The Winter 2015 Anime Preview Guide
Rating: 1.5 (of 5)
Review: It's difficult to be enthusiastic watching Absolute Duo. Right from the get go, it feels derivative, with its red-eyed, silver-haired, weapon-wielding heroine. She blushes slightly, not because she's embarrassed, but because she looks cuter that way. She looks like she could do well in the aisles of Animate.
And in fact, that's true of every facet of Absolute Duo. Everything, from its exhausting characters to its tired premise feels ready to print money. And it probably will. Because it has things that people like—a teacher who dresses up in bunny outfits and calls herself Professor Bunbun, a goth lolita student president, a handful of cookie-cutter friends, the aforementioned silver-haired girl, and of course, the generic main character, whose powers are so unique he's dubbed an Irregular. In this world, not even the outliers are worthy of creativity.
The characters go to a school where they learn to battle each other with Blazes, so that they can someday become peacekeepers. Most Blaze users get melee weapons, but our hero has a shield. It's because he's an Irregular, you see, and he's different. Also, his name is Thor, because of course it is. In the meantime, all of the students are saddled with a partner, because there needed to be a reason for the main boy and the main girl to live together, fight together, and occasionally see each other in PJs or towels. Those hoping for a sexy shot of silver-hair girl get their wish, though they could probably just wait a couple months for the dakimakura covers to come out.
I don't really blame anyone for this soggy, tepid mess. Not the studio, not the light novel author, nor the editors who pored over the pages. The free market rules the world, and if people want to pay their bills and make a living, they need to feed the starving masses. If that means having a wildly ridiculous teacher character who only exists in anime and porn videos, or characters that feel like the product of dice rolls, then that's how it has to be.
I can only hope that the first episode is a fluke, and the series will get better from here. Because as it stands, it feels a little too much like a joke. The way it's cobbled together, like a Frankenstein's monster of stereotypes and recycled bits, seems more like the fake anime series that exist within other anime series. Surely one can only go "up" from here. Regardless, I'm sure it'll do just fine. I can already picture the Nendoroids and deluxe multi-cloths in my head.
Absolute Duo is available streaming on Funimation.com.
Absolute Duo is about as by-the-numbers of a light novel adaptation as you could reasonably hope for. This first episode introduces our hero Thor, who's just been accepted to the prestigious Koryo Academy High School. Koryo is apparently one of those battlin’ academies, and so before Thor can can attend any classes, he'll first have to use his “Blaze” soul weapon to defeat the cute fellow student he just made friends with. After a quick fight that reveals Thor's Blaze is actually a shield (making him an “Irregular,” surprise surprise), Thor gets to settle in to his homeroom class, running into old friend Tora, absurd teacher Professor Bunbun, and the mysterious white-haired girl Julie. And apparently soul warriors work in pairs, so for the time being, it looks like Thor and Julie are stuck together.
Virtually nothing that happens in Absolute Duo is going to surprise you. The first couple scenes set the tone - the opening is one of those ominous flash-forward battles that are so hot these days, and the followup scene features Thor being taken aback by a mysterious girl under blooming cherry blossoms. The episode even ends with the old “walking in on the half-naked love interest” gag, though we're denied the classic “uwaaaa” from Julie because she's more of the aloof, vaguely childish type. And beyond the sheer predictability of the writing, the individual choices and craft on display here aren't particularly thrilling, either - there's a whole lot of characters explaining things they already know to each other, and elements like the hyperactive maid-bunny girl teacher seems custom-designed to aggravate.
The aesthetics are pretty okay, though! Outside of the boobs doing that weird fabric-cling thing they often do in fanservice shows, the character designs are solid enough - and there is a decent scattering of fanservice, if that's what you're in the market for. The backgrounds are fair enough too, and though the in-episode fight isn't the most impressive, the OP features some very stellar animation. But all that dressing up doesn't really do much to elevate the core material. This is a textbook fanservicey light novel adaptation - what you see is what you get.
Absolute Duo is available streaming on Funimation.com.
Rating: 1.5 (of 5)
Review: High school student Thor meets and strikes up a conversation with fellow newcomer Imari as the two head to the Opening Ceremony for Koryo Academy, a school apparently founded with martial training in mind and with the intent of prepping students to join the Dorn Agency's “peacekeeping corps” upon graduation. (Exactly what the Dorn Agency is and why it would need a super-powered peacekeeping corps is not explained, or even really hinted at, in this episode.) With that in mind, the Opening Ceremony actually turns out to be the final entrance test: students must fight the person beside them for the right to join the school, using their (artificially-induced) Blaze powers to essentially manifest soul weapons. That means Thor has to fight and beat Imari, although Thor turns out to be an Irregular in that his weapon manifests as a shield. Later he finds himself paired up in a Duo with Julie, the pretty but mysterious Scandanavian girl (she says “Ja” instead of “hai,” you see) whom he first saw on the way into the ceremony. That means that he will be both training and at least temporarily living with her, which naturally quickly leads to some sexy situations. However, we also know from the prologue that at some point the two will be locked in life-or-death battle against each other.
