The Summer 2016 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Qualidea Code ?
What is this?
During a great war, all children were put into a state of suspended animation via cryogenic sleep in order to preserve humanity's future. Now, years later, the children have awoken and grown into teenagers, but the Earth is far from secure. Ichiya Suzaku has grown to be a hard-nosed and rankings-obsessed young soldier, who feels that his “World” (a special power some people have) makes him far superior to his fellow soldiers and that he alone should fight. His childhood friend Canaria Utara would like him to be kinder, but Ichiya sees no need – he's the only one who needs to keep fighting. This attitude causes problems when he and Canaria, as representatives from Tokyo, have to work with student soldiers from Kanazawa and Chiba to fight the invading aliens. Canaria's World allows her to touch people's hearts and give them strength, but can she ever reach Ichiya's again like when they were kids? Qualidea Code is an original work launching as part of a multimedia project and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Saturdays at 12:30 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
The first episode of Qualidea Code is a lot more entertaining than I expected it to be. That's not the highest compliment in the world considering that my expectations for this genre are fairly low, but it's still something. This series still has all the hallmarks of a light novel-style story, from the silly English names for the characters’ powers to the arbitrary ranking system for winners and losers. What sets it apart is that its seems willing to have a little fun with these genre conventions, and it doesn't appear to be taking itself quite as seriously as the majority of its contemporaries.
The bad news is that I'm not exactly in love with the characters. Ichiya is the sort of Mr. Perfect protagonist that makes me want to throw a rock at the screen, though he's a little more tolerable than most. His counterpart Canaria is about as clever as a snail, so it's a small mercy that she at least seems to own up to her ditzy personality by playing it for laughs. There's not a lot of originality to be found in the supporting characters, who generally fall into one pre-defined category or another. They're not so much annoying as they are thoroughly predictable.
The shining beacon of hope in this episode is the big battle scene, which does just as much to entertain as it does to show off the characters’ special powers. For whatever reason, the sassy banter and infighting amongst the heroes actually seems to work in this series. The battle reminds me of my days playing cooperative video games with my high school friends; give a bunch of teenagers overwhelming firepower and they're bound to end up fighting amongst themselves for the highest score. This is the first time in recent memory I've seen that particular attitude translated into an anime series, and it makes for an amusingly chaotic action scene.
As long as it remains willing to poke a little fun at itself, Qualidea Code could provide the kind of big, dumb fun that we don't see much of in the anime industry these days. The biggest weakness of shows in this genre is that they tend to take their convoluted plots and endless pages of lore far too seriously, so there's definitely room for a series that's willing to loosen up a bit. I wouldn't call it a sure bet just yet, but this one could be worth keeping an eye on.
Qualidea Code is basically an anime-original “light novel supergroup” show, written by a team of three popular light novel writers. It's appropriate, then, that the show feels like a mishmash of scifi light novel stuff thrown together in one overstuffed narrative. But that fact doesn't really end up hurting Qualidea Code all that much - partially because many light novel adaptations already feel like a bunch of random pieces thrown together, and partially because Qualidea Code is pretty okay at what it does.
The show's characters are likely its weakest link so far. Protagonist Ichiya is just deeply unlikable from top to bottom - his clear “character flaw” is the fact that he wants to solve everything by himself, but outside of that, he's simply a jerk in his interactions both with the rival super-school representatives and even with his own second-in-command. That second-in-command isn't much of a character either - Canaria is so far simply the wilting, upbeat childhood friend, who suffers Ichiya's abuse and gets occasionally ogled by the camera. Outside of those two, the cast sticks to a pretty conservative slate of popular archetypes, all with superpowers vaguely themed to match their personalities.
But in spite of the show not really having a cast to speak of, this episode moved quickly through its introductions, and conveyed a world that actually seems pretty interesting. I like the idea of these schools competing to gain points in a way that actually affects the balance of their world, and I like that even this first episode focused heavily on how their internal politics are potentially more dangerous than any external threat. The big battle scene that consumed the second half was interesting even though the heroes were never in danger, because the mix of powers and obstacles made for an inherently complex battlefield situation. I don't expect Qualidea Code's writing to thrill me in any respect, but as far as this kind of show goes, I'm glad the show didn't waste my time with piles of exposition or a focus on interpersonal drama without dialogue strong enough to back it up. It's actually refreshing to have a show in this genre not immediately rush to explain everything about its own universe.
Qualidea Code's aesthetics are reasonable across the board, though the enemy designs look a bit too much like generic videogame monsters to be particularly threatening. The show's one standout attribute is probably its soundtrack; there's a mix of diverse electronica and dubstep along with voiced tracks, as Canaria's power essentially means she's this show's version of a Macross idol. Overall, Qualidea Code looks to be a reasonably competent entry in a justifiably maligned genre; nothing about it is truly impressive, but it hits expected beats with confidence, and offers a world that seems to have a bit more to it than many of its contemporaries.
