The Fall 2015 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Concrete Revolutio ?
Review: So how do you rate a series that is nonsensically weird in virtually every respect and seems deliberately intended to be that way? Do you rate it on how well it achieves its desired level of incoherence or punish it for not making sense? That is both the dilemma and challenge that Concrete Revolutio, which will not be beat as the year's weirdest series (even Punch Line pales in comparison to it) poses. My solution is simple: give it a grade as abstract as the series is itself. (For those of you who do not remember your Algebra, i is the imaginary unit which represents the square root of -1.)
The premise seems to involve a setting where superhumans of all types – magical girls and aliens among them – are present, and some sort of Superhuman Bureau has been set up to manage their affairs: protect their secret identities when they want to peaceably go about unnoticed and take them down when they pose a threat. (In other words, Men in Black, of a sort.) One such individual is Kikko, a magical girl who at one point was posing as a waitress and has some sort of critter – a familiar, maybe? – who dwells in her cleavage. She meets the stylish Jiro, who at one point seems to have been a member of the Bureau but also seems to have abandoned them at some point over a matter involving an alien robot called Grosse Augen. An alien spy who can also transform into a giant armored form comes into the picture when trying to mess with Japan's most prominent scientist, who is trying to investigate a strange cosmic event. Fights, magic use, and vehicles which change shape ensue.
The reason this gets so messy is because the storytelling seems to be operating across at least three (if not more) different time frames without ever bothering to provide any kind of visual or narrative clue about when it is actually shifting time frames. There does seem to be a deliberate will behind why the storytelling is done this way, but at this time I am at a loss to puzzle out that will. Whatever the case may be on that, the artistry is every bit as much of an explosion of ideas and style as the writing is. Its bold, offbeat coloring, unusually-styled backgrounds, and elaborate costuming probably most resemble Kyousogiga and definitely does not resemble anything else this year. It is the kind of look that could attract or repel viewers on appearances alone and is a far cry from just about anything else BONES has ever done. This impression even extends into the thoroughly weird closer, too.
This is one case where the first episode might make more sense with repeat viewings, and I suspect that, like the aforementioned Punch Line, this one may also come together better and in a more coherent fashion as the series progresses. For now, though, it leaves quite a first impression, and it is a dizzying one.
The fall season is only half-premiered at this point, but I am willing to start placing bets. I guaran-goldurn-tee you that nothing, absolutely nothing this season is going to be even 1/10th as brain-spankingly weird as Concrete Revolutio. The Weirdness Prize has been claimed and branded by Seiji Mizushima and Shou Aikawa, and unfortunately there is no prayer of stopping them. If you've seen any of their collaborations from the past several years, this might not surprise you. But even if you shrugged your way through Oh! Edo Rocket or Un-Go, you still aren't prepared for whatever the hell this is supposed to be.
First of all, the show's art design is bazonkers. It's not that the show looks bad, because it doesn't. I just don't really understand it. Given the prevalence of block shading and screentones, I think the series is supposed to be evoking the feeling of comic books...? Look, I'm not sure. It's a moot point anyway, because the character designs are all intentionally anachronistic to one another, and I do get what that's supposed to evoke. Concrete Revolutio is meant to be spec fic without a genre. Mahou shojo designs coexist with tokusatsu designs coexist with classic Tezuka heroes coexist with modern anime X-Men, and you're supposed to just accept it like "oh of course."
That's not the actual reaction this episode garners or even deserves, since the ensuing result of all this chaos is a barely comprehensible story lancing out in thirty different directions: in search of humor, in search of excitement, in search of meaning. (And not yet accomplishing any of these things, but certainly trying very hard!) Since all the reviews underneath this one have already tried with confusion to sum up the plot, I won't bother to repeat them. You can just scroll down for some of the madness you can expect. (My personal favorite moment of "what" was Inspector Gadget's Go-Go-Convertible-Centaur!) Shou Aikawa took every idea he ever had about superhero stories and just vomited them up on the page, then Seiji Mizushima just let it happen. What were they thinking?
