Director: Kou Matsuo
Writer: Ichiro Okouchi
Animation Studio: Sunrise
Version Watched: Subbed
I’m not going to lie, I generally prefer to watch original anime releases as opposed to adapted works. For one original series tend to actually have a conclusion and secondly they have none of the adaptation deficits suffered by hundreds of other shows; things like odd changes in pacing, filler segments and endings that diverge from the original canon. Kakumeiki Valvrave, being one such original story, bursts forth from the starting block with style before settling in to enjoy the run at its own pace and then stumbling a little at the end. It does some cartwheels and flips along the way that keep the audience entertained but, all in all, it could have run a better race.
Tokishima Haruto is but one of many students aboard Module 77, an artificial environment in space belonging to the country of Jior. He has a few good friends, regularly attends classes and has a crush on Sashinami Shoko, who he’s known since the two were children. When Jior is attacked by the domineering Dorssia Military Pact Federation, Haruto’s childhood friend is not spared during their merciless advance. Blind with rage, Haruto comes across a rare sight in his neutral and peace-focused homeland: A massive combat mech. As he enters the abandoned cockpit a single question appears on the monitor before him.
Do you resign as a human being?
As alluded to earlier, Valvrave begins excellently. Every episode presents something new and interesting to try and wrap your head around, including several developments that I’ve almost never seen before. It’s fast paced and exciting, and I was incredibly keen to see what the rest of the series was going to do. After that? Well, thankfully the show continues to tell a coherent and enjoyable tale, though I’d be lying if I said that it stood out like its earlier episodes did. The series as a whole relies heavily on suspension of disbelief (regarding things like the actions of other countries, and what’s going on in the rest of Jior for the entirety of the series…) with variable success, and that all comes to a head near the end when both international communities and known individuals break character to move the plot in a particular direction. The following episodes use that change well, but it’s jarring to say the least and I found it hard to swallow some of the events that took place. Compared to the rest of the show, which can really be split into two segments, the conclusion also seems a little rushed.
Valvrave features some fantastic plot devices as well as some that I was less than impressed with. The former are pretty much all spoilers so I can’t really discuss them, but please trust me when I say they’re not the norm and have the potential to inspire a lot of deep thought. The others are related to the Valvrave, which is really very cool the vast majority of the time. It kicks ass in all the right ways to make for entertaining combat…but therein lies its weakness, also. Perhaps necessarily the rules behind the Valvrave and its powers are never fully explored, which I can understand to a degree, but it means that surprise power-ups and hidden capabilities make for easy-way-out writing because new features that have never been used before will always provide the protagonist with a way to win the match of the day. It’s probably a small gripe in the grand scheme of things but I felt it was one of the factors holding Valvrave back.
The series’ characters are a strength that isn’t exploited to its full potential. Whether they actually do or not, the individuals followed by the story appear to break free from usual character archetypes (with some exceptions, or course) and have some great prospective personality developments and exploration that are never really tapped. I’m not trying to harp on about romance but it would have done Valvrave a world of good if it had done more than just touch on its character relationships, because the one time it did try to take things a little further had some staggering implications that would have made for fantastic watching…and it’s incredibly unfortunate that they were never pursued.
The mechs look awesome in action and so do the animated characters…most of the time. The second season especially plays host to some shockingly bad visuals at times, though for the most part Valvrave looks rather pretty. Insert songs are used to good effect repeatedly and varied so that no one track gets stale, while the background music goes just a little bit beyond simply doing its job. If this were a video game I would complain that the enemies should have a little bit more variation to them but, hey, you can’t expect a country’s army to prioritize appearance over effectiveness.
Summary – Kakumeiki Valvrave is a good watch for a number of reasons despite losing some of its luster early on. Coherence, novelty and general potency continue to flow through to an admittedly rocky conclusion, but overall the story stood out to me among the many I have watched recently and I’m happy to recommend it. That all said, this is also a production that failed to realize a great deal of potential, so I can’t score it as highly as I would have liked to while viewing its initial episodes.
Score: 8/10 – Good