Reviewby Carlo Santos, Nov 21st 2012
Episodes 1-6 Streaming
Sakura Sakurakoji is a high school student whose life takes an unexpected turn when she meets Rei Ogami, a new classmate with a dark secret. One night she sees Rei burning people to death with a blue flame ... but she can't seem to prove it ever happened. However, Rei soon reveals that his flame-wielding powers do exist, and that he is a "Code:Breaker"—a person who exists outside society's boundaries, dealing out justice in ways law enforcement never could. Sakura tries to stop Rei's dangerous acts, but instead falls deeper into his world, learning of other rivals and friends within the Code:Breaker system. Meanwhile, sinister forces within the government have their own plans regarding the Code:Breakers' powers. An unseen war is brewing in the midst of modern-day Japan, and only Sakura and the Code:Breakers know how devastating the consequences could be.
Can multiple wrongs make a right? It sure seems that way in Code:Breaker, which explores the idea of evil deeds being necessary in order to make the world a better place. The "hero" of the series, Rei, spends most of his time glaring at the world around him, playing up the bad-boy persona for all it's worth. But this intriguing view of good and evil is wrapped up in typical genre conventions: school students miraculously have superpowers, sneaky secret organizations run everything, and inappropriate comedy moments keep butting into the story. At its heart, Code:Breaker has something serious to say about the dark side of heroism—but is it convincing enough to get the message across?
Unfortunately, the opening scenes don't inspire much hope. From Sakura being admired by everyone at school, to the mysterious circumstances of Rei's transfer, to his predictable display of power in Episode 1, it's as if the plot is blindly going through every cliché on the teenage action-thriller checklist. The strange shifts of mood don't help either: one moment Sakura is skulking around, trying to figure out Rei's secret, then suddenly we're supposed to laugh because the entire school has misinterpreted her interest in Rei as a crush. Even worse are the attempts to make a joke out of Sakura's eccentric parents and her middle-class family life.
The story gets better by Episode 3, where it starts to dig into the Code:Breaker universe and Rei explains why he must do terrible things with his powers for the sake of justice. Naturally, Sakura is an idealist who insists that heroes should be glowing examples of morality, seeking only to protect human life. This philosophical conflict, not the battle between Code:Breakers and evildoers, is what truly sets the story apart from typical action fare. A dramatic high point comes in Episode 5, where innocent children are in danger, and the question of good and evil extends to one of life and death. Is it right to take one's life in order to save others? Can a killer be an agent of justice? There are no easy answers, and arguing about what it means to "do the right thing" is as much a part of the story as the flashy action scenes.
Of course, an action thriller also needs some dramatic revelations and surprise twists, which show up at fairly regular intervals throughout this story. Every episode or so, new lines of conspiracy are drawn between the Code:Breakers, the government, and other major characters. Even as the plot thickens, however, it still gets broken up by ridiculous antics where Sakura and Rei have to hang out with their near-useless classmates (like what happens after the intense events of Episode 5).
The visuals in Code:Breaker serve as another study in awkward contrasts: decent artwork ends up being let down by cheap animation. The basic designs look polished and detailed enough, with highlights and shadows that add dimension to the characters, and background images that could pass for photographs. However, too many scenes are animated with limited movement, or none at all: when the characters speak, they stand completely frozen while their mouths flap back and forth, and any artistic challenge like a big crowd scene is rendered as a still frame. Uninspired camerawork is another letdown: there are so many frontal shots of Sakura that one starts to wonder if anyone's ever seen the sides or back of her head, while battle scenes make use of all the stock poses fans have come to expect from the genre. The series' overall look doesn't have much of a stylistic signature, either: from a distance, it looks like any other action show, and Rei and his allies are all built on the same character template of narrow-eyed bishonen whose hairstyles flutter naturally in the breeze. The only true standout moments, where technical and artistic aspects meet, are in fight scenes where special abilities come into play—and even then, that gets some help from computer graphics.
Edgy rock songs make up both the opening and ending themes for this show, setting the tone right away for lots of dark thoughts and violent acts. But the background music within each episode is surprisingly varied: school scenes are accompanied by cheerful, lightly orchestrated motifs, which give way to brass and strings on full blast when Rei has to has to activate his flames and administer justice. Yet the music is actually at its best somewhere in the middle, when it's gloomy and ambiguous—just like the story's gray philosophical outlook. However, this wide emotional range has its pitfalls: sometimes the score will sound too dramatic for a mundane scene, such as when Sakura is at school. Even the music gets into the act of inappropriate mood swings.
At the six-episode mark, an action thriller like Code:Breaker still has plenty more story to tell. But this opening arc already lays out a couple of promising ideas: the first is the question of "doing evil for the greater good," which is the entire purpose of Rei's existence. The second is Sakura's loss of innocence as a pacifist-idealist, as she witnesses Rei's actions and starts to understand his harsh view of the world. Unfortunately, these deep thoughts are buried under a mass of genre tropes: superpowered battles, secret agencies, government conspiracies, and general school-life silliness. It also doesn't help that the tone shifts awkwardly between earnest drama and forced humor, as if unable to decide what kind of series it wants to be. As expected, the fight scenes result in plenty of visual flair—but elsewhere, the second-rate animation fails to reach its true potential. And really, that's the story of Code:Breaker in a nutshell: lots of potential, but hampered by its own mediocrity.
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : C-
Art : B-
Music : b-
+ Intense drama, frequent plot twists, and a morally ambiguous view of society will intrigue viewers who want a serious-minded action show.
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