Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Not every future is a dystopian hellscape. Some future worlds are quite nice. Like Akane Isshiki's. A revolutionary generator known as the Manifestation Engine has made clean, cheap energy available to the whole world. War has ceased, peace rules, and environmental degradation has apparently been reversed as everything is clean and clear and covered in greenery. The only problem: evil monsters known as the Alone are about to start targeting the Engine. Only Akane's cracked grandpa, the Engine's disgraced inventor, believes that they're really coming though—he saw them attack the Engine, psychologically scarring a young Akane in the process. Luckily he's a genius inventor, so when the attack comes, he's got a countermeasure in hand: a transforming, friendship-fueled weapon to be wielded by young girls. And he knows just the spunky young granddaughter to use it. Darned monsters won't know what hit 'em.
Oh, the power of execution. Vividred Operation is an action trifle about transforming super-heroines saving the world in their underpants. It's cobbled together from a wide variety of prefabricated characters and story elements and is built around girly friendships that have about as much relation to reality as the show's outlandish technology. And yet it's presented so cheerfully, packaged so attractively, and delivered with such good-natured verve that the whole mess somehow comes across as breezily charming. At least, most of the time it does.
It's a breezy charm built heavily on bright, crisp visuals and a certain sunny, laid-back energy. The island that Akane lives on is a sun-dappled, small-town paradise. Akane and her friends have a clean-lined cuteness that somehow negates the creepiness of all of the little-girl crotch cams. The episodes move with the same confidence and carefree speed with which Akane cruises the verdant streets and sapphire shores of her hometown while delivering papers on her grandpa's hover bike. They sail by, fast and fun, zipping from everyday peace to sticky sweet bonding to comic chases and monster movie mayhem with lighthearted ease, rarely investing any of them with more weight than the slimly written characters or the hackneyed plot can support.
And when the time comes to pull out the action stops, the show does. Akane's battles with the Alones are huge, spectacular things, full of slickly animated military hardware and CG monsters that are both impressively cool and genuinely threatening. Skyscraper-sized, segmented dragon-worms, laser-spewing arthropoidal fortresses… neat things all. The flying, dodging, slashing, bashing, firing, exploding, laser-deflecting, fighter-jet-catching, mechanized magical-girl transforming, and other sci-fi action craziness is all animated with a glossy skill that does A-1 Pictures proud. Especially flashy are the girls' weapons when they combine to form magical super-girls (you knew that was coming), be they hammers the size of transforming cargo containers, enormous unfolding swords, or—in the show's most dazzling technological display—a glowing cannon made of spinning armor plates.
Rarely has a shambling assemblage of alien invaders, magical girls, and loli fan-service gone down easier. The series' execution makes it easy to enjoy the story's strengths and hard to hold its many, many weaknesses against it. We appreciate the sneaky and frequently funny way that co-writers Hiroyuki Yoshino and Kazuhiro Takamura use technology to turn the show into a magical girl tale (the way they get a mascot character into the mix is particularly amusing). We enjoy the cuddly rapport between Akane and her crusty gramps, and cherry-pick the entertaining and genuinely warming from Akane's friendships with her Alone-busting comrades. We happily anticipate the complications that might arise from the way Akane's responsible sister Momo dazzles Akane's serious-minded swordswoman friend with her little-sister cuteness.
In the meantime we ignore the thudding predictability as Akane collects color-coded friends and enlists them in her war against the Alone, all while trying hard to befriend a frosty classmate with a dark connection to the monsters. We let the factory-produced personalities of the girls—the athletic honor student with the cute phobia, the shut-in tech geek with the odd personality, the indomitable genki-girl and her shy BFF—slide because they're a kink or two more complicated than necessary and easy to like. We forgive the tiredness of the mysterious-enemy-from-nowhere gimmick as we gawp at the action, and even let the show get away with an unsuccessfully tragic episode (about Rei, the frosty classmate) because it's artfully done.
The fact remains, however, that all of those weaknesses are there. And they get harder to ignore as the show wears on and starts to neglect the things it does well in favor of things it is decidedly poor at. Action becomes less common and more perfunctory while sugary affirmations of friendship start to take up more space. Akane's intergenerational chemistry with her grandfather is shunted aside and her painfully hokey attempts to thaw Rei move more to the center. We start to notice how phony a lot of the girls' friendship scenes are, which makes us rather less forgiving of the shojo-ai “docking” sequences. The certainty of certain future developments—the emotional gunk sure to be spawned by Akane's befriending Rei being the main one—starts to rankle. The power of execution is indeed formidable, but Vividred, like all anime, should remember that in a war of attrition between bad writing and good execution, all it takes is a couple of poor decisions to turn the tide against you. For now Vividred remains vivid and vital, but a few more episodes like the antic romp at the end of this run, and who knows?
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C-
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Attractive, entertaining, and easy to watch; stomping good action and loads of futuristic eye-candy; full-blooded action score.
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