Reviewby Theron Martin,
Valvrave the Liberator
episodes 1-6 streaming
By the 71st year of the True Era, 70% of all humanity has migrated to other planets in the solar system and a massive Dyson sphere. As super-powers ARUS and Dorssia contend for geopolitical dominance, the smaller nation of JIOR attempts to remain neutral. That effort ends when Dorssian military forces openly attack while a team of young, highly-trained specialists infiltrate the sphere's JIOR-controlled Module 77 in search of a special prototype weapon. Haruto Tokishima, a student at the module's Sakimori High School, is oblivious to the latter until circumstances during the attack cause him to encounter Valvrave, the cutting-edge mecha that the infiltration forces led by L-Elf Karlstein are willing to kill to get their hands on. Haruto soon finds himself piloting Valvrave in a desperate effort to defend his schoolmates and fend off the attacking Dorssian forces, but Valvrave is far from a normal mecha. Those that pilot it become effectively immortal and gain bizarre new abilities, and even stranger things happen when it sufficiently overheats. Though uncomfortable about being cast as a hero in the wake of the attacks, the travails for him and his schoolmates are not over once the initial Dorssian attack is driven off, and being thwarted in his first effort and branded as a traitor isn't enough to discourage the frighteningly capable L-Elf. Other secrets are in store, too, as Sakimori High seeks to carve out its own existence in a universe where most of the adults seem unhelpful or even outright against them.
Sunrise's newest original anime series may be many things, but one thing that it is not is pedestrian. While it does follow certain conventional mecha elements, it is at times spectacularly unpredictable and enthusiastically ridiculous, even by mecha standards. It has taken elements from a diverse array of previous series and combined them into an inventive mess which can provide great entertainment as long as one is ready to accept the utter absurdity that it sometimes engages in. Even the most veteran mecha fans should find at least a few weird, new twists here.
The first episode seems to set the tone by showing, in rather graphically violent fashion, how L-elf and his team are invading the secret research facility under Haruto's school while the main forces attack outside and Haruto and friends struggle just to stay alive. Naturally Haruto hooks up with the secret mecha and saves the day powered by some apparent personal tragedy, but the last couple of minutes of that episode throw a double-barreled blast of shocking twists into the mix: not only does Haruto appear to die at L-elf's hands, but he appears to come back almost immediately as a vampire-like being capable of performing body-swapping tricks, and his mecha's seemingly-sentient AI appears to be responsible. And then the next episode come around and shows what happens when his mecha overheats to 666% of threshold and then. . . well, you get the idea. Valvrave can be fun to watch if for no other reason than seeing what crazy stunt it will pull next, and what's described here is hardly the last of them in the first six episodes.
The way the series applies newer angles on technology use to some more conventional story elements also makes the series interesting. “Adults are the enemy and cannot be trusted” is definitely a prevailing theme throughout the episodes, and certain plot developments call to mind series like Infinite Ryvius and Starship Operators, although this one certainly does not bother with the attention to fine detail that the latter series does. However, this one cuts into much fresher territory in the way it completely integrates social media into the story. Although this has been touched on before in mecha titles, it has never been dealt with in even close to the degree involved here. As events unfold in crises and mecha battles, commentary on (and pictures and video of) them explodes in the setting's equivalent of the Twitter/Instagramverse. It becomes a core tool for disseminating information, the groundswell of support that such instant feedback generates becomes critical for bolstering Haruto's morale, and a second pilot who comes along later manipulates it for self-promotion in addition to the aforementioned purposes. The students even use it as a means to generate funds to support their resistance to the Dorssian attacks. Given how dramatic an impact this element has on the story, this could signal a rethinking on how the newest trends in social media are used in anime.
The cast so far has largely consisted of fairly basic archetypes, though a couple of cast members are showing the potential to be breakouts; Haruto does not hesitate to kill when pressed, for instance. As much as some of the later episodes in this run emphasize the day-to-day activities of the students, however, the real draw here is the action, and that does not disappoint. The lab invasion scene and certain other parts of the first three episodes get into brutally bloody martial arts and gunplay, but the action is ultimately dominated by the mecha fighting in episodes 1, 2, and 6. Dorssian mecha which use thick panels as shields provide an interesting twist on standard mecha design, and more conventional air and spacecraft add some extra zing, but the sleek, stylish, vaguely monstrous Valvrave is the true star, whether in the original model or a multilegged second model which appears towards the end of this run. It is everything one would expect from a God Mecha as it bashes and maneuvers through opposition, but then it goes into its utterly over-the-top demonic mode, which should leave viewers wondering what pact was made with what extraplanar entity to create something like that. And, of course, most mecha don't turn their pilots into veritable vampires who can almost instantly heal any wound.
A spacefaring mecha show is a decided departure toward conventional style for director Kou Matsuo, who has typically helmed more artistically distinctive efforts such as Kurenai and Red Garden but also does have a couple of minor Gundam OVAs under his belt. The effort turned in by he and his Sunrise team is surprisingly bland overall; even the dynamic mecha action scenes, full of energy flashes, colorful explosions, and ostentatious CG mecha, fall well below the standards of the studio's better recent efforts. Ship designs and mechanical details of the colony module are adequate but nothing special to look at, and the same can be said of the character designs. Rendering quality is not the sharpest, either. The only place the series shines visually is in the freaky CG sequences where the Valvrave powers up and body-swapping powers activate. Fan service opportunities are limited, but the graphic violence is plenty enough to warrant the “content may be inappropriate for some” warning messages used by Crunchyroll.
The musical score by Akira Senju (heard most prominently in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood) provides fully orchestrated numbers to back its flashier fight scenes, intense notes for moments that should be intense, and effectively light-hearted numbers for more relaxed scenes. Overall, it is a solid but not spectacular job. Opener “Preserved Roses” is eminently forgettable, but closer “Boku Janai,” with its synthesized sound and more melodic vocals, is a little more memorable. Also listen for some decent insert songs in episodes 5 and 6. Japanese vocal work through these episodes is solid but, like the music, nothing exceptional beyond possibly Ryohei Kimura's performance as L-elf.
Valvrave the Liberator hardly qualifies as one of the better titles of the year, but it can still be a fun view if one does not get too hung up on the logic or practical details. As its halfway point approaches it has certainly left plenty of juicy questions and story angles to be sorted out.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : B-
Music : B
+ Mind-blowing twists and turns, good mecha action, potentially trend-setting integration of social media.
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