Before the review proper, let me give you my basic recommendation for this anime if you haven’t seen it yet. You should definitely consider watching if you like fighting and action and good character development. Bonus points if, like me, you’re still salty over how badly Aldnoah ended up.
The rest of this review may or may not contain spoilers!
“Time to make more of that sweet Gundam money~” – Sunrise
The Review (Spoilers)
Let’s just get my one major complaint out of the way: The exposition was really bad, especially in the beginning. Many characters were telling each other information that they should have already known. (If they didn’t, they would have had the observational skills of a goldfish, and I’m surprised to see them having lasted so long in their jobs.) Some of the points the writers wanted to make were also dealt without subtlety, but ultimately, that’s not what sticks with you once you finish the anime. For me at least, the most memorable piece of this anime was the portrayal of child soldiers and the weight of death. It’s very common for death and murder to feel trivial in anime, especially for supporting characters and below. Somehow, IBO was able to fix that problem. The way they fixed it was a little heavy-handed at times (outright saying something was “wrong” or pressing the issue a few times for one episode), but the message ultimately stuck. The presentation had something to do with this (ie having blood and bodies with red as the predominant color on screen) for sure, but the concept of death having weight was really sold by how characters reacted to the loss of life.
Character portrayal and interactions may have been the series’ strongest point in writing. Development was given to each character in a supporting role and above. It was enjoyable seeing the main characters of Orga, Mika, and Kudelia grow into their positions. Each had successes as well as losses while attempting to reach their personal objectives, and while the plot skewed in the protagonists’ favor, it didn’t make them feel overpowered and unbeatable. Mikazuki was the weak point in the characterization. While he did get emotional development, it didn’t seem like most of the fights he was in were ever going to prove too difficult. Any other battle had an air of tension and uncertainty, but if Mika was in it, it was safe to assume who would win. Specific scenes were around to give the supporting roles just enough development, and characters didn’t seem to step outside what would have been realistic for them to handle. Case in point, Atra’s moment of badass was justified by her backstory so her will to endure did not come out of nowhere. While these moments can seem exciting to begin with, it’s easy to see them as a flaw and immersion breaker upon further contemplation, destroying the mood of the scene.
As a whole, the series felt very grounded. Having the characters battle with limited resources (fuel, ammo, etc.) and need for repair is an element often overlooked or infrequently brought out during ‘crucial times’. It helped make the series feel grounded, something essential to make the wartime themes stick and feel relevant. (Although I don’t know how Mika seems to have an unlimited supply of snacks.)
Also, let’s just forget that part where a bunch of characters seemed to have met with certain death, apparently that was just because the writers didn’t think there would be a second season.
Animation & Art
The animation was very consistent and fluid, with the mech fights being the most exciting parts of the series. Each mech itself looked distinctive from each other in this particular series (I can’t say anything for other entries in the franchise as this is my first one) and there was a good sense of weight throughout, lending credibility to realistically improbable mech fights. Other than the fact that I couldn’t tell most of the elderly men apart from each other, character designs were distinctive and did a good job of showing off personality. The 3DCG was well blended and didn’t get obnoxious frequently enough for me to complain about it later.
The mostly orchestral soundtrack was very solid. While there aren’t any signature tracks that stand out to me on their own after viewing (like how this one from Kara no Kyoukai did), they’re definitely pleasant listening if you can find them. To me, the first opening and ending themes reflect the series better than the second set. On the surface, it’s a show about war, as the first opening suggests. However, the realism and tragic undertones are reflected well in the blues ending. Throughout the series, the way each ending theme was blended into the end scenes of most episodes was excellent for building atmosphere. The sound effects worked and nothing detracted from the atmosphere, although the effects for the mechs felt retro somehow (definitely not a bad thing, I liked how that worked out).
Edit, 7/16/2016: I got the OST a while ago, and after listening to it more I noticed one of the stringed instruments sounded of a particularly high quality. I checked it through a friend who’s an authority on music, and he confirmed that there was live-recorded violin. (This track is an especially good example.) Most soundtracks are composed using a synthesizer to save on the cost of hiring a musician, so live recording is rare. But if you hear the raw sound in that violin… you really can feel the difference it makes! So, extra props to the music, they did a great job on this one.
I’m jaded from my experience with the second Psycho Pass season so I’m not getting my hopes up. But I do think there is definite potential for the next season to maintain standards! There’s set up for a future antagonist, a new direction for Tekkadan, and the main characters still have potential for character development. I’m expecting that there will be a few new key characters in the new season, just because they probably have a quota to fill so new toys can be made. Hopefully, they will feel natural with the story and not feel tacked on.