I started watching this after seeing one of those “top ten” fan made things on youtube. This was in the best music/opening category.
After watching the above in HD and being dazzled by the shiny animation I put aside my prejudices against the show and indulged. I usually avoid high school based things these days (too close to my actual job.) I also tend to avoid mecha type anime. (Those things would be so astronomically expensive to build, run and maintain no one would use them to blow stuff up. You would need a mechanic on hand at all times as they would constantly break down with hard use and all those moving parts…. remote fired missiles would be more effective. Yes I know this is science fiction but the whole concept of mecha annoys me.)
Anyway I immediately liked the shy and retiring boy that was the main character, Shu. He finds the lead singer of a famous internet band Egoist, in an abandoned building and she is injured. His life pretty much falls apart at that point. The viewer slowly learns that Japan is going through a period of recovery after a pandemic. This apocalypse virus causes tissues to stiffen and crystallise until the entire body is taken over and falls apart. It’s agonising and either happens very quickly or slowly, drawing out the pain and leaving people prisoners in their own bodies.
Because of this, Japan now has a totalitarian government and has pretty bad relations with the rest of the world; which are terrified of the infection spreading. So far so good, I thought and settled down prepared to be a bit bored. Oh how wrong I was.
The first episode opened with explosions and a lot of running away. I lapped it up and grabbed the popcorn. This was great! I devoured episode after episode with relish and the series kept surprising me.
“There is a resistance, duh he is going to join… wait… he went back to school? What the hell? Is he nuts?” Etc.
OK mild spoilers abound from this point so be warned! (Highlight to view, skip to the end for summary.)
Shu accidently ends up with a genetic weapon. He can resonate with the virus cells in others, (which everyone carries but not all end up with symptoms) and he can basically withdraw pieces of their heart/soul and use them as weapons, called Voids. This was a gift for the fanservice. Shu had to plunge his hand into many a female chest and this led to many an embarrassing situation for him. I did not mind the comic episodes but felt they were a little misplaced against other eps that dealt with sexual exploitation, violence, discrimination and drug abuse.
Through his power Shu really finds out who his friends are and I particularly liked the relationship between Shu and Yahiro. Yahiro is apparently the golden boy. Friendly, kind, confident and seems to shield Shu from the other students. He turns out to be dealing drugs to make money for his brother’s hospital bills, while sampling his wares. He is very bitter and resentful under his image and when it all comes crashing down for him he turns really nasty. This gritty and tragic subplot was excellent and it was not the only side story I felt added to the anime.
Aside from the mecha and genome stuff I like the tech in this series. This is set only a generation in the future and the TV and phones look actually believable. The mobile phone is combined with a holographic ipad like device and looking at my own new smart phone I can see things easily going in that direction. It shows a lot of thought has gone into the background details and I appreciated this.
Shu does eventually end up fighting against the government to get at all the secrets they hide on the virus and thus he joins a wider, more varied cast than just his school friends. I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the anime and even the fan service did not spoil it for me (which can be a bit over the top at times. This woman is half dead but look! Her boobs are wobbling! Oh please that is really what I want to see right now, extreme boob close up goes so well with the blood.) Also this is when one of my favourite characters really shone.
The man is BAD ASS! Shu and Gai have a very rocky relationship to start with, but eventually come to an understanding… until Shu starts to suffer from a form of post-traumatic stress and can’t seem to fight anymore. Sympathy from his fellow fighters? Oh no, get on with it Shu and kill more people for us! When he refuses he effectively gets cut off, even his beloved Inori leaves him to go back to his mediocre life. At this point I sensed a wrapping up of a story arc coming.
“Please!” I implored hugging my popcorn. “I am enjoying this, don’t get weird!”
It got weird. Very weird.
The whole ending of this arc made me scowl at the screen and left me vaguely disgusted. Were the story writers bored and feel they had to shock their audience? It was a total flight of fantasy at this point and it lost me. I dropped the series for a few days.
What saved it for me was the soundtrack. I love it. The anime has fantastic music that not only enhances the story, it defines the whole anime. Missing the soundtrack I gave the anime another chance.
The story moved on into what I called the “lord of the flies” story arc. The heart of Tokyo is cut off from the rest of the country as it is declared an infection zone. The government are slowly implementing a scorched earth policy and the walls are literally closing in on Shu’s school and everyone else in the infection zone. The school is in chaos. The poor school president is trying to run things and failing. (No mention of where the teachers are btw! Oversight clearly.)
Shu winds up in charge (thanks to Yahiro, gotta love the opportunistic git) and Shu learns what it is to really be in charge and how Gai must have felt when he was running the undertakers. He tries to be a nice guy and treat everyone fairly… Yahiro keeps telling him that there is not enough vaccine to go around and they can’t save everyone. He comes up with a plan. Categorise everyone by their voids. They need voids to escape and they need Shu. The pupils with useless voids will be no help for the escape and the pupils that are infected are also nearly useless. These people could be eliminated by benign neglect and the useful pupils should have the priority for resources. Shu is rightly horrified. That is, until a close friend dies saving his life. He snaps and becomes a total tyrant. Inori stays with him even though she knows he is doing wrong and the school is ruled with an iron fist. It’s a nice parallel to the Japanese government and dissent does not take long to appear.
I won’t go into the ending, but let’s say Shu has an epiphany and ends up having to fight his sister and Gai again.
So, to sum up…
While I abandoned my popcorn after the first arc I did like the series over all. There were many interesting sub plots and the main story was quite engaging. The fanservice was in bad taste at times and some of the twists were unbelievable and designed to disturb for the sake of being disturbing rather than adding to the plot. I felt the anime was trying too hard to be edgy and unique. The story would have done this for it if it had been told properly.
On the plus side the animation is gorgeous and the characters for the most part are likable and easy to identify with. Inori is beautiful and while she can seem flat and emotionless at first there is a good reason for this and she really changes towards the end. Shu is a fantastic character and the trials he goes through really fit his personality changes. Gai is all kinds of epic but I really feel he should have stayed in the first arc and not been brought into the second. There are some touching moments that really got to me, this is an anime that knows how to use angst and dialogue to its advantage. The music is incredible and I have bought the soundtrack.
There is a possibility of a second season, or rather the writers were working on the basis of two seasons. There is no guarantee however that there will be a season two from what I have read.
Recommended, but has flaws. A story this complex needs more time to be told and the writers were clearly rushed in the second story arc.