The Fall 2014 Anime Preview Guide

Theron Martin

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Every season seems to have at least one or two original anime projects, and this season this production from Sunrise is one of them. (A manga adaptation has already begun, but the anime is the source.) The story is set in a future where the advent of a magical Light of Mana has pretty much solved all of the world's major ills – war, poverty, and so forth. The only flaw to the system is the occasional appearance of Norma, mutants who so completely lack and even reject Mana that they can even break through barriers of Mana, which is naturally a problem for a system which depends on Mana. Such individuals are quarantined, no matter the age, no matter if that means separating child from parent. 16-year-old Princess Angelise, who is on the cusp of officially coming of age and thus entering politics, witnesses such an event and vows to eliminate this one remaining threat to the stability of their world, as she seeks a challenge and the peaceful nature of their world limits them. Irony is about to give her a body cavity search, though (and yes, that is meant literally), as during her Baptism Ritual her ambitious brother(?) reveals the dirty little family secret that even Angelise did not know about: that she is actually a Norma herself. A failed escape attempt leaves her mother dead and her carted off to a prison island of Norma where she will have her privilege beat out of her and be trained to become a solider – a mecha warrior who will fight of dragons, based on the opening scenes – although it certainly appears that she will have a rough road to get there first.

The “rondo” in the title likely refers to the song Angelise (later the eponymous Ange) sings in various places, a song that is supposed to “guide the Royal Family” and will doubtless have some significance later on. The opening scenes show that this is going to eventually be a “girls in mecha fight dragons” scenario, with the mecha being these cool transforming designs with motorcycle-like motifs in flight mode, but first it is going to go through the paces of a classic “privileged person loses their privilege in a harsh way and must learn to survive” kind of story, the kind that will probably beat the naïve idealism out of Ange and turn her into a tough-minded individual. Not at all a bad approach, especially with the crushing irony of Ange's situation ladled on; if the story is done properly, it will not let her off the hook easily for her declarations early on about the need to eliminate Norma.

The thing to keep a careful eye on is how the balance of fan service in the series will fall and how much of a distraction that provides to the storytelling, as many aspects of the first episode make abundantly clear that fan service is going to be a staple element. The battle uniforms for the all-female mecha pilots (because Norma are all female, for as-yet-unexplained reasons) are improbably skimpy, the camera certainly seems to ogle them in combat, cleavage-baring clothing for Angelise and her mother are the norm, and oh, yes, there is that one late scene, too, with Angelise being forcibly stripped for her “physical” by a female prison official. While that scene is edgy and probably could have been done in a less fan servicey way, it is not entirely exploitive or gratuitous because a) body cavity searches are a fairly standard prison entry procedure; b) it was karmic justice for Angelise's earlier comments about Norma being “monsters,” and c) the humiliation serves the narrative purpose of stripping her of her lingering princess attitudes. A bigger red flag is the brother's all-too-unsavory-seeming disposition towards the wheelchair-bound younger sister.

Ultimately the series looks like it is meant for people who can get enthusiastic about sexy girls fighting dragons in mecha. Although the story foundation laid so far shows some promise, the writing does not distinguish itself enough (yet) for it to have much appeal beyond that level.

CROSS ANGE Rondo of Angels and Dragon is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Nick Creamer

Rating: 1

Cross Ange is an awful, hateful show. It hates women in particular, that's for sure - but overall, I'm fairly sure the show actually hates everyone. The show begins in the kingdom of Generic Racist Dystopia, where humanity enjoys a bright, shining surface society courtesy of the magical Light of Mana. After a brief game of hoverbike lacrosse that introduces us to Princess Angelise, the surface happiness of their society is immediately punctured by a scene that pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the episode. A woman on the street has her baby taken from her by the authorities, who proclaim the child is a “Norma” - someone who can apparently disrupt the Light of Mana. Protagonist Angelise gives a heartwarming speech about the woman cheering up and having a better child, and then we're off to the castle, where Angelise murmurs soulfully about her desire to wipe all evil Normas from society.

This life goal ends up going about as well you'd expect, as Angelise's Evil Brother soon uses her coming-of-age ceremony as an opportunity to reveal that Angelise herself is a Norma. Angelise attempts to escape, her mother dies in her arms (of course) as she's captured, and the show ends with Angelise reduced to nothing and literally raped on a dark island, as strings wail and lightning flashes in the distance.

