Reviewby Theron Martin,
Episodes 14-24 streaming
After the world ended calamitously, Kotarou traversed through lives in various alternate timelines before awakening in a ruined Kazamatsuri, devoid of people except for himself and a mute Kagari, who spends all of her time trying to trace paths on her grid depicting all the assorted alternate timelines. Gradually, Kotarou is able to coax her into more direct communication, but threats still linger now that Sakura Kashima, the Saint of Gaia, has managed to send monsters into this realm. To defend Kagari until she can find a viable future for the world, Kotarou summons a plethora of familiar faces for one more desperate battle.
In the new world that Kagari has restarted, Kotarou grows up as a friendless young main disillusioned with his parents' devotion to the Martel Group. The girls are all with him in this world, but in much younger forms. As he follows a path that ultimately turns him into a super-powered double agent, some events repeat but one thing remains constant: Kagari is still the Key, controlling humanity's continued place in the world.
The first season of this Key visual novel adaptation is widely-regarded as a disappointment, partly because of how loosely and poorly it structures the game's story, and partly because it just doesn't come together well in the end. Early on in this second season, which constitutes episodes 14-24, there seems to be more promise on the horizon, but being only a milder disappointment isn't much of a step up from what came before.
Episode 14 begins with a montage of alternate-timeline stories that seem to have been adapted from various endings in the game's initial character arcs. It's actually one of the most interesting parts of this season, since it's fun to see all the different ways that things could have played out for Kotarou and the other girls: still disastrous in some cases, but leading to happy marriages and children in others. The rest of episode 14 up through episode 16 adapt the follow-up Moon arc from the original visual novel. The story peaks in episode 16, which brings everyone together for the last time, reveals one big truth that has been obscured so far, and works to set up the rest of the story. It even finds a little room for humor in a story that is otherwise very serious, making it easily the best episode of this season and perhaps the whole series.
Episodes 17-24 correspond to the follow-up Terra story arc from the visual novel, with the anime's events generally following the original's plot. The several years of age difference between Kotarou and the other future Occult Club members in this world results in the girls largely being relegated to cameo appearances until the very end, with a couple girls not appearing at all until the last couple of episodes. This drastically limits both Kotarou's interactions with them and the impact that they have on the story, making this arc strictly the Kotarou and Kagari Show – but Kagari is a relatively minor supporting character for much of this arc too, not appearing at all in at least one episode, so Kotarou really gets all of the focus.
Whether this is a big plus or a big negative depends on how invested you were in the girls after the first season. I didn't find any of them to be particularly compelling and even thought that their school uniforms were more distracting than attracting, so the minimal presence of the Occult Club girls in the final arc didn't bother me as much as it might some others. Watching Kotarou's growth as he tries to find his place in the world and his interactions with various new characters (especially Yasmin) is interesting enough on its own, though not terribly exciting. At least the obnoxious fairies aren't still around.
The real problem with this arc is something that only gradually becomes apparent. This is a morose and pessimistic tale that's only occasionally softened by lighter moments, which seems harshly at odds with what has to be accomplished in order to save humanity. The path that Kotarou ultimately settles on is a bloody one, loaded with betrayals and little happiness despite his ultimate goal of giving Kagari happy memories. It doesn't jive well at all. This is supposed to revolve around a romance that transcends timelines, but the story falls woefully short of building this premise up to a satisfying emotional climax, instead leaning too far into a nihilistic attitude of “humanity is the problem and it's too far gone to save itself.” Sure, Kotarou becoming the monster in order to assure the future for others is a classic bit of self-sacrifice, but his heart doesn't really seem to be in it. A very rushed final episode that could have easily been stretched out to two doesn't help matters, but the really maddening part is the ultimate solution that Kotarou and Kagari arrive at. If that was how things had to be resolved, then what was the point of most of the series?
The technical merits of the second half remain consistent with those of the first half and may even improve a little. The monsters are still all-CG creations, but the animation in general gets a little more creative within its limitations (especially in episode 16). Character designs for new recurring characters seem a bit less calculated and fetishized, and the little kid versions of the original girls are all suitably cute. Esaka (the café owner who's also a key Guardian figure) even looks less dorky without the mustache. The use of color in the series still isn't the sharpest, and the artistry isn't anything special, but at least quality control is steady enough that it doesn't look distractingly poor, either.
The musical score for the second half, though not spectacular, is easily the strongest aspect of production. A stream of poignant piano and light synthesizer numbers drives much of the soundtrack, with lovely closing themes throughout. The regular opener, which begins with episode 17, leaves a lot to be desired though. It tries to play up the series as more of an action story (which it's not), and if it was intended as a parody of some kind, then it's not successful in that regard.
The anime version of Rewrite was reportedly tweaked to help get across a message that the creators didn't feel the visual novel readers received, but on that account, the series is a miserable failure. Sure, it has a strong environmental message, but it doesn't seem to be saying anything beyond “humankind is on a hopeless path to destruction.” That's hardly original or endearing after so many episodes of buildup. As late as the final couple of episodes, there was still some potential for a worthy ending to develop from all this, but in the end, I think they blew it.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : B
+ Stronger early episodes, fewer annoying distractions, more consistent quality control
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