Well, I don't know what they were thinking yet, but the fact that I want to find out tells me that they haven't failed yet either. This first episode is just too much, but I greatly prefer "too much" to "too little," so I was totally ready to embrace the madness. The way I see it, this show has a few more episodes to create an emotional connection with me, and if it can do that, I can forgive all the nonsensical fooforah and do my best to understand it instead. Basically, this show is recommended for viewers seeking a challenge this anime season, and strongly not recommended for anyone who just wants to relax with a competent good time.
I can't promise Concrete Revolutio will be any good, but it'll definitely be ambitious, so my curiosity is firmly piqued for the episodes to come. It's a strong-willed, untamed production trying to buck you off at every chance it gets, and that just makes me want to break it open even more. I realize that this is kind of insane, but if you welcome insanity like me, this hot mess just might be made for you.
Magical girls, giant transforming cars, kaiju, aliens, and tokusatsu heroes are all blended together in Bones' stylish, over-the-top action series. The story stars Jiro, a pink-haired agent of a government-run superhuman protection agency. He claims to be a regular guy, but seems to have access to information from the future. He enlists the help of magical girl Kikko to stop a threatening alien from exchanging info with a scientist, an act that is supposed to delay scientific progress for 10 years.
Kikko bungles the operation, and the alien takes off. The ensuing battle brings a tokusatsu-style super-growing hero, a car that transforms into a horse, and a ton of ridiculous magical girl attacks. There's some time-jumping to five years ahead, where we learn Jiro has abandoned the agency for unknown reasons.
The important thing to keep in mind is that while Concrete Revolutio is neck-deep in silly exposition, it's part of the joke. The show presents a ridiculous plot thread about the tokusatsu guy possessing a human but being forced to go back to his home world. The audience later finds out that Jiro let the human get new superpowers by absorbing an alien. The show's tone lets us know that no, this isn't important, it's just a continual part of the gag poking fun at shows like Power Rangers, Kamen Rider, or Ultraman. I don't think there's a deeper meaning behind it than that.
Concrete Revolutio is more set on taking all the aspects from anime's action genre and ramping it up for the sake of absurdity. Kikko's powers, for instance, are complete nonsense. She can replace objects with one another, including herself, and apparently summon “Mr. Cloud,” something that looks like it's out of a children's toy section, to do her bidding. In tow is a daruma-looking magical mascot that sits in her cleavage. The mascot is presented without further explanation. Jiro, on the other hand, looks like he hopped out of an episode of Cyborg 009, especially his future self where he wears a frayed red scarf.
The entire show's art direction is done in contrasting pastels and saturated with filters. This specific look has gotten more common lately, thanks to the popularity of Akiyuki Shinbo shows. It's also appeared in No Game, No Life and, to some extent, works directed by Soubi Yamamoto. It works mostly as a plus here, but if you found the art in those other shows jarring you'll want to pass on this.
Your mileage for Concrete Revolutio is going to heavily depend on how much you enjoy wacky humor and whether the side plots bog you down. The show hit just the right amount of silliness and action for me. I'd like to see what it pulls out next. Maybe those human-faced caterpillars from the ending sequence will attack the populace. It really feels like anything could happen in this show.
In a world where superheroes and aliens and magical girls are an everyday occurrence, the job of taking care of these superbeings falls to the Supernatural Bureau. Within that group, Jiro Hitoyoshi and his teammates work to ensure the safety of those gifted with powers, and also the disposal of any superbeings who threaten peace and harmony. Today, Jiro's current mission will bring him in contact with both Kikko Hoshino and Grosse Augen. Kikko is a waitress-slash-magical girl who agrees to help Jiro on a stakeout, and Grosse Augen is the giant-sized superhero who steps in when that stakeout goes very wrong. Together, Jiro and Kikko will attempt to take down an alien intent on sabotaging earth technology, and either save or destroy Grosse Augen in the process.
