With my review pile growing once again (wasn’t I caught up just a few days ago?), I’ve decided to jump into a new series from Bandai.
This anime takes place in the civil war torn Asian country of Uddiyana where a photographer takes an incredible image. That image is of a flag and it serves as a beacon for countries to unite behind and start the long road towards peace. When the flag is stolen though, a special UN military unit is dispatched to retrieve it. Dispatched along with them is the photographer, Saeko Shirasu, who will be filming the entire operation from the front lines… and that’s just the beginning.
Upon arriving in Uddiyana for her assignment, Saeko gives her mentor something that was the break of a life time, secret information about the military that was only to be released if something happened to her and that’s when we start learning about everything that she experienced. Her arrival at the secret base, a mission that none of the team members are quite sure about and a government desperate to make the public believe that the civil war is under control and will be ending soon. While at the same time he tells his own story about the cease fire negotiations and what he uncovers.
Good and the Bad
At first this title sounded like a simple military mech title that I expected little from. I would like to be the first to admit how terribly wrong I was. Wasting absolutely zero time, the first episode really pulls you in with its unique storytelling. Deep, character driven and innovative, this story telling is the most original I’ve seen in a very long time.
Taking the concept of photojournalists being embedded with troops and another reporting on the cease fire agreements in a war zone, the series decides to tell its story by using a series of video clips. On one hand we have Saeko filming the troops on base with her digital video camera with occasional snapshots taken as well from a first person or second person perspective to add a new depth to the series. Then on the other we have Akagi filming with his video camera.
The animation style is very interesting because of how much attention is paid to the little details. When we are watching Saeko on her webcam making an entry, we see the animation appear a bit grainier with some drag added to really solidify the effect. When we see Saeko looking through her camera, we see all the little features inside the camera’s view lens which really puts you into the anime and makes the first person perspective that much more personal and real.
The character design is absolutely phenomenal and when I use that word, I mean I haven’t seen character design this good since ‘Le Portrait de Petit Cossette’. The characters are drawn in a very pop art style which gives them deep realism. There are no characters with signature big anime eyes, all the lines and features are proportioned properly. You can even cleanly tell nationality between all the characters instead of waiting for the character to tell you so that you can stop guessing (though they do that in this series too).
The writing in this series weaves a very complex and deep story which I found myself getting more and more wrapped up in as I continued to watch. This is an anime that doesn’t try to pretend anything more than it is which in my book is a benefit but I can see how this might become a problem for them as well. I think the primary issue I have with the writing though is that they didn’t even make a vague attempt at hiding the political overtones and obvious references to current world politics. I am personally a huge fan of politics and follow it on a daily basis but I would like to be able to watch anime without thinking of the current state of the world.
Sadly this anime does not let you do that and as you see battle footage and the looks on the troops faces when they return from a mission, this anime stops being an anime and starts becoming all too real to the audience.
Taking the concept of journalists in a city or embedded with troops one step further, this series has very little music in it at all. While there are some scenes with Akagi, it is very soft and very difficult to notice unless you are actually listening for it. There is also no opening theme for this series and instead it only has a ballad for the ending theme which was interesting but I can also see why they did it.
Dub vs. Sub
It really felt like sometimes the actors were straining to make their lines fit with the mouth flaps. For some reason it was really hard to get into the first episode especially because the way the lines were coming out of the character just sounded and looked so unnatural. It really took me out of the element for awhile but by the time the second episode was half over I was completely over that issue. Already the Japanese and English casts had brought me into the story because of the delivery.
I think one of the primary issues that I was having for that first episode and a half though is that in neither cast do the lines ever sound “acted”. With the series having such a real feeling to it, the voices had to sound completely natural and both casts pulled off the job admirably.
Easily the standout performances for me this volume were Dorothy Fahn as Saeko and Taylor Henry as Akagi.
Just clean animation.
If I really had to make a prediction for this series, I would say that the good money is on this series becoming one of anime’s best kept secrets. The story and characters that this series attempts to showcase and present to us is absolutely fabulous on so many levels. It is an anime that absolutely deserves to have a wide audience and fan base but likely won’t get one because of the hard sell this series is. The pacing is fairly slow and the action is not over the top explosions and in your face blood. This is presenting the war as a necessity that no one particularly wants to be a part of but is doing so for the better good. That’s not an easy sell anywhere and in this case, it’s beyond difficult.
While I think there are plenty of people who will want to pass on this anime after seeing the first volume, I am firmly saying that everyone should at least watch this first volume to give the series a chance. With the anime industry in a rut for various reasons, this is an anime that is openly going into almost brand new territory where only a couple has treaded before and it’s doing a good job! That alone should be worth the support of many but hopefully this anime will be picked up by a few. Absolutely worth viewing.
Final Grade: 95% – A