There is nothing subtle about Cross Ange. There is nothing unique about Cross Ange. The only thing that really distinguishes Cross Ange is its relentless, childish mean-spiritedness. Every character in this first episode is either awful or a device designed only to be “punished.” From Angelise herself, to her cackling oppressors, to her evil brother, who the show takes care to reveal apparently wants to have sex with his own littlest sister. The show seems to run on a hateful teenage boy's understanding of the world - everyone's evil, everything sucks, people just don't understand how dark it all is, and rape is a great natural capstone to a dramatic “losing everything” scene. That scene is very easily the worst part of the episode - even beyond the show's tone-deaf, gleeful mean-spiritedness, the assault itself is actually framed as titillation. The camera hovers on Angelise's exposed body, taking as much pleasure in the scene as the Super Evil captors themselves. Like many things in this episode, the framing of that scene makes thinking about the actual conception of this show unpleasant on a variety of levels. Who makes material like this? What are we supposed to infer about their worldview? It's uncomfortable all around.

Cross Ange is distinctive only in its hatefulness. I guess that's something.

Cross Ange is available streaming at Crunchyroll.

Hope Chapman

Rating: worthless

Cross Ange is a Sunrise show and as such, it's animated fairly well and the production design is embarrassingly opulent and larger-than-life. There's some lovely music in the show too, even as early as this first episode. Even given a shoddy story, I would normally give something this nicely directed at least a "3." Normally. But Cross Ange isn't a normal show, it's a "fantasy mech melodrama" following on the heels (and visual style) of hits like Code Geass and Valvrave the Liberator. Unfortunately, Cross Ange marks the great tipping point of the questionable narrative choices infamous in those works into straight-up inexcusable garbage.

Fanservice for its own sake is not a problem for me. The heavily boob-driven Lord Marksman and Vanadis is currently one of my higher-rated shows of the season. This is not about fanservice. This is about contempt: contempt for women, contempt for the audience, and contempt for human decency. That's how terrible this one episode of Cross Ange is, and all I can really do to try and explain it is break down what happens in these twenty minutes into a series of bullet points. It's lengthy, but I think it's important to cover the entire journey.

- Our heroine Ange is introduced in a robot fight scene while remembering her innocent childhood as a princess riding white horses with her family (because the cockpit has her in a "horse riding" position.) The camera lingers 100% exclusively on her exposed boobs and ass through this, not showing her face until the very end of the fight scene at which point she mentally exclaims "Kill and survive!"

- We flash back to her life as a princess on her sixteenth birthday and endure an excruciating scene where she tells a woman who is being beaten by the police that her infant must be confiscated because the child is a "Norma," a girl who cannot perform magic, and is by law an abomination. (This only affects women. The baby is taken away screaming, while the mother also screams, and the princess tells her to just conceive a more acceptable child.)

- However, since it is her 16th birthday, she must ascend in a coronation/baptism ritual in front of her subjects, where it is revealed that the princess herself is a Norma. Everyone turns on her immediately and she is arrested but not before accidentally causing her queen mother's violent death. The woman whose baby was confiscated cackles "serves you right!" as she watches the event on TV.

- Her brother immediately seizes the throne and makes his other very little sister his queen with the intent on producing multiple heirs as soon as possible. (He traces a finger over her lips and fantasizes about it while she's unconscious.)

- The princess is taken to a prison facility where her captors are sensually-clad women who physically and verbally abuse her before tearing her clothes off, shackling her to a table, and anally violating her with unknown tools while the camera lingers on her writhing backside. She screams "You can't do this to me, I'm the princess!" and her torturer responds "No. From now on, you are 'Ange.'"

- The credits show us where she's headed soon after: a warrior harem where naked girls fondle each other. Before that, though, they linger once more on her broken, traumatized body in the torture chamber, with tears streaming down her face and blood pouring out of her anus. The next episode preview's visuals heavily feature girls physically and sexually abusing Ange, while the audio is composed of the actresses sexily mewing "What did you think of the first episode? They did such horrible things to the princess! I thought this was supposed to be a bishoujo robot anime! Where were all the robots, right? See you next week, tee hee!"

