The Summer 2016 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Ange Vierge ?
What is this?
There are actually four other worlds in existence alongside our own Earth, known as the Blue World: Terra Rubili Aurora, the Red World, Darkness Embrace, the Black World, Grunesilt, the Green World, and System White Egma, the White World. Each of these places has a specialty, such as the White World's advanced technology or the Black World's magic. They are bound together by the Halo but unaware of each other's existences, until the Ouroboros attack and threaten to bring about World End, the destruction of all five worlds. Suddenly, girls on all five worlds begin developing special powers known as “exceed,” with some becoming “α drivers,” who can link with the others to provide power. Now the girls with powers, called “Progress,” are all brought together on an Earth island to save all of the worlds, but they must work together to raise their levels of power first. Ange Vierge is based on a trading card game and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Saturdays at 2:00 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
Based on a trading card game, Ange Vierge slots directly into the Strike Witches/Vividred Operation lineage of anime - shows dedicated to flying girls, nebulous bad guys, and a whole lot of fanservice. This first episode features plenty of all three, along with a whole boatload of graceless exposition. None of that would make Ange Vierge a particularly unique show, but Ange Vierge does have one unique trick up its sleeve - its absolute dedication to the bath as venue for every single scene imaginable.
Ange Vierge's heroines spend a good two-thirds of this episode naked and in the bath, as they recollect their first battle, get in fights, find conviction in their rivals, and ultimately challenge their betters to a sparring match. The establishment of character archetypes takes place in the bath. The high-level battle debriefing takes place in the bath, as the naked cute girl council discuss the potential of our heroes. Hot-headed heroine Saya gets mad at her partner, leaves the bath, and then goes to a different bath, where she is comforted by the equally naked student council president. I am very confident those bright “please buy the bluray” light beams actually got more screentime than any one of Ange Vierge's actual characters.
And honestly, I don't have a problem with that. It was actually very entertaining seeing Ange Vierge go through so many cliche narrative motions with everyone naked, and this is a fanservice show, after all. That's what people are here for. My actual issue with this show is that it's just very poorly written.
The show's worldbuilding is convoluted and arbitrary, and the characters explain it through a combination of directly-to-the-audience monologues and consistent “as we both know” exposition. Saya herself goes one step further, and explains her powers to herself in an inner monologue of things she clearly knows, because she was the one who experienced them. The worldbuilding is clumsy and long-winded, and the ultimate picture it paints still feels like a place designed to be a card game more than an actual world. And the episode's second half is almost wasted altogether, as the various conversations of Ange Vierge's simplistic heroines all resolve in one single “let's have a sparring match.”
That sparring match actually features some decent direction and effects animation, but that's not enough to save a show whose writing is so very flat. On top of that, it seems like the show's normal fights will be much less entertaining, as the actual threat to the multiverse follows in the Strikes Witches school of amorphous geometric blob-enemies. I was entertained by this show's dedication to regular bathing, but that's pretty much all I found entertaining here.
I'll say this much for Ange Vierge: it's not shy at all about its card game origins. Rather than trying to come up with elaborate narrative interpretations of game mechanics, it just has its characters come right out and talk about how they want to move up to a higher rarity level. I'm not entirely sure if that utterly frank approach helps or hurts this anime adaptation, but at least it's upfront about trying to talk its viewers into playing the game.
Despite devoting a huge amount of screen time to having a legion of female characters frolic around in an enormous bathhouse, this episode actually does manage to work in some decent character development. Our ambitious heroine Saya's backstory is fairly compelling, and there's some genuine emotion behind her desire to make a name for herself. That goal puts her on the fast track to clashing with her happy-go-lucky team leader, and their confrontation at the end of the episode suggests that there's some personal drama in the show's immediate future. Even if it's nothing special, the writing at least seems competent.
What concerns me is the rest of the show's huge ensemble cast. Ange Vierge appears to be suffering from the same problem that affected the anime adaptation of Kan Colle: it's trying to include as many girls from the game as possible, and dividing a limited amount of screen time amongst so many characters rarely works out well. I'm sure everyone who plays the game will get to see their favorite girl at one point or another, but the vast majority of character arcs are likely to be too brief and simplified to leave any kind of lasting impression. Even in this first episode, the onslaught of names and faces left my brain entirely too overwhelmed to decide if I actually liked anyone.
If you're looking for a series with copious amounts of fanservice and don't mind it being permanently obscured by steam and rays of light, Ange Vierge has you covered. Beyond that, the overcrowded story looks like it's going to be a major stumbling block in the early going. It's not bad for what it's trying to be, but don't expect it to do much more than faithfully follow the genre playbook.
