuster despite it and the comic on which it's based being essentially unknown in the US. It looked a bit suspect, but I'm always up for a good historical drama, and there's a lot of potential with Greek myths. As it turns out, Hermes is two things at once: An almost-real-world re-interpretation of classic Greek myths and a rather odd, pseudo-religion-heavy, Fantasia-esque take on other, related myths. Although conceptually interesting and not without strong points, I found the whole too weird, too weak, and too shoujo-heavy to get into.
In the historical drama portion you get to spend time walking around ancient Greece, enjoying both wars and idyllic towns, fields, and dales. Attention to detail abounds, including nice touches in the historical accuracy department like garishly colorful palaces. Although the setting is overly sunny at times, the sense is that this is what it could have been like to live in ancient Greece. The battles share a similarly distinctive feel--large scale, lots of action, and some very impressive touches (hails of arrows, burning oil). Rounding out the picture is an appropriate amount of political intrigue between various neighboring lands.
The film starts to run into trouble when hints of its shoujo background start popping up. The overly idyllic scenes have more of a blatant shoujo flavor than I personally like to see, and too much attention is given to Hermes' cheesy romance. The storybook formula (complete with rescuing damsels from towers) works with the plot, but it feels more sappy and romance-novel-esque than necessary.
The biggest problem, though, is an almost complete lack of punch and a story that just doesn't feel like it's going anywhere. The intrigue is fine, and there are certainly enough battles, but the flow between the plotting and the attacking felt so loose that there was essentially no drama or cohesion to it, letting the air out of what could have easily been a tightly constructed tale. Even the battles themselves seem to be missing a satisfying climax. Basically, the whole thing seems to meander more than progress (or, what it really should have done, stride forward).
Similarly, the characters aren't nearly solid enough for my taste. Hermes is distinctive and generically heroic, and his romantic relationship with Aphrodite isn't bad, but most of the other characters seem to come and go without much fanfare or explanation. It was hard for me to keep track of who was a background character and who was going to be important, and a few times I almost completely lost track of who was who (the less-than-distinctive character designs didn't help much there).
Still, if Hermes had just been a historical take on somewhat mashed-up Greek myths, I probably would have enjoyed it on the whole. If, that is, the story hadn't increasingly focused on Hermes' discovery of his godly roots. On the positive side, the mythology generally keeps out of the hair of the realistic parts--Hermes being the son of a god doesn't affect his battle plans much. Another plus is a few rather cool references to less happy myths--minotaurs and vivid, Dante-esque images of hell.
The religious aspects, however, seriously differ from my image of Greek myths. Hermes spends an awful lot of time meditating and having out-of-body experiences, and there's a lot of abstract theological rambling that falls somewhere between Buddhist philosophy and casting Hermes as a sort of Christ figure with a lot of Gaia-esque references thrown in for good measure. Aside from having little to do with the plot, this doesn't fit with the bickering gods in the legends I'm familiar with.
The final straw for me was the time Hermes spends in the spirit world toward the end. Although a legitimate take on the world of the gods from an intellectual standpoint, the whole thing seems like an excuse to have Hermes and a couple of way-too-cute cherubs floating around among fairies, soft-focus pastel waterfalls, and computer-generated lotuses. As a Fantasia substitute for somebody in a very mellow mood it might be OK, but as a follow-up to the battles in the rest of the movie it's disappointing to say the least. And, as if that weren't bad enough, we then have dead king Minos showing up and scaring all the fairies. This improves the situation by taking us into a classically-inspired (and, quite surprisingly, properly disturbing) take on hell, but it felt like a contrived (and random) plot twist in a children's movie: "Oh no, the evil king's anger is hurting the fairies!"
In all, the whole fantasy aspect of the production rubbed me the wrong way, and took a lot away from the otherwise solid depiction of ancient Greece.
