The Fall 2017 Anime Preview Guide Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~
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Code:Realize -Guardian of Rebirth- ?
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How was the first episode?
I've had a copy of the Code:Realize visual novel sitting on my PlayStation Vita for over a year now, but I've never gotten the chance to dig into it, so this season's adaptation of the game is a prime opportunity for me to see what this story is actually about. As it turns out, Code:Realize is a pretty fun, if generic, take on a steampunk otome story. The setup is standard, where the mysterious and beautiful protagonist is thrown in with a lot of handsome, roguish men who all happen to fit a distinct set of sexy archetypes. Instead of ancient samurai or vampires though, Code:Realize runs with its alternate universe Victorian setting and casts a bunch of prettied up boys from European history and famous literature as its romantic leads. I'm a sucker for steampunk, and I always love seeing how Japan interprets the classics of Western literature, so Code:Realize has the benefit of building from an inherently intriguing premise.
Thankfully, it doesn't bungle things too much, and everything in this first episode gives the impression of a reliably familiar, well-oiled machine. Our heroine Cardia possesses a secret and dangerous power that Arsene Lupin, Impey Barbicane, Victor Frankenstein, and Saint-Germaine are all working to unlock, ostensibly for the greater good. Each of the men that Cardia meets are charming and attractive in a traditionally anime sort of way, but the obvious champion of the cast is the adorable dog that sports a mechanical leg, a bow-tie, and the cutest little top hat in the world. While Lupin's charm, charisma, and screen time set him up as the obvious True Ending Boyfriend, no boy will ever be more good than this perfect and adorable creature.
Outside of setting up its main cast, the rest of the episode is devoted to putting all the pieces of the main conflict in order, which it does just fine. The breakout scene that sets the stage is a fun way to get things going, despite the action direction and animation never being much more than “okay” throughout. My biggest problem would probably be Cardia herself, who feels more like a pretty MacGuffin than the central figure of a romance show. The script goes out of its way to explain her familial relationship with the famous Isaac Beckford, the man who revolutionized the world with his technology and implanted the Horologium in his own daughter's chest. Despite being so central to the mysteries of the plot, Cardia herself is frustratingly lacking in personality, with most of her dialogue consisting of bemusedly parroting what other people say to her and standing still to look pretty. This lack of clear characterization isn't too uncommon for visual novel protagonists, but it does make it hard to invest in the romance plot.
Hopefully Cardia's character will get more to do in future episodes, because this show could end up being a real draw for anyone who needs a harem of pretty Victorian boys in their lives. I personally need a bit more chemistry between the various love interests for it to really wow me. Code:Realize isn't quite there yet, but it has the potential to grown into a sleeper fall favorite if it can grow into its own more.
Steampunk has popped up in anime on a fairly regular basis over the past decade, but is it starting to become a trend now? In the wake of last season's excellent Princess Principal we now have this title, which doesn't have anywhere near the same ambiance so far, but it's set in the same era and more straightforwardly engages in steampunk trappings, with flying vehicles and other anachronistically advanced technology. It's all explained under the “genius inventor who came up with inventions beyond the current level of technology” ploy—the same kind of “don't sweat the details” approach that Full Metal Panic! employed with its Black Technology and Whispered.
The more surprising aspect is that this is actually a reverse-harem series based on an otome game. While that isn't immediately obvious, anyone familiar with such titles will notice the telltale signs by the end of the episode. A young woman will be living in a mansion with three hot bishonen (which include the dashing gentlemanly thief Arsène Lupin) due to extenuating circumstances. She has little personality or capability to do anything on her own despite possessing a special something that puts her at the center of the conflict, and she suffers from amnesia. Despite that, Code:Realize is much more tolerable than most because it offers some interesting variations on the premise in addition to its intriguing setting. Cardia's “ability” presents a powerful barrier to being intimate with anyone, but it also makes her less helpless than most reverse-harem leads if she chooses to act on her powers. This version of Lupin has also shown some hints of genuine depth and compassion, and a good balance has been struck so far between his gentlemanly ways and his sincerity. Also, there's a genuine mystery afoot as to why Cardia's father implanted the device in his daughter's chest and who the mysterious young fellow whose appearances bookend the episode is, since he seems to be manipulating Cardia.
Above-average production values don't hurt, either. The animation may be nothing special, but character designs for Cardia and the young men are clean and attractive, and background art shows some nice detail work, though the placement of clockwork gears sometimes seems random. Between that and a more compelling-than-usual premise, this one has a chance to poke its head above the morass of reverse-harem titles out there.