Then it's over.

I wanted to find some way to laugh off the events of this episode as ludicrous melodrama, played for shock to such extremes that they can't possibly be taken seriously and in the process become harmless, but I just couldn't. Cross Ange doesn't feel harmless, but it does feel cynical, stupid, hateful, and it did actually make me feel sick because I felt like I was peering into the minds of people who not only hate women, but also believe that their perspective is so commonplace that material like this will be a "controversial hit." I don't even feel like I can convey in words how repulsive and frightening that is to me. Anime like Freezing and Queen's Blade, which are driven by the combination of violence and sex for the entertainment of a male audience, still seem potentially defensible to me as schlocky dumb fun. There are also valid cases to be made for the specks of value in the intensely misogynistic melodramas Elfen Lied and Brynhildr in the Darkness, and I feel like even I could make them, much as I hate those series.

However. To me, personally? Cross Ange is completely inexcusable, indefensible, and reprehensible on every level of human decency. I don't have any numbers for it, I don't have any hedging allowances for a single disgusting thing it represents, and I definitely don't have any patience for its failed attempts to be "edgy" that only reveal an empty hole where its heart should be.

Cross Ange is living proof that there are men in the world who hate hate hate women, and that is and should always be deeply upsetting. It is the strongest concentrated case of cynical misogyny I have yet seen in anime, and that is including every cheaply produced hentai that ever wafted across my vision. That major unmasking may be its only worthy contribution to the world as a piece of media, and it only needed one episode to achieve it. Truly Monstrous.

CROSS ANGE Rondo of Angel and Dragon is available streaming on Crunchyroll.

Rebecca Silverman

Rating: 1 (out of 5)

As uncomfortable as this show made me, it did hold my attention, which is rather more than I can say for most of the other debuts thus far this season. On the other hand, wow, did Cross Ange make me very uncomfortable.

The story follows Ange, formerly known as Princess Angelise of the Misurugi Kingdom. She's the middle child, eldest of the daughters, and about to turn sixteen, at which point she will undergo a ritual “baptism” to prove her worth as a member of the royal family. In the case of this kingdom, that means that she is capable of using “mana,” a magical power that manifests as light and is seen as the pinacle of human evolution. Those without mana, all female for unknown reasons, are damned as “Normas” and are taken away by law enforcement to prevent further contamination of the gene pool. Norma means sub-human to these people, which is just part of the discomfort of the show. Angelise has never seen a Norma, but she gets her first glimpse of one on her way home from a high school lacrosse game she played in – a woman with a Norma baby has just been found, and Angelise and her siblings watch the police take the baby away. Angelise, thinking that she's being helpful and kind, gets out of the car to tell the woman sweetly that her baby is inhuman and she should just try to have another, better baby. If your skin doesn't crawl during that speech, you are made of tough stuff than I, mostly because it's clear that Angelise really believes what she is saying and can't understand why the mother gets so upset with her...or why her brother Julio and his bodyguard Riza are smirking. (Be leery of Julio's relationship with his youngest sister Sylvia as well.)

As you no doubt have guessed, Angelise turns out to be a hidden Norma, thus explaining the drastic difference in her appearance between the opening scenes and the rest of the show. Her brother knew and, based on the thinking that lack of mana makes her not human, has plotted her downfall. Angelise is whisked away to a terrible prison, where, in the final scenes of the episode, she is raped by a female guard under the guise of “medical examination.” To its credit, Cross Ange does not try to tell us that this is anything but rape, but it's still really disturbing. The episode also shows us that it looks as if prostitution as well as mech-piloting is in Ange's future as everything is taken from her – her name, her dignity, and her status as a human being. It's upsetting, disturbing, and still somehow compelling until the episode blows it with the preview, which makes light of the whole thing by reminding us that this is a “bishoujo robot show” and all we've seen are the bishoujo. Way to destroy the impact and to trivialize things, Cross Ange.

Ultimately it was the final few minutes that made me decide that this is not the show for me, but it honestly made me uncomfortable most of the way through. Any story that deals in segregation and calling one group of people “sub-human” is a hard sell as well as very difficult to pull off with any good taste, and this walks a fine line between working and not handling the material with the sensitivity it needs.

