Number of Episodes: 24
Production Company: Sunrise
Brief Overview: In the future, people can access the internet through a device known as a "Neuro-Linker." Haruyuki is a bullied boy with low self-esteem who logs in to escape the woes of real-life. One day the most popular girl in class offers him a special program called "Brain Burst," which causes accelerated brain waves.
Episode 1 Summary: Haruyuki spends most days running errands for the school bully and losing himself inside the virtual gaming work which has become his refuge. Inside, he has the top scores on the virtual games he plays, though he often finds himself wishing that he could meet "Kuroyukihime," a beautiful upperclassman with a butterfly-themed avatar.
One day Haru finds himself bested in his game by Kuroyukihime, who invites him to join her for lunch. She directly links with him and pushes a program to his neural link called "Brain Burst," which he soon discovers is a specialized program that accelerates brainwaves. She warns him not to connect to the global network once he leaves the school grounds, but the next morning he does out of habit - suddenly, Haru finds himself in a desolate wasteland stuck inside a robotic body, with an aggressor heading his way.
Thoughts: This is one of those strange cases where I was onboard for most of the first episode, but the last couple of minutes really lost me. I'm not normally one to tolerate tales of male adolescent woe and I think bullying has become a bit of an overused plot device, but I didn't mind it here. I also really enjoyed the music in the first episode, and the animation was well-done. I think the technological hook is a bit cliché, but well-visualized in this context. What really bothered me, though, is that all the character establishment and all the technological creation is, in the end, all for one purpose - robots fighting each-other.
I generally do some research before I watch a series. I'm not interested in memorizing the entire plot ahead of time, because that takes away most of the fun of actually watching it, but I do like to go into my viewing educated about the characters and the setting. Somehow, someway, despite the fact that this series is now well into its second half and is being simulcast by a major anime licensing company, I managed to avoid the little revelation that this is some sort of tournament-fighting series with robot avatars. Silly me. I'm obviously not going to condemn the series outright for being about robot battles; despite the fact that I hold this type of science-fiction to a pretty high standard of creativity, the fact that its central conceit is downright predictable isn't a show-killer (though the fact that I'm about to re-watch Dennou Coil, which uses its sci-fi elements to much less predictable ends, might become a problem if I were earnestly trying to enjoy this series on its own merits). I really would have liked to have seen some more obvious emotional, human element (aside from the protagonist's anxiety) right from the get-go, though.
Speaking of Haru's anxious reactions to his surroundings, I'm finding myself torn at this juncture as to whether I'm buying the portrayal of his anxiety as true-to-life or not. As someone who suffers from social anxiety in certain contexts, I'm fairly sensitive to seeing it portrayed in media. I think what tips the scales in this show's favor is the way in which Haru is seen retreating into his virtual world. He spends his days being harassed at school, feeling unable to stick up for himself. In the virtual world, he's not that much different, but he does have his niche and when the real world gets to be too much to handle, he's quick to use it to avoid conflict. While this is a pretty simplified portrayal of the kind of emotional responses one might have if afflicted by the same disordered interactions, it does capture a bit of the reality.
For the most part the animation seems very well-done (it's obvious where Sunrise's resources were spent this season. Hint: it wasn't on Natsuiro Kiseki). There's a lot of consistent character movement, and the virtual world has a very distinct look from the real world. What bothers me is the character designs. Most of them are your standard run-of-the-mill modern anime characters, but Haru stands out like a sore thumb by being short and rotund. Granted, he's the protagonist, and his human look resembles that of his virtual avatar (a little round piggy), but there are literally no other characters in the entire first episode who look quite so cartoonish and the disparity is unfortunately very distracting. I understand that his character design is meant to make him appear especially comical and unattractive, but he looks as though he belongs in a completely different anime series. Perhaps if there were a bit more variety in this series - you know, like in real life - this wouldn't be such an issue.
I am not quite sold on this series, but I'm curious about it, which is a positive sign.
Follow-up Episodes: Somewhat unexpectedly, the series seems to quickly transform from a near-future sci-fi internet romp to a teenage love triangle drama. Gone are the Brain Burst hand-to-hand battles, to be replaced by several annoying soliloquies by the two primary female characters about how much they're in love with Haru. I wouldn't necessarily call this a harem anime by the normal standards, but there is a certain element of sexual wish-fulfillment to the way things are unfolding, and the character emotions feel wildly out of place.
I can appreciate a series that features characters who don't fit the normal "hero" model; this one doesn't step too far outside the norm by having a geeky protagonist, but at the very least he's not the basic shounen hero or big-talking macho man that one might expect. The problem is that Haru's pathetic nature is emphasized to the point that it's difficult to believe that two girls would be quite so interested in him, and yet he's pursued to some extent by not only his cute childhood friend, but his beautiful upperclassman. The extent of their devotion to him is sort of silly in the sense that there's not a whole lot done to establish why they'd be so into him, other than some grandiose confessions that seem much too much like "telling" rather than "showing." In the end, I just find myself very confused by how these relationships are unfolding, and it seems silly to me to dwell on them so much when there's a potentially very engaging sci-fi element to the series that's being left mostly unexplored for the time being.
The production values continue to be pretty high a few episodes into the show, and I think that the soundtrack is actually pretty listenable. The biggest issue I have with the series so far is that the first several episodes spend a lot of time dancing around the plot without offering much in exchange. There are tens of anime series that come out in a year that deal with teenage relationship drama, and I feel like this one is operating outside of its element by trying to incorporate that type of sub-plot into its main story. By the end of episode four there looks to be some sort of major revelation brewing, but by that point I had lost most interest in the show and didn't really care to see how things were resolved. There's a lot of time wasted on explaining the rules of the virtual game and on relationships that feel forced and corny, which unfortunately makes me unmotivated to watch any more of the show.
- The production values are good and suit the material well.
- The soundtrack is very listenable.
- The plot is buried beneath some teenage emotional drama that doesn't feel very realistic.
- The main character's visual design doesn't seem to fit with the series.
- There are some harem-esque elements to some of the episodes that are unnecessary.
Recommended? I would have liked to be able to recommend this, because its technical merits are pretty sound, but some of the other elements have made me less-than-enthusiastic about the show as a whole and I suspect I would find more of it to be a big waste of my time.