Reviewby Carlo Santos, Dec 10th 2013
We Without Wings
BD+DVD - Season One [Limited Edition]
In modern-day Tokyo, many young people are trying to make something of their lives. Takashi Haneda hopes to survive the final year of high school with girlfriend Asuka by his side. Shusuke Chitose works part-time to get by, and when a writing gig brings him in contact with an attractive young author, he hopes his life is finally turning around. Hayato Narita hangs out in the city by night and has a hard-boiled reputation, but starts to show his softer side when a schoolgirl asks for his help. However, a strange mystery connects these three young men—there's a secret, otherworldly quest that they're all trying to accomplish together. Only Takashi's little sister Kobato knows the truth, and Asuka eventually realizes it too. However, it's up to Takashi himself, along with the other two, to take action and determine their fate...
Imagine a parallel universe where We, Without Wings is actually a good anime. Imagine that the story, with its surprise twists and intense personal drama, is told in a way that makes sense. Imagine that the visuals are smoothly animated, with creative camerawork and nuanced colors. Imagine that the characters each have a look as unique as their personalities, and that the music adds an extra charge of emotion to the story.
Then snap out of it and come back to reality, because We, Without Wings is none of that.
Funnily enough, this anime is about parallel universes and the power of imagination. Yet it handles those tropes in the worst way possible, chopping up the storyline at the outset ("This stuff doesn't make sense, but wait until the crazy twist in Episode 4!") and then tacking on all the trappings of a dating-sim adaptation. So not only do the three male protagonists have to complete their mysterious, metaphysical quest, but they have to meet a bunch of cute girls and win over the sweetheart of their choice. The early episodes concentrate on the "meeting girls" part, cracking one terrible (and usually misogynistic joke) after another. Between that and the confusion of dealing with multiple storylines, the series manages to be a failure before it can even deliver the first major plot development.
After the big reveal in Episode 4, the story starts to show potential—but never follows through with it. Parallel worlds and far-out psychology are usually a sign of a deep, intriguing story, but not here, where it just means a lot half-finished plot points and fantasy clichés being dumped off at every corner. The only good thing to come out of this is when a fourth main character emerges—one who doesn't quite understand the disconnect between the modern world and his "other" realm. The resulting culture-clash jokes are silly and obvious, but they're at least a welcome change of pace from the usual crass humor.
Unfortunately, the extra main character only lasts one episode before the series returns to its regularly scheduled awfulness. An explicit sexual act in one of the later episodes is where it hits rock bottom: this gratuitous scene does nothing to address the main characters' relationships, and it has no real impact on the fantasy subplot, either. Eventually, the closing episodes resolve each of the crisscrossing storylines, yet the tawdry boy-meets-girl nonsense never really stops. One final, psychological twist also awaits in the finale—but again, familiar clichés come into play, with repressed childhood memories and vague self-help statements serving as a "dramatic" ending. If this is meant to be a tearjerker moment, it's only because audiences are programmed to cry at scenes like this.
Poor animation is another reason why We, Without Wings is so painful to watch; there are moments when the range of motion is barely better than a slideshow. Slow pans over static or barely moving characters are common, and any "action" sequences are usually rendered as stop-and-go poses against a busy background. The scenery, which is modeled after metropolitan Tokyo, is so flat and lacking in detail that it could pass for any big city—and that's even after trying to ape familiar landmarks in Akihabara. The character designs are similarly bland and difficult to tell apart: it takes a while to realize how each of the male protagonists is different, since they all have the same face shape and build. Identifying their girlfriends is an even tougher task, as they're all cut from the same generic bishoujo mold, with only superficial variations in hairstyle, clothing, and age. Even the one area that a series like this should excel in—fanservice—is a disappointment. Cheesecake scenes are shoved into each episode clumsily, disrupting the flow of the story, and they lack any sensual appeal due to inaccurate anatomy.
As expected for such a cheaply produced series, the music is weak as well, consisting of repetitive light-pop tracks and synthesized cues that play whenever something wacky or momentous happens. As the more serious elements of the plot are revealed, the soundtrack does try to evoke some emotion—but the gaudy full-orchestra fanfares and saccharine strings are about as subtle as waving cue cards that say "feel triumphant" or "feel sad" at pivotal points in the story. The mainstream J-pop theme songs aren't particularly bad, but they're nothing special, either.
When an anime is this bad, how are voice actors supposed to play their roles? The English dub suggests one possible solution: be as campy as possible and act as if everything is ridiculous (at least until the mood changes later on). The vocal performances are often energetic, with certain lines ad-libbed or altered to fit colloquial English better. But this only works for segments where the characters are goofing around and going about their daily lives; any attempt at expressing dark or subtle emotions comes out as wooden. The discs also include audio commentaries for Episodes 4 and 8 as a bonus, but the poor rapport between the voice actors—awkward pauses in conversation, no real topics to talk about—makes the commentary tracks not worth listening to.
So let's go back to dreaming about that parallel world where We, Without Wings is a well-produced series, because dealing with reality of it is too painful to bear. It starts out utterly confusing and full of dumb jokes, then it pulls out a plot twist that never capitalizes on its potential, and closes out with a second twist that's designed only to pander to base emotional responses. On top of that, it's animated with the least amount of effort possible, so it can't even fall back on the "Well, at least the girls are pretty" excuse. There's nothing pretty about the show at all, not the story, not the visuals, not anything. This anime bravely steps forward to take on some challenging ideas ... and falls completely flat on its face.
Overall (dub) : D-
Overall (sub) : D-
Story : D
Animation : F
Art : D-
Music : D
+ Dramatic plot twists turn the story into something more complex and ambitious than it may have seemed at first glance.
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