The Summer 2016 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
What is this?
Kotarou Tennouji lives in the beautiful, environmentally conscious town of Kazamatsuri, where reforestation has led to a proliferation of trees. He attends high school with his friend Kotori (who has a tendency to get lost in the surrounding forest), has fights with his supposed BFF Yoshino, and leads a peaceful life. But at night, he dreams of a dangerous girl who kills him with red ribbons. She also haunts him in real life, creeping invisibly into his bed at night to bite his arms. There is a different world very close to Kazamatsuri, full of dangerous monsters and destruction. Kotarou seems to be able to wander into this world, but is it all a dream? Or does Kotarou have powers beyond his understanding? Rewrite is based on a visual novel and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Saturdays at 12:00 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
I feel like I may have left a little part of me behind while watching Rewrite. It was the part of me that still believed that when people put together an anime adaptation, even if it's to sell a product like this Key visual novel, they're putting some part of themselves into the perhaps compromised creation.
But Rewrite felt like the most soul-crushing, meaningless, zombie parade of paint-by-numbers bishoujo game scenes ever to be printed out in color and sound, made all the worse by its heinous 47-minute length. As our standard player character guy made his standard player character unfunny quips, met his standard one weird guy frenemy, then hopscotched from sequence to sequence with one route-girl after another, there wasn't a moment of joy, emotional investment, or creative muscle to be found in the whole tortured exercise. Somehow, despite the endless pages of dialogue, absolutely nothing of value was communicated in that entire 47 minutes. I joked about "nothing happening" in the first double-length episode of Re:Zero, but Rewrite seems hell-bent on punishing me for my exaggeration, because I think more happens in the first 47 minutes of actually playing the Clannad visual novel than takes place in this supposedly truncated version of Rewrite. (Speaking of which, say whatever you want about Jun Maeda's divisive writing style, Rewrite proves that his wannabe imitators are a thousand times worse.)
As one padded nightmare sequence with the mysterious white-haired girl after another flicked by to no suspenseful effect, I could feel myself flashing back to the bad ole days post-anime-bubble-burst, when galge adaptations like these filled up half of any given season. So it's not fair to say that Rewrite is the most soulless visual novel anime I've ever seen, not when stuff like Mayoi Neko Overrun! was being pumped out for a market that no longer cared, but it definitely feels like a ghost from that bygone era, and at least the Mayoi Neko Overrun!'s of the world had the decency to be over in less than half an hour. As an overproduced relic of a bygone era, Rewrite feels like it just exists to make you bored, confused, and sad. When the episode was finally over, I couldn't think of a single thing I could recommend about the entire experience. Even the rare nice cuts of animation just made me wish they'd been used on material of some value.
The contest for worst anime of the season is still very much up in the air (I'd throw Scar-red Rider XechS in the ring too), but thanks to its obscene length, Rewrite definitely wins the booby prize for biggest waste of animation. Watch planetarian instead.
I have to hand it to recent anime. I've ragged on a bunch of light novel adaptations, but watching this show, I'm reminded that the pre-light novel boom was just as dire in a variety of ways. Rewrite is very bad in a way that feels almost nostalgic now, harkening back to a time when visual novel adaptations were the law of the land. We've moved past those days now, but it's always important to remember the mistakes of the past.
Rewrite's first episode opens with the more magical side of this particular genre setup, as our protagonist Kotarou wanders the streets of a city overrun by great roots in what's presumably a dream. Already we strike aground on one of the major failings common to this type of show - an internal voice that doesn't sound true to any possible human being ever. Kotarou starts off with wince-worthy lines like “the deserted city stimulates my boyish sense of adventure,” but by the time we get to his regular school life, things are far worse.
As is apparently common in visual novels (Grisaia and Clannad both had this problem, at the least), Kotarou essentially plays the role of the straight man to his entire world. The other characters act like one-dimensional props, and Kotarou riffs on their one-dimensionality. His childhood friend is the ditz, and so he leads her around with coins. The boy in the next seat is the delinquent, and so he mocks his desire to have a fight. This is apparently supposed to endear the audience to either him or his victims, but it really just emphasizes the artificial nature of every element of the story being constructed.
And that's before we get to the specific tropes being employed, like a lengthy sequence focused on whether or not Kotarou saw one of the heroine's panties. Or the fact that Rewrite's narrative construction seems as lazy as possible, following visual novel “and then I ran into another person and had a rambling conversation” construction in spite of ostensibly being an original route. Or the characterization of the various heroines, who still feel like non-people at the end of a forty-five minute premiere dedicated largely to establishing them as characters. There are obviously secrets hiding behind this show's facade, but in order to care about those secrets, a show first has to make you care about its characters as they already are.
Rewrite's clean but generally unimpressive aesthetic execution is basically all that keeps me from giving it the bottom score. Some secret pasts are best left in the past.
Last season Re: Zero opened with a double-length first episode, and it proved warranted because a good sense for what the series was doing could not be obtained from the first 22 minutes alone. This season Rewrite is doing the same thing, and for pretty much the same reason. Only in this case there's still not a good sense for what's going on even at the end of 45 minutes.
