A few days ago I watched the first episode of Valvrave the Liberator, one of the newest anime shows on the mecha anime scene. It started off fairly generic, mimicking the opening of shows like Gundam SEED and Gundam SEED: Destiny but there was always the promise that the show was more, largely because of the epilogue that went with the first episode. As a huge fan of the mecha anime genre, the show didn’t appear to be offering something new but I decided to stick with it because I did enjoy the opening episode. Interesting characters and interesting plot, they both did the trick for me.
Having now seen episodes 2-4 of the first season, I can definitely say that while Valvrave The Liberator is cut from the same cloth as the above-mentioned mecha anime and bears the same tropes as those shows, it also stands on its own. The foundations are a bit rickety since the differences aren’t highlighted as much as they should, but it is developing into a fairly fun show that keeps you interested and coming back for more as soon as you are done with an episode. That’s the best kind of anime out there that is.
Episodes 2, 3 and 4 see the initial cast from the first episode expanded and developed further as the invasion of JIOR by Dorrsian forces continues and the Valvrave, piloted by Haruto, takes the fight to them in revenge for the murder (by war casualty) of the girl he loved, Shōko. The first episode was a very tried and true episode which introduced the characters and the different factions, and provided some interesting hooks for the viewer. The next three episodes go the extra mile to make sure that the viewer’s stay is profitable and that the viewer does get something out of the show which can bring the viewer back for more. Whether we talk about the slow revelations of the Valvrave’s abilities and its in-built software-level defenses or the characters of Haruto and Shōko or L-Elf and the others, in these three episodes the cast really does develop more than I expected.
The opening episode ended on a frankly grim and freaky note, when Haruto spontaneously came back from the dead and bit L-elf. Then, once some of Haruto’s friends from the Sakimori Academy and L-elf’s fellow Dorssian special ops agents arrive on the scene, L-elf betrays his friends to let the JIOR students get away. This sets off a chain-reaction of sorts as we begin to delve into the supernatural elements of the show, even as we move forwards with the science fiction/space opera elements.
The character of Haruto definitely sees a lot of development in these episodes. He grows from the odd social outcast to someone a bit more confident, but also someone who is in mourning. The romance between him and Shōko doesn’t see the kind of development that I was expecting to see and that’s great, because I’d thought that the show would move along very cliched lines for that. Instead, the romance is kept as a subplot that doesn’t really take over from the other subplots or even dominates the main plot, which is all about the Valvrave mecha-robot that both the Dorrsians and the ARUS forces want. It represents something new, something powerful and those who have the power want to have more of it by adding the Valvrave to their personal.
But, as it turns out, they all underestimate the students of Sakamori Academy, in particular Shōko and Haruto, who continue to defend their friends and fellow students from everybody around them. As with most mecha anime shows, Valvrave is also dependent on a series of betrayals and treacheries to keep the plot going and these are the “weapons” that the students of Sakamori Academy use to keep themselves safe from anyone who would want to harm them. Of course, the scale of such tactics is completely different since the students aren’t as ruthless as the two superpowers, but they are no less determined.
Even as Haruto grows as a character and learns more about his new abilities and those of the Valvrave, we also see Shōko develop further. She goes from the cheerful and popular girl at school to someone who can take charge in a crisis and do the right thing as determined by the morality scales. She is a hero every bit as much as Haruto but her strengths are different. She can think through problems and come up with solutions that shock other people into action, in contrast to Haruto who is driven almost completely by revenge at first and then by love second. Once episode four ends, it is clear to see that Shōko is developing into her own right as a protagonist of this show, as much as Haruto is.
And then we have L-elf, a most enigmatic character and someone who has tangled successfully with ARUS forces before. In fact, among his enemies he is known as the “One-Man Brigade”, a testament to his skills and training, which always put him at an advantage over his enemies. The show goes to some ridiculous lengths to show just how cool and awesome and kickass L-elf is, such as him unscrewing a bolt from his chair while held captive and interrogated by ARUS forces in order to escape and kill everyone around him. Such things really stretch the credulity of the viewer, but they do end up being fun regardless. That’s part of the charm of a mecha anime show as far as I’m concerned and as long as the execution is handled well, I’m fine with such grandiose moments.
In the first two episodes, we see the Valvrave largely at night and that colours the perception of the mecha-robot’s design, which appears to be very complex and even a bit indeterminate. But in episodes three and four we also get to see the Valvrave in the mornings, in full daylight, and details begin to emerge. I still am not a fan of the visual design but it is slowly growing up on me, and thus far I’m willing to give the show that much at least. And, the show still has some problems with how the female characters are drawn, because many of them seem to be so similar and this is in contrast to the male characters who all appear different, so there’s that negative as well. But generally, the animation flows really well and episode two in particular has some really great moments, almost all of them involving the Valvrave in battle against the mecha-robots of the Dorrsian forces. Grant, stirring stuff all of it.
So overall, the show is consistent to a degree and it doesn’t seem to be taking itself too seriously. It has a fair number of interesting characters and the animation is on point as well, despite a few things that I hold against it. What matters in the end is that I really want to see more of the show.
More Valvrave: Ep 1.