According to Twitter, it’s always a good problem when an anime season has too many good shows. This logic is sound: I would rather spend my time choosing between awesome series than trying to find just ONE to hold my interest. In addition to keeping my occupied, it also adds just enough spice to long road trips, because now I’ve got a backlog to work on instead of just staring out the window.
Spring 2013 is one of those good seasons. Seriously, between apocalyptic battles between man and monster, giant robots, elder gods and something new from Gen Urobuchi, it was a challenge to find that one show to follow until summer. So I decided to follow four, with the potential for a fifth to come later. Hence, this will be part one of my Spring 2013 impressions, the second to come after I’ve fully caught up.
First Pick: Valvrave the Liberator
I’ve had a really low opinion of giant robot shows for the past few years. While my “formative time” as an anime fan was spent watching a lot of Gundam, recently (since around the time Code Geass was airing) I discovered how little I cared about mecha as a genre. Gundam AGE didn’t strike a chord with me (or anyone, really…), and I would be hard-pressed to identify a single robot series that I found compelling or interesting. And then came Valvrave.
Off the bat, this show plays like Gundam Seed did a decade ago. Space colonies at war, hidden weapons of destruction, betrayal, espionage, schoolchildren, a stab at the Russians…the pilot was scene for scene a rehash of Seed (with a single nod to Destiny midway through), and yet did not come off as being “fake” in any way. It moved quickly, hooking me as a viewer and making me feel invested in a narrative that’s been done to death by every other mecha franchise since ever.
Then came the “obligatory” curve: the machine itself was either sentient, or some kind of channel for powers beyond the comprehension of man. Cue awesome neon lights, an ass-kicking, and an enemy army on the run. Okay, been there, but this is pretty flashy. What else you got? Pilot gets shot- repeatedly- but gets up and bites a his assailant. Okay, vampires? Unexpected, especially for a science fiction series? No, wait…not vampires…he BODY-SWAPPED with him? And now he can use all those “1337 ninja skillz” against his foes? What IS this show? I DO NOT CARE!
Valvrave, no matter how derivative it comes off at times, is fun, and even a bit refreshing. It drops hints slowly as to what the bigger picture is, so while fans can appreciate the nods to past mecha series, they can also look forward to twists and turns as the story progresses. As of the second episode, none of the characters are all that different from the “cookie cutter” mold established thirty years ago, but the influx of animation technologies and grandiose fight scenes help you forget its “roots.” I’m eager to see where this series goes in the end, but as long as it keeps up the bells, whistles and head-shots, I think I can live with the results. After all, Valvrave is also wicked fun, not bogged down in political jargon or complicated diplomatics. There’s a war, there’s a giant robot, let’s see where this goes. It adds up to being fun, which in the end is one of the major reasons for watching anime in the first place.
Valvrave gets an A, for awesome. And there’s a post-credit scene in episode 1.
Second Pick: Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan)
Last summer I watched a series where humanity was in a state of decline and “otherworldly” beings were now the masters of Earth. This season that theme comes back, but it’s no longer cute little faeries creating bread from rubber, megalomaniacal skinless chickens, and yaoi criticism. Attack on Titan is a dark, moody show that depicts mankind not just in decline, but on the defensive against a powerful, predatory foe eager to devour us all. How does it feel being knocked down a peg on the food chain?
The plot establishes itself quickly: in the face of monstrous, androgynous beings called “Eotena” (who are deliciously creepy thanks to wide grins, sharp teeth and an utter lack of both clothing and genitalia), mankind has withdrawn behind massive walls built to keep our dwindling population safe from being eaten off the face of the planet. These walls, and the people living behind them, have stood for a century without breech, a fact which leaves some of the residents more complacent about our standing in the world. A young boy dreams of a future where he (and the rest of humanity) can rise up and strike down their tormentors, and establish a new world outside the walls, where men are no longer “livestock,” but the true masters of nature.
Then the destruction comes. Confronted with an Eotena far larger and stronger than any encountered before, the walls are breached, and mankind once again becomes cattle to be devoured by their gigantic foes. Attack on Titan weaves together a powerful message of survival, politics, ambition, and annihilation, as the resources and resourcefulness of humanity as a species must contend with forces beyond our control, and capability to fight. The Eotena are mindless killing machines with no thought other than acquiring prey. The soldiers lack courage needed to fight against them, or find themselves hopelessly outmatched. Bravery and food are both in short supply, enough to spur on suicide missions against an unbeatable foe, mostly in the name of “population control.”
This is a very dismal series. Recalling imagery from “War of the Worlds,” “Berserk,” and “Gojira,” it depicts civilization on the brink on collapse. Heroes are born, but are powerless to institute change. Like its kaiju-cousins, its better to run, hide, and survive than fight back, but where is the honor in that? Is it even possible to be honorable when life as you know it is coming to an end? (Or, as one character puts it: you lack the strength to save the world. I lack the courage.) What must you do to survive? These are themes explored in just the first two episodes, with promises of secret powers and weapons to come later.
Attack on Titan also receives an A, for allegory and adult themes.