Number of Episodes: 24
Production Company: Satelight, Ixtl
Brief Overview: Based on a light novel series which was, in turn, based on a visual novel, this series follows the after-effects of an alien invasion, and the scientific and military alliance between Japan and the United States which is created to help fight back against the invading force.
Episode 1 Summary: In 1967, alien beings discovered on Mars and dubbed the "BETA" began attacking Earth outposts, and while the humans initiated a counterattack, they didn't have the means to defeat the menace. Now in 1997, the battle has permeated the lives of those on Earth, and teenagers go to school with the intent of joining the military and piloting mecha in defense of the planet. Yui, whose father helped develop the mecha, is one such student.
Yui and her classmates train as the BETA threat draws nearer. In July of 1998, the BETA finally begin to cross into Japan from Korea. Though her unit hasn't completed their training yet, Yui and her comrades are called into action to help defend their base.
Thoughts: I see... so this is one of those series where the fanservice elements are played completely straight, right?
WARNING, minor detour into the physics of garment construction.
In case you're browsing from work or prefer not to research this on your own time, I'll mention that the battle uniforms worn by the characters in the show are a little bit out there, but this isn't a "fanservice" series per se. What irks me isn't that the flight suits are super tight or that they accent the chest and crotch region of the characters (though it's bothersome, don't get me wrong), but that character designers working on this series seem to lack a basic understanding of how fabrics and other clothing-related materials would actually behave in this type of garment. We're dealing with an alternate universe situation here, one in which technological development has been accelerated as a requirement of adapting to the capabilities of a technologically-superior alien threat. Even with that said, I can think of no material which is able to form around and underneath breasts in the way that this flexible fake polymer seems to. I actually did a bit of research on this after watching the first episode of the show, and the the closest thing I could find which captured the "spirit" of what the costume-designers probably intended were latex bodysuits, which, even when sewn expressly to accent the breasts of the wearer, could not duplicate the effect featured in this series (and, sadly, many others).
Tight clothing, even when fitted a certain way, can't do much more that accentuate cleavage. There is no outfit I can think of that can re-create the water balloon effect seen here. Despite the fact that this show is filled with technological impossibilities, including giant mechanical suits that not only move relatively swiftly but can also fly through the air, it's this deviation from reality that drew me the furthest out of the narrative. Sexiness can easily exist without having to bend the laws of reality.
Now back to your regularly-scheduled review.
It's a bit of a shame, because the rest of the episode tackles the wartime subject matter relatively seriously. I will admit that the idea of turning teens into military drones is one of my anime pet peeves (right up there with the recently-popular "Battle Royale" style death tournaments that serve as skeletal plot inspirations) because the surrounding scenarios are rarely bleak enough to realistically warrant such drastic actions, but this manages to come close. Even though much of the first episode seems as if it could have been taken from any other school drama, the constant background news chatter and some visual elements of the environment do a lot to maintain a low-level of uneasiness until the BETA actually attack Japan proper.
There's a heavy undercurrent of national pride in this episode, evident during the numerous times the beauty of Japan is brought up, the brief mention of kamikaze tactics, and the very subtle hints that this alternate-history scenario features a "Japanese Empire" that doesn't exist in our present time. I'm not entirely sure how to take this yet; if the United States were the central force here I would probably be inclined laugh at the overly-obvious patriotism-bait. In this case, I'm not exactly sure what sort of tone the creators are going for. Is this a similar sort of pandering towards the Japanese public? Is it a message about how completely "wrong" this timeline is supposed to be? Is there some commentary about how Japan has flourished (technologically and perhaps culturally) when it's allowed to become a super power in its own right? It's not something that's really made clear within the context of this episode, and so I'm not quite sure how I should react to this particular bit of story-seasoning.
There are a lot of different things going on here, and it's not yet clear whether the show was created to pander to idealist notions of Japan's cultural superiority or the sexual desires of some of the society's members, or is simply a science-fiction tale with some unfortunate, unintentionally-distracting visual choices. I'm not quite sure whether I ought to be anticipating the intensity of the plot, or bracing myself to be thoroughly disappointed by misdirected audience baiting. The disorientation is frustrating.
Follow-up Episodes (2-6): As Yui is forced into battle, she watches helplessly as her squadron is picked off by the BETA one-by-one, and is forced to witness her friend being eaten alive. Three years later, she joins a research team in Alaska which hopes to bring together individuals from countries that have been taken over so that they might pool their know-how and develop more effective ways to fight the BETA. There she butts heads with Yuuya, a Japanese-American with an inferiority complex and a bad attitude. Her group is also threatened by a pilot duo from the Soviet Union who appear to be harboring some sort of secret.
Well, as the series continues it seems less and less inclined to focus on the horrors of war and much more willing to indulge in the generic type of character antics that define so many other ensemble series. It frustrates me that the show spends two episodes focusing on the deadly, horrific slaughter happening in Japan, and then steps back to focus on a cocky douchebag and his brooding man-pain until he's forced to cooperate with Yui later on (and we get a bit more of her memories and perspective in the process). There's something unconvincing about Yuuya's disillusionment with Japanese culture and his half-Japanese heritage, which makes him come across as pouty rather than truly marginalized.
There's a really strange, single-minded focus on the cultural differences between the Japanese and Americans in this series, to the point that it seems to be less about different cultural perspectives and philosophy, and more about some sort of vacuous concept of racial essentialism that feeds back into the strong nationalistic tone of the earlier episodes. There's a clear message that the Japanese mecha in which the elite squad is attempting to hone their battle skills require more grace and refinement of the pilots' skills, whereas the American mecha are more defined by their brute strength and ease-of-use. I'm certainly not offended by this, but the "message" becomes so blatant at times that it's almost laughable. I'm not going to get into the dynamics of the US/Japan relationship post WWII in this post, but the relationship between the two countries (and by extension, Yui and Yuuya) here seems to represent a "what if?" reversal of fortune (which would obviously explain the "Japan Empire" mentioned in the earlier episodes). An interesting idea, surely, but used primarily as a way to get two characters into an adversarial relationship with one another? Kind of cheap.
I was going to reserve my final judgment on the pilot uniforms until I got a glimpse of how the men fared in their version, at which time it became clear that yes, this was one-hundred-percent a fanservice measure. While the men wear uniforms that are similarly form-fitting, there's very little camera focus on their ass and crotch areas, whereas these shots are frequent when the ladies are onscreen. Also, the women's uniforms are inexplicably shinier, especially in the chest and butt areas. Case closed.
This show seems to be a bit of a tonal mish-mash. When it's serious it can be very engrossing, but many of the characters come across as obnoxious and manage to spoil the mood by being too cartoonish. it might be fun to speculate about the alternate-history scenario at play in this universe, but on its own the show seems to have plenty of problems not limited to the fact that its visuals imply pandering to one very specific audience demographic.
- When the show takes itself seriously, it can be very engrossing.
- The alternate-history scenario invites some interesting speculation.
- The pilot gear is form-fitting in a manner that is not actually possible.
- There's a weird undertone of racial essentialism that becomes a bit irritating.
- Many of the characters who appear after the first couple of episodes are cartoonish.
Recommended? Overall, probably not, but as something which sort of deadpans the fanservice, it could have been much, much worse.