This sure was a premier. Concrete Revolutio's first episode demonstrates manic creativity and total self-confidence, at times carrying that confidence into dangerous territory. That fairly succinct paragraph above isn't actually how Concrete Revolutio introduces its story - instead, the show starts with a brief scene of Kikko at her job before jumping to a context-free flash-forward of Kikko hunting down Jiro. After that, it leaps back to their introduction, where Jiro's occupation is only revealed after Kikko has already fought off an alien, transformed into a magical girl, and held several conversations with the tiny demon-face creature that apparently lives in her bra.
Putting it that way makes it seem like this episode might come off as frustratingly busy, and it definitely leans that way. Many of the ways this episode naturally revealed its various creative treasures worked for me - I liked Kikko's various magical girl powers (which include switching the locations of any two objects, and turning clouds into anthropomorphic fire shields), and I liked how efficiently the show sketched out what we needed to know about Grosse Augen. Unfortunately, this manic pacing also means there's very little weight to anything that happens.
The episode's flash-forwards exemplify this problem - we see that Jiro and Kikko will eventually be set against each other, but we don't actually even care about these characters yet, so there's no reason for that to provoke any sort of reaction. Offhand gags and major character reveals are all treated with the same flat, efficient narrative execution, meaning that this episode is full of interesting ideas, but seemingly more interested in getting to the next cool thing than spending the time to wring any drama or humor out of the current one. There is a whole bunch of stuff I like here, and it's easily one of the most creative shows of the season, but the overall effect leaves me hoping the show will slow down and give the audience some time to get to know these people.
On the aesthetic front, Concrete Revolutio's design is as loud and distinctive as possible. The show embraces a kind of flat pop-art aesthetic, where the world around the characters is highlighted in day-glo colors and seemingly lacks any kind of depth. Shading is often done in the form of classic comic dot patterns, and the style shifts dramatically between both characters and the powers employed by those characters. The overall effect is actually a lot like the narrative itself - brimming with creativity, but also possessing a kind of distancing weightlessness. This first episode was a bit of a mess, but if Concrete Revolutio stops to settle down and let the audience catch up a bit, it certainly has a lot of cool ideas going for it.
In all honesty, I am not entirely certain what I just watched, but I think I liked it. Concrete Revolutio seems determined to make its first episode as visually stimulating and intellectually confusing as possible, starting with a pigtailed girl named Kikko working in a café where she meets a guy named Jiro before abruptly jumping to an older Kikko chasing Jiro on a train and yelling that she's now twenty years old, at which point it hops back to Kikko in the café again. The episode makes two more of these unannounced time skips over the course of its twenty-four minutes, while also attempting to give us the outline of what appears to be a plot about who is watching the watchmen...until he's not?
From what I can gather, in what I assume to be the future, superhumans have revealed themselves to fight aliens. Kikko is one of those superhumans, gifted with the power to transform into what we would classify as a magical girl but in this show is known as a witch. She's got a magic wand that looks like a whisk, a naked (and inexplicably yellow) transformation sequence, sparkly eyes, and a mascot character who hangs out between her breasts so we can see her boobs. Jiro, the fellow she meets in the first scene, is a member of a group that helps to protect the superhumans – makes sure there are no repercussions from transforming in public, helps them to lead normal lives outside of saving the world, that sort of thing. Jiro, we learn at the end of the episode, wants Kikko to join his group, but first he's going to hunt down Grosse Augen, a super sentai soldier who has been helping to fight the aliens. Kikko's not thrilled about this because ostensibly Grosse Augen is one of the good guys, but she appears to have forgotten her distaste...I think. I got a little fuzzy on the timelines towards the end when we find out the full scope of Jiro's interaction with Grosse Augen, which is really the main problem here – by throwing two or three different time lines together, none of them feel especially clear, and I have to say that that took away from my enjoyment pretty significantly.
