- Dragonball Z s2
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Surrounded by dodgy rumors and feared by his classmates, Alma Tandoji is the quintessential loner. He doesn't necessarily like it that way, but he does prefer it. An incident years ago when he lost control of his mysterious powers has convinced him that the best way to deal with the world is to keep it at arm's length. Ruri Aiba is not your typical socialite. A personal tragedy years ago drove her to take up the battle against the Dark Stones, sentient stones whose thirst for destruction threatens everything in their path. She has vast resources, a maid army, and a robot-piloting butler at her disposal, but when a powerful Stone is unleashed on a soon-to-be-doomed ship, she decides she needs something else: Alma. Can the power that Alma has long feared really be used for good? With Ruri at his side, it just might.
I know that a show needs something to distinguish it from the pack, all the more so if the show is a big conglomeration of anime action clichés. But really, rocks? Rocks gave Alma and Ruri their powers, and gems allow them to control them so that they can fight still more rocks. Alma spends his time searching the river for rocks and he and Ruri belong to a rock-appreciation club, led by a rock otaku, where they pass the after-school hours polishing rocks. Who was the genius who figured that geology would be a good hook for an action show? Probably the same genius who figured that it wasn't a good idea for a big conglomeration of anime action clichés to take itself too seriously.
It takes a while for the series' amusement at its own genre-pandering, trope-plundering ridiculousness to register, though. There's very little in the way of humor during the first episode, and the way it lunges from one cliché to the next, taking little care to properly connect them, makes it much easier to cringe at the towering derivation of it all than to laugh at it, much less laugh good-naturedly. One minute a statue is destroying a ship, the next Alma is at school running through a checklist of must-have high-school tropes (bullies, nerds, the fearless girl who befriends the outsider), and the next he's sprouting a glassine horn and rampaging as some sort of badass mummy-thing. Wait a few moments and Ruri is kissing gems, jamming them into Alma, and suddenly he's a retro hero in robotic drag with twin mechanical scarves. The second episode supplies some of the connective tissue that the first lacked, but still not a whole lot in the way of self-awareness.
And then there's the fact that it just doesn't look good-humored. Somehow you expect something as glossy and expensive as Sacred Seven to take itself seriously. All the more so if it features intense, flexible designs by a team that obviously learned much while animating Code Geass and a sparely utilized score by one of anime's most accomplished composers (Toshihiko Sahashi). Bright colors and a sly liking for sight gags can't entirely erase that expectation. And certainly, it isn't entirely wrong. The action sequences, for one, are no joke. From the first, when Alma-as-mummy stomps the bejeezus out of a living medusa statue, it's apparent that the series expects its fights to thrill. And they do. Sunrise has long experience with this kind of thing, and the action they cook up is fast, furious and balanced nimbly on the line between the personal and the epic. By the time Alma air-surfs his way into the eye of a blood-red hurricane where enormous centipede-dragons belch fire on him as he attempts to destroy a city-sized crystal snowflake the series' action credentials are pretty well (pun alert!) set in stone.
Somewhere along the line, however, it starts to become clear that at Sacred Seven's heart lies, not a masturbatory appreciation of Sunrise's own animation skills, or a sneering confidence in our inability or unwillingness to recognize a creaky cliché construct, but rather a quiet self-effacement, an acknowledgement that it's all been done before and we should just have some fun watching it again. Thus we get big, cold, handsome Alma, who rides a ridiculously tiny moped everywhere and at heart is nothing but a big ol' awkward softie. We get a pair of butler-loving students whose shameless pursuit of Ruri's butler pokes fun at the butler fad even as the series panders to its adherents. We get the ridiculous makeover of Alma's school (caviar school lunches!) when Ruri takes over, fulfilling the burning need for both an exclusive private school and a teen-girl headmaster.
Don't take that to mean that Sacred Seven is a parody. It prefers a warm, generalized sense of fun to pointed attacks, and benevolent, knowing smiles to self-satisfied smirks. It's perfectly aware of its, shall we say, borrowing habit, and perfectly willing to have a good chuckle at its own expense, but it also has deep and genuine affection for the things it borrows. You don't get Alma's groovy hero-suit or his winged menace of an archrival without an abiding love for the classic look of Kikaider and its scarf-loving ilk. You won't get breathtaking stone beasties like those centipede-dragons without a corresponding passion for the metal monsters of Mazinger and its perfectly preposterous super robot buddies. At its best, Sacred Seven is silly and quite aware of it, yet effective nonetheless. Its main villain, introduced (though knowingly presented as an "ally") when Alma's archrival makes his entrance, is a camped-up, stair-stepping exercise addict, yes, but is also truly sinister. Perhaps it isn't genius, but that ain't bad either.
You hear it a lot, but this is a series that grows on you. If you can make it to the point where it dawns on you that, hey, maybe that maid army at the beginning wasn't supposed to be taken seriously, then you've got some happy times ahead. Not profound, not original—but, yeah, pretty darned happy.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C-
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : B
+ A beautifully rendered, good-humored teen action romp; pleasantly retro; sex appeal balanced across the genders.
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