Visually, Hermes has a few weaknesses, but is mostly quite good-looking. It has a very strong fairy-tale shoujo feel--overly studly guys, overly feminine women, overly idyllic countrysides, and overly pastel abstract fairy-lands with good looking men drifting happily through them. The first two are quite appropriate--after all, Greek kings and queens should be storybook beauties--but the rest of it contributes to the mushy feel of the plot. The other thing that caught my eye was the realism and attention to detail, from the historically accurate (so far as I could tell) architecture and pretty scenery to the elaborate and appropriately dark battles. On the down side, some of the indoor settings are too plain and artificially empty, and the realistically-styled character designs are generic and difficult to tell apart. The character animation is a tad stiff, but on the whole the animation is smooth and expensive looking. Incidentally, the brief (and entirely unnecessary) experiment with computer animated lotuses looks good enough alongside the cel art.
The Japanese voice acting is not at all bad, but also not notably good. Although I didn't find any of the variety of feminine beauties and gentle-yet-masculine studs particularly believable in a realistic sense, they are all well acted and well cast (and Miki Itoh fans can see her in a sort of role she rarely plays). More noteworthy on the aural front are the non-vocal parts; the music is pleasant, if florid, throughout, but it's the detailed soundscape during the battles that steals the show. The rush of charging warships, waves crashing, arrows raining from the sky; all sound very much like you'd expect these things might, and go a long way toward making the battles believable and memorable.
I imagine some people will like Hermes quite a bit--it is pretty in a soft-focus sort of way, features some cool Greek battles, and has an unusual take on Greek religion. I also imagine more people will absolutely hate it--too sappy, too shoujo, too weird, or just plain too boring. As for me, I enjoyed parts, but in the end I don't think it was worth sitting through the whole movie for them, and the plot and characterization are so weak that it left me feeling vaguely unsatisfied when the credits rolled.
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The Heroic Legend of Arslan is another shoujo-style fantasy war story, but although it lacks the Greek tie-ins is much better on the whole.
Notes and Trivia
Based on a shoujo manga series by Takanori Ohkawa, "Ai wa Kaze no Gotoku - Herumesu no Shougai" ("Love is Like the Wind - The Life of Hermes"). It's not available in English as of this writing.
On a historical note for those unfamiliar with the topic, the somewhat garishly colored palaces depicted in this movie are, as I understand it, accurate. Our image of pristine white marble columns and statues comes from the fact that paint is considerably less durable than stone, and so has not survived millennia of weather. Modern techniques have discovered, however, that almost everything in ancient Greece was quite colorful.
US DVD Review
The DVD is subtitled only (with Japanese audio in both Dolby 5.1 and stereo), and it claims theatrical trailers and an outtake as special features.
Not all that much objectionable material, but more violent than you might expect for about a 13-up rating.
Violence: 3 - Aside from several relatively realistic battles there is a mildly disturbing depiction of hell.
Nudity: 2 - Brief and artistic, but some female nudity.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - Some physical romance.
Language: 0 - None of note in the subtitles.
Staff & Cast
Original Japanese Cast
Note: Character names were not listed in the original credits. As the translation here is by AAW, family names are given first.
Hermes: Koyasu Takehito
Aphrodite: Itoh Miki
King Minos: Utsumi Kenji
Hesis: Nozawa Nachi
Agape: Koujiro Chie
Pan: Kourogi Satomi
Demes: Kojima Toshihiko
Thesius: Hosoi Osamu
Ariadonne: Inoue Kikuko
Caipeya: Aomori Shin
King Lucalgos: Hori Katsunosuke
Macia: Kudoh Keiko
Mermaid Delmone: Tanaka Atsuko
Minotaur: Sasaoka Shigezou
The God Ophelius: Nanbara Kouji
Oracle: Kageyama Tamiyo
Goddess of Love: Ashikawa Yoshimi
Narrator: Murozono Takehiro
Executive Producer: Ryuho Okawa
Producer: Maru Hisao
Director: Imazawa Tetsuo
Original Concept: Ohkawa Takanori - "Ai wa Kaze no Gotoku" (Love is like the wind)
Script: Hermes Scenereo Project
Art Director: Muta Tatsuya
"Tsukiyo no Uta" (Song of a moonlit night)
"Itoshi no Aphrodite" (Aphrodite of Love)