Mecha anime is one of my favourite genres of anime. Gundam, Gundam SEED, Mobile Suit Gundam, Gurren Lagaan, Code Geass, Neon Genesis Evangelion, I’ve seen them all. And yet there are countless others that I have not seen, such as some of the Gundam franchises, or Attack on Titan, or Voltron or a bunch of others. There’s something really fascinating about the science fiction aspects of mecha anime, plus the usual young adult angle with them that I really like. Gundam SEED and its sequel Gundam SEED: Destiny were my first run-ins with the genre, and I’ve loved it ever since.
One of the newest mecha anime on the block is Valvrave the Liberator, or Kakumeiki Varuvureivu to give it the more accurate Japanese name. When I went in, I had no idea what to expect from it. All I knew was that it shared some similarities with Gundam and that it was mecha anime. I saw the first episode last night, and I have to say that I’m a bit underwhelmed with it. The opening is trademark Gundam style, with little to mark it as different, and that was disappointing. But the characters themselves were fun, which matters significantly, I think.
The story of Valvrave is set in a future where more than two-thirds of Mankind has left Earth behind and now lives in enormous Dyson Sphere-styled mega space-colonies. The usual divisions of planetary area in a setting like this are present of course, except that it is a more black and white thing here since there are only two powers now, the Dorrsia Military Pact Federation and the Atlantic Ring United States, with some neutral areas as well. The protagonist of the show, from the first episode, is Haruto Tokishima, a high-school student from Sakimori High School on the JIOR sphere’s module 77. As such stories go, Haruto is a reluctant hero and it takes a great tragedy for him to transform into somewhat of a hero. The antagonists of the show, the Dorrsia special forces who attack JIOR, are shown as ruthless and single-minded in the pursuit of their objectives. Everything else follows on from that.
The story itself, such as it is in the pilot episode, is thin and it is unexciting. I’ve already seen this in many other anime, particularly Gundam and Gurren Lagaan, so that kind of a hook isn’t there for me. And Haruto himself is a very cut and dry character, lacking the kind of depth that I know from Kira or Simon or Lelouche or Setsuna. Those characters were layered and rich right from the get go, something that Haruto is sorely lacking. He is shown to be a pacifistic sort, someone who doesn’t really care about competitions or winning. So the switch in his character in the second half of the episode is weird since there isn’t a whole lot of build up for it. It just happens. Snap.
However, I have to say that I liked the concept of the Valvrave mecha here. There are some strong hints of weird stuff going on, stuff that doesn’t normally happen in mecha anime in my experience since the genre is heavily science-fiction. When I was talking to a friend last night, it was mentioned that the show has some supernatural elements in it, and the wiki description bears that out as well. Given the epilogue, I can well believe that. The Valvrave isn’t just a regular mecha-suit, it appears to be something more, given how Haruto gets it started after several minutes of frustration, so I am definitely open to seeing where it all goes from here.
Thing is, I have a ton of anime series backlogged, some stuff that I want to see more than I want to see another episode of Valvrave, but at the same time, I am intrigued by the story here, especially the ending. This could very well be a story like Gurren Lagaan, which increased in scope every few episodes and went from being a local terrestrial story to being a grand space opera, which was an awesome switch in direction as far as I am concerned. If Valvrave follows that path, or even something that we’ve seen from the various Gundam shows (and it is made by the same folks who made Gundam, Sunrise, so that’s a definitely possibility I think).
If there’s one immediate negative of the show, it is that the Valvrave looks really complicated and it is extremely tough to see what kind of a mecha-suit it is. In Gundam and the other mecha anime I’ve seen, the suits/bots are always distinctive in appearance, whether we talk about their profiles or their colour schemes or what have you. With Valvrave, it is all an overload of a single colour, marked by a couple different ones here and there. In a word, it could be said the visual design is too…busy. But other than that, I really liked all the action in the episode. It was fast, it was unrelenting, and it was pretty awesome. Pretty much true to the spirit of mecha anime genre I think, from my limited experience. The characters themselves are drawn in a seemingly typical style, although some of the female characters are a bit top-heavy and the commander of the Dorrsia attacking fleet bears too many similarities to a similar character from Gundam SEED and even Gundam SEED: Destiny, which I found very off-putting. C’mon guys, let’s not make it a cliche okay? We already have enough of those in this episode! Let’s go for something new!
Overall though, considering everything together, I have to say that Valvrave the Liberator looks very promising, despite some of the negative commentary I’ve heard in regards to how the show develops in the later episodes or in the second season. But since each season is only 12 episodes each, and anime episodes are typically around the 20-25minute mark, I can get behind the show. It is not that significant an investment on my time, which is what I’m looking for really.