This series airs practically back-to-back with Qualidea Code on Saturdays, and that's the way that I viewed them. They have some distinctly similar characteristics, in that super-powered apparent teens have been organized and trained to fight off hordes of strange critters who appear from nowhere, so making a direct comparison between the two is fair. And in any such direct comparison, Qualidea Code is the one that loses.
I feel justified in saying that despite the fact that it is utterly, glaringly obvious that this series is based on a card game even if you don't know that going into it. The producers make little effort to hide that, with one case in point being the ranking system of the Exceed: C equates to Common, UC to Uncommon, R to Rare, SR to Super-Rare, and EXR to Extra-Rare (I presume). In many digital card games cards can increase their rarity rank by evolving (which thus makes them more powerful), and there seems to be an equivalent system here, too. And my, there are five distinct color-associated types based on the worlds that they come from! Gee, we don't see that in just about every digital card game that exists. . .
But once you get past the clunky mechanics, there's actually a bit more to this series, and that's where I feel it stands head and shoulders above QC. Apparent protagonist Saya is implied in a brief flashback to have been an isolated nobody before her Exceed ability manifested. She apparently felt that her ability finally made her special, but when she trained and fought with other Exceed she discovered that she was back to being no one special among them. That has given her a fierce drive to improve herself, and she is frustrated that her alpha driver doesn't seem to have that drive herself. Other girls on her team are also interested in improving themselves, but as a training battle at the end of the episode makes abundantly clear, they aren't yet ready to step up. Or is their alpha driver the factor limiting them? That kind of tension provides a lot more fodder for character development and growth, and the Ouroboros (interesting name choice there, given the whole “worlds converging to the point of destruction” premise) present a more palpable threat than the Unknown in QC do since they actually do attack.
And oh, yes, there is the fan service! Even within the realm of fan service titles, you won't find many which steam out as much content in their first episodes as this one does. Through the middle of the episode there's a nearly 12 minute run where, except for Saya's minute-long flashback scene, the need for steam is almost constant. (That makes me wonder how racy the source card game actually is.) If the eventual BR release is fully uncensored than this will blow away Hybrid x Heart as the season's biggest nudity fest. Surprisingly, though, this doesn't actually detract from the sense of introspection and serious drama, which the understated musical score drives quite well. The series uses the fan service more as a complement than a point of emphasis, a difference in approach which comes through in the shot framing; these are more “hey, there's nudity in the shot, too” scenes than “hey, the camera is leering at her” scenes.
So, yeah, if I end up following only one series between Qualidea Code and Ange Vierge, it's going to be this one. And this is the one of the two that I might actually recommend.
I love the premise of Ange Vierge – that there are five interconnected worlds that only learn about each other's existences when something threatens to destroy them all. I also really like Saya, the girl from our world who one day when she was feeling particularly down developed her exceed and became a Progress – wouldn't it be amazing to suddenly have your life turn around like that? So while I was leery of a show whose title translates to “Virgin Angel,” I was all set to give it the benefit of the doubt. As it turns out, though, this first episode was mightily disappointing. Rather than presenting an actual story and introduction to what's going on, Ange Vierge’s inaugural episode introduces us to far too many named characters to possibly remember, spends most of the time in the bath with them, and then ends on a training fight that is less than spectacular because they ran out of time after all of the naked stuff. To add insult to injury, it's also censored with both steam clouds and bars of light. I tend to find the latter more offensive simply because it looks so unnatural, but both decrease the fanservice value of a show whose cast is made up entirely of nubile young women.
Mostly the issue here is with the pacing. By the end of the first episode, I want to know more about the story's world and which girls are really going to be important, not just that there are what feels like thirty pretty young things with amazing powers who are of a variety of magical races. We still don't really know what the Ouroboros are, or even a whole lot about how the α drivers connect with the Progresses, much less how power is transferred. We've seen a single adult but otherwise have no real idea how the units are organized or what kind of structures are in place to organize and facilitate the Progresses in their battles. The best done scene in the episode is when Saya flashes back to the day she got her exceed; it captures her emotions and tells a coherent piece of the story.
Perhaps I'm simply looking for too much in a show that wants to sell itself on its cute and/or hot girls. But there's no law that says that plot and fanservice can't co-exist, and I hope that Ange Vierge eventually realizes that. The fact that three-quarters of the episode was spent with the girls naked doesn't give me a lot of hope there, but we shall see. Saya at least seems to have a real personality and concerns, and Ramiel, a one-winged angel from the Red World appears to have some personality potential as well, so the show may simply have prioritized showing off its cast over getting into the story. But unless and until it does, this is basically just a character dump, and not even a great one.
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