Concrete Revolutio does have an interesting look to it, though, with character designs looking as if they'd be more at home in a kiddy show and colors so bright they're almost manic. Kikko's transformation scene is really nice, with some especially good details such as her petticoats appearing first and her skirt fluffing down over them. The monsters/robots/aliens are also all interestingly designed, with Grosse Augen for some reason making me think of Aztec imagery and Jiro's car which transforms into Equus, a giant centaur/car hybrid being the stuff of my eight-year-old dreams.
Actually, “eight year old dreams” might be the best way to sum up my feelings about this episode. It feels kind of like an eight-year-old dumped out the contents of her toybox and started creating an elaborate game with her toys regardless of type or affiliation. It's fun and fascinating, but also exhausting to keep up with, because, at least in my experience, no one can quite understand your games the way you yourself can...and so far Concrete Revolutio doesn't seem to want to let anyone play along with it.
It's probably easier to list what doesn't happen in Shou Aikawa's Concrete Revolutio.
Let me see if I can get this even remotely straight: there's a “Superhuman Bureau”, a team of… well, it's tough to know if they have superpowers or not. Their leader appears to be the pink-haired, stern Jiro, who at the beginning of the episode recruits plucky café waitress Kikko, who turns out to be a full-on magical girl with a talking Daruma sidekick that lives in her boobs. Jiro has all manner of Batman-like gadgets (including a Batmobile that transforms into a robot centaur) that help him “manage” superhumans, and in this episode, I guess he and his new magical girl friend have to stop an industrial spy that turns out to be an alien who winds up fighting an Ultraman-like superhero who got his powers Green Lantern style (alien crash lands on earth, willing human host gives his body to the alien who then says he'll save earth). Are you following all of this?
The aliens, according to Jiro, live in the space between spaces (so like, the motionless frames in between perceptible motion in a filmstrip… or something) and he has to “manage” the hero alien, who he… frees? At the end he determines the alien is a… bad guy? A good guy? Man, I have no idea what this show is trying to accomplish, but it is clearly attempting a whole lot of something.
I interviewed Shou Aikawa along with Hope Chapman at Anime Expo this year, where Daisuki was hyping this show up (which was rare – for an anime that's months out to be promoted at all in the US is unusual) and he told us this show was supposed to kinda-sorta be a commentary on terrorism (which is even more confusing to me now). Based on this gigantic question mark of a first episode, it feels more like he's trying to cram every single idea he ever had involving superheroes into one giant gumbo pot that he then just tipped the damn thing over and watched it spill all over the floor. For most of this episode's runtime I was just throwing my hands up saying “WHAT”, but not in the fun hey-isn't-this-crazy way, in the “I have absolutely no idea what you're going for, you're cramming in plot details and characters and have zero interest in making any of this connect or make sense at all” way. Concrete Revolutio's aesthetic is just as bizarre and full of weird, potentially bad choices as the script is; some designs are clearly throwbacks, some look like they were ripped straight out of the early 2000s, others look more modern. They throw in Lichtenstein dot patterns everywhere, and the design surrounding the magical girl look like they're from another show entirely. At one point, Kikko is guiding Jiro toward the alien fight and summons a big red arrow to point him in the right direction, which appears to be sentient and then Jiro uses it to fight the bad guys, but only as a throwaway gag. This is after Kikko summons a giant clown cloud to fight for her. What? WHAT?
I don't know what Shou Aikawa was going for with this. The animation's really nice but the script is like someone took pages at random from every superhero anime pitched in the last decade, threw them up in the air and then made a show with the first 22 pages they picked up. It's an explosive fireworks display of confusion that did not compel me to find out what in the hell they're going for with this. I admire the passionate ambition on display, but being really fired up and excited to make your gigantic befuddling mess of a show doesn't make that show worth puzzling out. You can be unique and buck convention all you like, but there has to be some storytelling panache, something at the center to make you care. This is just a firehose of WTF aimed right at your face, and I wanted to get out of the spray real quick.
Here, this sums it up for me:
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