Ayashi no Ceres / Ceres, Celestial Legend (2001)

 

There is a story, common to folklore the world over, of the heavenly maiden come to earth who becomes trapped when a human man steals her celestial cloak/skin/fur and hides it from her. The maiden is thus relegated to life on earth, typically to become the man’s wife, tending to him and any children they might have. The relationship may become a happy, loving one, but always, the woman longs for her previous existence. And always, the man eventually slips up, and she finds the magical item which will allow her to revert to her celestial form, leaving the man and children behind to mourn their loss.

Ayashi no Ceres (Ceres, Celestial Legend here in the U.S.) sets this familiar tale in a near-future Tokyo, and centers on fraternal twins Aya and Aki Mikage, who are about to celebrate their sixteenth birthdays. While the two would rather spend that time with their friends, their parents insist they must attend a family function. A function that turns out to be more tragedy than party and alters the twins’ lives forever. It turns out that the Mikage are descendants of a tennyo, or celestial maiden, and the tennyo has the ability to possess the Mikage women when they reach age sixteen. The head of the Mikage clan lures Ceres, the family tennyo out of hiding within Aya, and once she temporarily takes over, all hell breaks loose. Ceres’ centuries-long hatred of the Mikage men fuels her devastating power. Several family members are killed as a result, the twins’ father among them, and their mother is hospitalized. When she comes to herself, Aya remembers nothing, but is forced to cope with the damage Ceres has wrought.

The twenty six episodes of the anime follow Aya’s struggle to contain Ceres and determine why, if her family is so terrified of Ceres that they want her dead, Kagami Mikage (Aya and Aki’s cousin) is collecting other tennyo maidens to study. What is he trying to accomplish, and how far will he go to get what he wants? Along the way, Aya falls in love with the mysterious Tooya, a man with no past hired by Aya’s grandfather to kill her and protect Aki from Ceres. Who is Tooya and what hold do the Mikage have on him? Along the way, Aya befriends (and Ceres bewitches) Yuuhi, one of the genuinely nicest guys to ever grace an anime show. His family, along with Tooya, help Aya stay one step ahead of the Mikage clan as she tries to unravel the mysteries surrounding the tennyo, hoping to save their lives and free Ceres from her cycle of rebirth.

Ayashi no Ceres is another gripping story by manga artist Watase Yuu (Fushigi Yuugi), though far darker than her previous work. The Mikage men are ruthless, perpetuating century after century of pain for Ceres – small wonder that she is violently opposed to their attempts to study, let alone kill her. Aya is a strong-willed intelligent girl, struggling against the weight of family history to survive and love. Ceres is a proud, angry soul, who yearns to find her celestial cloak and leave her earthly body behind. Yuuhi is a sweetheart – and a phenomenal cook. Kagami is fascinating... a brilliant, misguided man. Poor Aki is trapped between his sister, Kagami, and his destiny. Tooya alone is a disappointment as a character, necessarily a bit flat (for reasons revealed late in the series).

Viewers of the series will see the secrets unfold as Aya and Tooya race to try and restore Ceres to her former state and establish a life for themselves and those they love.

[April Gutierrez]