Review: The first episode of Qualidea Code does a great job of introducing what will presumably be the major players in the story going forward and a pretty good job of outlining the setting and situation. What it does not do, though, is give more than the vaguest sense of what direction the story might be going.
So let's start with the cast. Each of the six heads and subheads of the three cities involved gets a clearly-defined base personality, though so far none of them stray in the slightest from familiar anime archetypes. Curiously for such a small group, they include two slight variations on the Dumb Girl: one who's a cheery but reckless offensive type with power so overwhelming that it can be a danger to allies (Maihime) and one who's an incompetent at everything but using her power to fortify everyone else (Canaria, who would be classified as a bard if this was a fantasy RPG). You've got the samurai-type girl who's absolutely loyal to, and adoring of, Maihime (Hotaru – and is it just me, or are these type of characters always dark-haired?). Then there's the dry-witted redhead, a lackadaisical guy (Kasumi), and the intense but emotionless guy (Ichiya). The only mild surprise here is that the intense guy rather than the lackadaisical guy is the main protagonist. The bunch of them squabble in predictable patterns, although the way they interact with each other is at least mildly entertaining. What I don't see here – and this is a big concern at this point – is much room for character growth or development beyond possibly Ichiya.
Still, the entertainment value of those interactions and the action scenes are what carry the first episode. The second major action scene gives all of the key players a chance to show off their powers, as well as allowing us to see the peons who are many steps below them in action. However, it doesn't do much to stand out, either. Those flying blobs that are apparently supposed to be the Unknown present no sense of menace, as we never see them actually make attacks. They're just there, as if to present a shooting gallery for the kids. The one thing that does allow for, though, is to show clearly that everyone getting along on the battlefield is not a given, in part because of the scoring and ranking system used. This gets emphasized a little too much for it to not be a major story element going forward.
But what is the story going to be going forward? The episode ends with an ominous comment about how humanity doesn't really understand what the power called World is, but that's the only real hint. That's the big limiting factor right now, although the technical and artistic merits aren't anything special, either. As a result, it's hard to get a gauge on how much potential this series has, hence the low score.
I cannot say that I am surprised that light novels preceded this anime, because it really has all the hallmarks of one, from its gruff ‘n’ grumpy male lead to its sweet but airheaded female protagonist, hitting a lot of “superpowered teens save the planet” stuff along the way. A bigger issue, however, is the way that we're introduced to the reasons behind the story and then just whisked away to the future with no real explanation of the intervening years, making this feel rather choppy. It's not that Qualidea Code doesn't try to make things work, but more that they don't go quite far enough in their rush to show us a battle.
The opening, with a sobbing Ichiya trying to make it to the sleep clinic where he and the other children will be put into a cryogenic slumber to wait out the war, is a bit corny but quite effective – we get a good idea of the scale of what's going on, and Canaria comes off as the sort of soothing, emotionally reliable character I suspect she's still supposed to be. Then we're picked up and plopped back down an untold number of years later, when the kids have woken up and are now teens trained to fight the alien monsters who haven't quite been defeated. To call this jarring is a little bit of understatement, and while Canaria makes a couple of comments about how she woke up too late to still be older than Ichiya and we see glimpses of barcodes stamped onto the backs of their necks, there just isn't quite enough to fill in all of the blanks. It is made clear that despite his grumbling Ichiya still cares a lot for Canaria, but what caused the change in him? Was it the two-odd years he spent waiting for her to wake up? That feels likely, but it would be good to have that laid out before we jump into battle. I feel like we don't get enough of a sense of how those little kids became these teenagers, and just having them fight bad guys without really understanding them doesn't do a lot to make the story feel engaging. There appears to be more investment in making it clear how prickly and competitive Ichiya is and how disliked he is by people who aren't Canaria than on anything else.
Basically Qualidea Code isn't really trying to differentiate itself from other similar shows. It doesn't look like it's going to turn into a harem story, which does feel a bit different, although there are many more females than males, and the kids do get reprimanded by their adult supervisor (teacher?) when they screw up and, in a fairly realistic move, everyone joins forces to blame Ichiya when it was Maihime's fault simply because they don't like him. Canaria's name juxtaposed with her magical singing is a little much, and I really hope she has more than one song for the whole series, but the real problem here is that this first episode just doesn't make anyone worth caring about. Hopefully things will flashback more within the next episode or two, because it's hard to invest yourself in a fancy sci fi fight if you don't feel anything for the fighters.
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