Though it almost feels like it is based on an ero game, Absolute Duo actually comes from a light novel source. It takes well less than its first full episode to give the impression that it is just a cut-and-paste construction cobbled together from numerous other light novel-based gimmicks and ideas; hardly anything here has even a whiff of freshness or creative thought about it. It even follows the standard light novel pattern of having a compelling need to insert at least a bit of humor and silliness into what is otherwise a serious story, and much like last season's Trinity Seven, it is not at all adept at doing so. It has its requisite maid-costumed character in the sexy homeroom teacher, its requisite Goth loli bait in Academy president Sakuya, and its requisite fan service elements in the prominent, bouncy busts of most of the girls except Julie, who gets the “sexy nightshirt” treatment instead. It even gives Thor a Mysterious Evil Figure in his past, provides ill-explained excuses for its students to have super-powers, and uses a hackneyed method to get students into battles in the first episode. About the only thing it does that isn't fully formulaic is taking the time to introduce Imari only to shuffle her out of the picture right away.
Despite the dramatic prologue battle scene (which is too dark to make out some of the action), little in this episode sparks any interest. It will have to show a lot more character, fan service, technical merits, or something to elevate itself out of the bland doldrums that it starts in.
Absolute Duo is currently streaming on Funimation.com.
Rating: 2 (out of 5)
Have you ever had the feeling that you've seen something before, even though there's no way you could have? That's essentially how Absolute Duo's first episode feels. From the special school that is selective in weird ways to the childlike Goth Loli headmistress to the hero being an “Irregular,” everything here feels like it's been done before. By the time the bunny-eared underdressed homeroom teacher asks to be called “Professor Bun Bun” and a pair system awfully like that between meisters and weapons in Soul Eater is announced, Absolute Duo feels a little stale. Add in the beautiful foreign girl and you can almost wrap this one up in a bow marked “cliché.”
The story follows Thor Kokonoe, a new student at the prestigious Koryo Academy, which selectively teaches martial arts. Each student has a “blaze,” or special power they can call forth from their souls; most students have weapons, but Thor, being an Irregular, only has a shield. Despite that – and with the help of some mysterious power that in this episode allows him to punch really hard – he passes the fighting test and manages to enroll. He quickly finds himself sitting next to the beautiful silver-haired Julie, from Scandanavia. Julie seems fascinated with him, which makes Thor uncomfortable. Too bad for him that school rules decree that whoever is sitting next to you will be your partner until official duo match ups are made. Suddenly Thor is rooming with the prettiest (and possibly weirdest) girl in class, which naturally necessitates innuendo from Professor Bun Bun and a shot of Julie coming out of the bathroom, her nubile body barely clad in a pajama top, her skin glistening with moisture, because she's apparently bad at using towels.
What's odd about the fanservice is that it takes a while to get going. Before the battle scene that serves as the school's entrance exam, there's not even a jiggle. Then we go from one panty shot to Professor Bun Bun's bouncy assets, a pin up of a barely-dressed Julie, the post-shower, and end with Thor's face in a girl's crotch during the next episode preview. None of this is particularly bad or unexpected taken on its own, but the pacing feels odd, as if there was some debate about how much fanservice was going to be present that was resolved after the first ten minutes were done and no one wanted to go back and add some in. There's also a lot of jargon in the beginning and then pretty much none at all for the rest of the episode, adding to the uneven feel.
Absolute Duo's first episode isn't a total mess, but it also doesn't do enough to distinguish itself from the many other shows like it. Maybe as it finds its feet and becomes more of its own story that will change, and it does have some beautifully choreographed scenes of fighting and training that may eventually set it apart, with the moment of generating a “blaze” looking like a magical girl's transformation sequence. But it will have to become more than some nice scenes, because right now, it feels pretty darn generic.
Absolute Duo is available streaming at Funimation.
Thor Kokonoe (yep, that's his name!) is a new student at Koryo Academy, a training ground for up-and-coming "peacekeepers of Dorn", high school-age kids injected with something called a "Lukifer" that grants them the power of "Blaze", an ability that lets you turn your soul into a powerful melee weapon. Thor encounters Imari, a sweet girl who he winds up having to fight for entrance to Koryo after Sakuya, the school's president (dressed in goth loli gear) lets them all know that they have to defeat the person sitting next to them in order to ace the "entrance exam". Thor wins, of course, and then winds up in his homeroom, which is taught by "Professor Bunbun", a hyperactive woman with a hyperactive bosom who has made the life choice to teach high school kids while dressed in a bunny fetish costume. Thor winds up partnered with the monotone, silver-haired beauty Julie Sigtuna (yep, that's her name!) a Scandinavian (?!) so pretty the entire classroom gasps in disbelief when she enters the room. Thor starts panicking and loudly protesting this pairing, because not only is Julie A GIRL but he's going to have to live with A GIRL and she might be naked and oh, what hijinks might ensue!
So Absolute Duo reunites the director and series composition guy behind now-forgotten mid-00's TV series Lamune, and I'm not sure their storytelling sensibilities have evolved much since then. This is generic magic school harem stuff from top to bottom; it's pretty poorly animated and the script seems like it's just going through the motions half-lidded, introducing a bunch of anime girls, dabbling in low-calorie fanservice and introducing a bog-standard light novel premise overflowing with capitalized fantasy proper nouns like Lukifer and Elcidae. I didn't find much purchase here - design and story-wise it feels so thoroughly generic and forgettable it could've come from the middle of the pack in any TV anime season from the last 8 years. If you'd told me this aired to an equal amount of mild acknowledgement and stifled yawns back in the summer of 2005 I'd believe it. But it didn't, it's airing right now, so we can all be aware that it exists, give it an episode or two and - most likely - move on. The episode preview showed a busty girl in her gym clothes landing vagina-first in Thor's face, so maybe they'll up the fanservice quotient as the show goes on and there'll be that, but I don't see this show igniting anyone's inner soul-bound weapon anytime soon.
Absolute Duo is available streaming at Funimation.com.
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