When I look at the movie it isn't hard to see why.
From the beginning Goddess steered clear of many tropes that annoy me. Fanservice is minimal to non-existent, it is not a harem anime, and despite the many ways that the set-up could have been oh so wrong the relationship between Keiichi and Belldandy is completely sleaze free.
(Very) briefly the set-up is that the goddess Belldandy appeared one day in an all male dorm to grant Keiichi a wish on the basis that he was a deserving sort (he is). Thinking that this was a prank by his sempais (who are one of the classic anime loon squads), Keiichi innocently wished for a girl like her to stay with him forever.
Wish granted. What do you mean it wasn't a prank? Eeep!
Hilarity, hijinks, and a sweet slow romance ensue over the many volumes and incarnations of the series.
The movie is set three years after the start of the series which enables it to showcase the advancement and evolution of the characters that the creator Fujishima has always tried for. At the beginning of the series he tried to age the characters one year for every year of the manga, including graduating them from college etc, I don't know if he managed to keep this up.
The first scene is a fairy releasing something from a fairly elaborate prison on the moon. On earth it appears to be the Orientation Day for Nekomi Institute of Technology and the motor club is spruiking for members. Keiichi and other are organising this as they are now the senior members. The demonstration includes some of the vehicles that the Motor Club have built and raced, including a new sidecar motorcycle that Keiichi and Belldandy will be racing in a week or so.
The effort is initially successful but ruined by a typically overenthusiastic display by the loon squad. The fairy Morgan in a human form is one of the new members.
The celebrations later that evening trigger an awkward moment or two (sake is involved) and Belldandy flees outside. Keiichi follows and they encounter Belldandy's long disappeared mentor Celestin. Celestin is not the god that Belldandy remembers and he wipes out all of Belldandy's memories of the last three years on earth. He also triggers a virus in the heavenly computer system Yggdrasil using Belldandy's passcodes, and dealing with this is one more challenge that Keiichi and Belldandy have to face with the assistance of Urd and Skuld.
When she awakes she thinks it is her first time on earth and that she is here to grant Keiichi's wish. Keiichi wishes for her memories back but as part of dealing with the virus Belldandy has been cut off from Yggdrasil and the attempt fails*. I must say that it is nice to see the characters actually attempt the obvious solution first.
In a sense this is a very similar set-up to the second KOR movie Summer's Beginning. Both seek to examine an existing relationship by replacing one partner with a version from three years previously**.
The motorcycle mentioned earlier becomes a key metaphor - how fast it can be raced depends on how much the driver (Keiichi) and the passenger (Belldandy) trust each other. When it comes to shifting the weight to allow fast cornering, the driver has to completely rely on the passenger. Meanwhile the passenger has to trust the driver's experience and skills at the controls.
Before she lost her memories, Keiichi and Belldandy were so much in sync that they were effectively unbeatable.
Afterwards, not so much. Morgan trying out to be Keiichi's partner for the race doesn't help. On the way home in a more regular motorcycle, a spot of recklessness on Keiichi's part is matched by fear on Belldandy's showing how far they have to go to get back to where they were.
Having said that Keiichi's loyalties and love are solid throughout the film. He may not have the power to do much, but does what he can whenever he can. In a later scene this inspires Belldandy to try to be Keiichi's partner for the race, and achieves the synchronicity again (if only briefly).
Meanwhile Celestin's plot is advancing but as it does we get flashbacks to his role as Belldandy's mentor and hints of the crime that got him locked away. Celestin was a good mentor for Belldandy in terms of nurturing a caring heart.
Having said that Celestin is someone who cared too much, and learnt too little. In essence he is an idealist rebel aiming to bring about a better world by destroying this one.
Although I think he has a point when it comes to the Gate of Judgement in the realm of the gods. According to the legend a couple would walk through it hand in hand. If they arrive on the far side together then it is true love. Otherwise, they will arrive separately and will never meet again.
Morgan dared, and lost, at the Gate of Judgement so her assisting Celestin now is entirely understandable. Naturally she falls for Keiichi along the way, and this gives rise to some other misunderstandings.
In the flashbacks Celestin also used Morgan's example to manipulate Belldandy into helping him rebel.
This ended so badly that Belldandy was essentially broken and catatonic afterwards. Wiping some of Belldandy's memories and lying to her about Celestin's departure (he was actually imprisoned) was the only practical therapy at the time.
Meddling with memories is a recurring theme in Goddess, and it never ends well.
The climax of the film involves Celestin hijacking Keiichi's body and then upping the ante by again rebelling against heaven. This time he trying to chop down Yggdrasil and as Belldandy recovers she fights against this to get both Keiichi and her memories back. Urd and Skuld meanwhile fight a delaying action to hold off the destruction of Yggdrasil.
Inevitably we end up with Keiichi and Belldandy confronted by the Gate of Judgement as Morgan looks on. They walk through, knowing the consequences, and successfully emerge together on the other side.
There's some really nice design work here. The far side of the gate is a rich, green and forested valley, the other side is a red tinged apocalyptic landscape. Morgan realises that it was her own loss of faith that caused her earlier failure and stays behind to give hope to any other couples who might show up.
As the final disaster is starting on Earth, Belldandy and Keiichi return. The goddesses of past (Urd), present (Belldandy) and future (Skuld) sing, and Yggdrasil is restored.
I just love this scene - the choral work is fabulous and well supported by the effects applies to the instruments and voices.
At the very end though we see Belldandy and Keiichi together again. Belldandy's "selfish" (as she puts it) wish to remain on Earth with Keiichi has been granted but the original contract was still broken by Celestin.
So Keiichi is still entitled to a wish. We don't get to hear the new wish, but you just know that it has to be a repeat of the original wish***.
There is only one Ah! My Goddess movie, and overall I'm glad of that as it would be very hard to top this one.
I adore this film.
The film is superbly designed, often beautiful, and with a much higher quota of spectacular action than is usual for Goddess. Despite which it is the quieter moments, and the struggles of Keiichi and Belldandy to win themselves back that really make the film sing. This is especially the case when Belldandy finds the photo album of the past three years and yearns for the happiness that she sees captured there.
The soundtrack is also excellent, at least in context as I haven't had a chance to listen to it separately.
The Goddess movie is also a film that adeptly acknowledges the long term fans whilst being a good introduction to new viewers. Viewers who have never seen or read any Ah! My Goddess will still appreciate the movie.
Day 1 - New Kimagure Orange Road: Summer's Beginning (1996)
Day 2 - Naruto Shippuden The Movie (2002)
Day 3 - Galaxy Express 999 (1979)
Day 4 - Steamboy (2004)
Day 5 - Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer (1984)
Day 6 - Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
Day 7 - Howl's Moving Castle (2004)
Day 8 - Ah! My Goddess: The Movie (2000)
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*Keiichi is not stupid. Maybe a little on the slow and shy side romantically, but not stupid.
**It also allows for some of the original events of the series to be recapped, or at least referred to, with some light comedy along the way.
***Keiichi is not stupid. Especially when Belldandy has just made her position crystal clear... :)