CROSS ANGE Rondo of Angel and Dragon is available streaming on Crunchyroll.

Cross Ange

Zac Bertschy

nope nope nope nope nope

Angelise is the beautiful blonde princess of a world ruled by magic - the Light of Mana, specifically, which represents humanity "at its peak" and has resulted in a peaceful world of peaceful peacetime, according to Angelise. On the eve of a big public celebration of her 16th birthday (and her "Baptism Ritual") after losing a space lacrosse game (where even in defeat Angelise's platitudes about friendship are an inspiration, not only to her team but the opposition) she sees her first "Norma", which is an underclass that naturally rejects the Light of Mana. It's a baby, of course, so she orders it quarantined, then decides her goal in life is to wipe out the Norma so the world can be filled with even more rainbows, kittens, and an obviously sinister ruling class.

Anyway, at the baptism ceremony Angelise and her family are deceived by an evil... uh, prince, I think, who reveals that - GASP! - Angelise IS a Norma and that it's a crime against the state to have a Norma in politics. Her mom, the queen, takes a bullet for her during the escape and dies right there on the concrete, while Angelise is taken into custody. The evil prince Julio claims the title of Emperor and apparently plans to "rebuild the royal family's bloodline" using his own little sister to pop out children. Meanwhile, Angelise is taken to a remote prison island where she's informed that she has no rights as a person and will now serve in "Arzenal" as a soldier, which we saw moments of in the cold open. The prison guard tells her "Welcome to Hell", rips her dress off with a knife, bends her over a table and handcuffs her to it, shreds her panties and rams her hand up her ass. I assume it's her ass since the camera was fairly obsessed with her ass shortly beforehand, but hey, could be anything. The closing credits feature a shot of Angelise laying battered in a pile of her own torn clothing, crying.

I don't really know where to begin with this one.

Of the various and sundry fetishes that late night anime trades in - ever more important since the discovery that people will line up to buy uncensored blurays after being teased with a heavily-edited TV broadcast - tragedy porn isn't one that shows up very often, but that's basically what Cross Ange is so far, with a healthy dose of salacious cruelty to let you know the show is For Adults and You're An Edgy Person For Watching. Once Angelise's baptism ritual begins this show charges headfirst into utter depravity, and while I'm sure there's an audience out there for that, I'm not part of it and the act of sitting through this made me want to wash the stink of it off. The show revels in the lead character being dehumanized, abused and eventually raped, left in a broken wad on the floor. The next episode preview promises what appears to be yet more sexual assault and fanservice situations involving Angelise's induction into boot camp for an underclass treated like subhuman trash.

But hey, going on and on about how gross and unnecessary this show is feels like a complete waste of time. All I have to do is describe it. I've taken a lot of heat - and rightfully so - over the years for making the mistake of criticizing the audience for a show I don't personally connect with. And the folks who held my feet to the fire for going there were correct to do so - it's never a good idea nor is it necessary to say 'the people who like this sort of thing are wrong or gross or whatever'. The solution is to give your opinion, which is yours and yours alone, and mention that even if you didn't enjoy it, folks who are looking for [blank] might find it in whatever you're reviewing. For something like this, though, it is impossible for me to type "hey, this might be for you if..." because the rest of that sentence is "if you're really in to cruelty and depravity and are A-OK with a rape scene unambiguously played for fanservice titillation" and that sounds like something a writer who is so detached from the entertainment they consume that they're just going through the motions as a critic. There is no "recommendation to the intended audience" that I can give that doesn't sound like I'm completely downplaying and dismissing the kind of content that's in here. And I'm not at the point, even after 15 years of working with this material, where I'm so numb to everything that something like Cross Ange doesn't make me wince. It is tasteless and depraved to a bizarre extreme that doesn't feel necessary at all; nobody was begging Sunrise to go as dark as they possibly could while still managing to produce something for late night broadcast. So the usual "this might be for you if..." goes out the window. Can't do it. Sorry.

So instead I suppose I'll leave it at the description. All of that stuff happens in this show. Now you know. Moving on.

Cross Ange is available streaming at Crunchyroll.

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