But this is an adaptation of a Key production, so all of the normal elements which would be expected from one of their visual novels are present: the main protagonist already has association with a variety of very, very moe girls, some of which are potential love interests but not explicitly so, and supernatural shenanigans are involved. The exact nature of the supernatural elements is – as is often the case with Key-originating productions – rather vague. There's a mysterious girl who can control red ribbons who kills main character Kotaro in his dream (or is it an alternate world?), climbs into his bed to bite him on the arm at night, and stalks him at night in his school. There's a supposed witch as well, and fairly-like creatures supposedly born from garbage, and some kind of beast with squid-like tentacles. Kotaro is also intimated to have a super-power himself, and there are vague suggestions of a muddied background. In other words, lots of weird hints are being dropped but nothing so far has shown up to link them together.
Which is fine, as we're still in the first episode. My suspicion is that some kind of time-traveling and/or dimension-hopping scenario is involved, and Kotaro knows a lot more about it than what he's letting on so far. Whatever it turns out to be, the core elements which have always made Key titles attractive – even endearing – are definitely present, such as the casual banter between Kotaro and both the girls and a male classmate who keeps trying to pick a fight with him. It all has that carefully-calculated-to-be-endearing feel, and damned if Key doesn't still know what they're doing on that. The same could be said of the hyper-moeblob character designs, especially those dresses the girls wear as school uniforms; as with titles like Kanon, that's more something made-to-cosplay than an actual school uniform. Disappointingly, the visual effort by studio 8 Bit is not as sharp or pretty as that done by Kyoto Animation on titles like Kanon, though the animation isn't bad at all.
Basically, there are enough intriguing elements in play so far to convince me to watch more, and I've never minded Key's particular way of doing things. Those who normally don't care for it, though, are unlikely to find much to change their minds here.
I've never spent forty-five minutes watching someone else play a visual novel, but I imagine the experience would be a lot like the first episode of Rewrite. From the main character's ongoing narration to the “normal life with something mysterious lurking in the shadows” premise, this show feels very much like the anime adaptation of a game. That's exactly what it is, so I suppose it's not necessarily a bad thing. Still, I imagine this extended introduction would've been more interesting if I'd had the option of choosing Kotarou's course of action from time to time.
We're introduced to a whole bunch of characters here, and most of them give off an archetypal, paint-by-numbers vibe. Apart from Kotarou, no one really gets enough screen time to move beyond their defining personality traits. The angry guy is always angry, the spacey girl is always spacey, and so on. That being said, most of the cast seems pleasant enough, and nobody went so far as to actively annoy me. Given more time, there's every possibility that Rewrite could develop these kids into an interesting group of characters.
The story's mix of everyday classroom antics and life-or-death supernatural adventures doesn't hold together particularly well. Individual scenes work just fine, and a few moments manage to create a very immersive atmosphere, but the overall narrative tends to feel a bit disjointed. This episode just sort of jumps from one scene to the next, and the abrupt transitions kill the mood on a regular basis. The premise itself has some potential, but the delivery will need to improve if it's going to work in the long run.
Rewrite seems like the kind of series that I don't mind watching but have a tough time really investing in on an emotional level. The background art is nice, the music is fine, and the writing is humorous enough to provide some amusement here and there. If you've played the game, then that basic level of competence could very well be enough to make it worth your time. For everyone else, it's a case of plenty of potential without much substance at the moment. All the setup work that the show does in this episode makes it a bit of a slog, but at least that frees it up to get the story moving in the coming weeks.
Rewrite is probably going to get better now that it's gotten this first episode out of the way. It would be hard not to – this is fifty minutes of pure unadulterated set-up, and while plot is hinted at, it really doesn't develop in any meaningful way. Instead, the episode is concerned with showing us the beautiful, forested town of Kazamatsuri, the gothic lolita school uniforms, and introducing us to a wide variety of mostly female characters including but not limited to The Eyepatch One, the Money Loving One, the Class President One, the School Newspaper One, and the Transfer Student One. (As an added bonus, that last one also doubles as Miss “I don't know how skirts work.”) Oh, and let's not forget The Mysterious One who creeps into our hero's bed at night and bites him. Along with these very expected characters, we also have a ton of narration courtesy of Kotarou, our everyman protagonist. I have no doubt that this amount of narrative set-up works in the original video game, but in anime format, it makes the first part of the episode drag.
However, the story does have promise. There's clearly something supernatural going on in Kotarou's world. Not only is it far too idyllic, but his dreams have a prophetic feel to them as he wanders around a post-apocalyptic version of his town meeting with monsters, Goth Loli girls, and sprites. Even he's put off by his dreams, as if he knows that there's just something ominous about the whole situation. Then there's the strange note he finds after his encounter with School Newspaper Girl: it lists several people and wonders if they are such folkloric characters as “The Witch,” “The Messiah,” and “The Ash Boy.” That last one is generally how male Cinderella characters are labeled (Askeladden), which certainly raises some interesting possibilities for the story going forward. The end of the episode steers us firmly in that direction, so I'm pretty confident that this is going to pick up within the next couple of episodes.
This first step forward is really pretty dull though. It throws a lot of named characters at you and spends more time in the school setting than necessary, which does create a nice contrast to Kotarou's nighttime terrors, but it also fails to give a firm sense of the story or characters beyond basic checklist tropes. I may just be too hopeful when I say this seems to have potential, because if anything has made me check the time every five minutes this season, it was Rewrite. Still, when Rewrite isn't flirting with stereotypes, it feels like there's a real story buried in there, just waiting to get out.
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