I admit to a weakness for literary mashups, so a story involving the original Arsène Lupin, an engineer from Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon, and Victor Frankenstein (an anime favorite) is absolutely up my alley. That it takes place in Steampunk Victorian London is just the icing on my nerd cake, as are the promised inclusions of Van Helsing and a corgi with a clockwork leg. That said, this introductory episode only does a so-so job of distinguishing itself, so most of my enthusiasm comes from who the characters are rather than the actual story.
Part of the problem is that heroine Cardia is pretty much a blank slate at this point. She's basically a human-shaped vessel for a deadly poison, something that I strongly suspect came about two years ago. Her father, apparently mad scientist Isaac Beckford, implanted something called the Horologium in her chest, an eternally beating heart. That's ostensibly why Lupin came for her – to “steal her heart.” I suspect that will, of course, extend to her emotional heart as well as what her father implanted in her, because this is based on an otome visual novel, but also because if anyone is desperately in need of an emotional awakening, it's Cardia. She's been locked away from the world for the two years she remembers (anyone else suspect that she died two years ago and her father revived her with the Horologium?), and her human interaction has been strictly limited, despite the existence of clothing which can block her deadly skin.
There's one little almost throwaway line that Cardia utters when the British Army comes after her for unspecified reasons – she mentions that she wanted to keep on sleeping. I can't help but feel like that may be important going forward, perhaps indicative of her rebirth at the hands of her father. While it does frame her as one of the more innocent Sleeping Beauty figures, it can also imply that there's more to her than we've seen, perhaps another personality or a power driven by the Horologium that the waking Cardia is unaware of. This would make her a Jekyll/Hyde character, which would be an interesting addition to the literary lineup already present, as well as giving Victor Frankenstein a chance to work some of his scientific magic to free Cardia of whatever is making her into a walking poison.
Apart from my usual issues with costuming, which I'm willing to overlook due to the steampunk aspects, this is just okay visually, although I do like the rich backgrounds inside the mansion and the lovely late 19th-century cars. What's really making me want to see more are the characters, and even if this isn't the most impressive debut of the season, it's still something that I'm curious about, if only to see how the story chooses to use its literary figures going forward.
I haven't had a great track record with otome game adaptations, but Code:Realize seems like it might be the one to break the streak. Boasting propulsive storytelling, likable characters, and a very attractive look, this premiere places the show on steady initial footing. If it can keep this up or actually improve on this opening, it could be a very entertaining show.
Code:Realize takes place in one more steampunk Victorian England and centers on the unfortunate Claudia. Claudia's father once implanted a strange energy-creating device in her chest, and because of this device, Claudia's skin now prompts instant decay in anything she touches. Claudia has accepted her identity as a “monster,” but just as she's being carted away to some dire fate, she's rescued by dashing gentleman thief Arsene Lupin. And so begins her journey into a group of handsome historical rogues, as she's swiftly introduced to Lupin's engineer Impey and scientist friend Victor Frankenstein.
It is very much to this show's credit that I didn't realize it was an otome adaptation until around halfway in. Instead of simply showing off its cute suitors, this premiere is constructed as a propulsive heist, with Lupin sharing equal billing with Claudia throughout. And when Claudia finally does reach Lupin's mansion, the explication of her circumstances and her own uncertainty feel fairly natural. “Person cursed with a terrible power who feels they don't deserve to live” is a stale device, but Claudia's actions and emotions are articulated with enough specificity and grace to bring her feelings home. And on the other side, Lupin already has clear motivation for his interest in Claudia, and his rapport with his fellow rogues is fairly charming.
Code:Realize is also blessed with a reasonably strong production. The show's character designs are very attractive, and its backgrounds range from above-average to truly beautiful. There are occasional dynamic directorial flourishes throughout, and the overall palette is rich in complementary colors. There isn't that much fluid animation, but the show gets by just fine on its basic art design.
Overall, Code:Realize offers a reasonable premiere in basically all respects. I have complaints, but no huge ones: the dialogue could be a tad snappier, some of the backgrounds were iffy, the second half could have used less exposition, and the bad guys seem pretty silly. None of those issues prevented this episode from being consistently entertaining, and I was actively impressed by how well this premiere sold the emerging relationship between Lupin and Claudia. Code:Realize earns a solid recommendation from me.
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