The Summer 2016 Anime Preview Guide
Scar-red Rider XechS
How would you rate episode 1 of
Scar-red Rider XechS ?
What is this?
The world is entering into a time after God, or so the people believe. Monsters known as Nightfly O' Note are attacking, leaving the land pocked with huge holes. Fortunately there are also beings known as Substances who are willing to help humanity, and some humans known as Riders have the ability to merge with them and become heroes in power suits. Division Six is made up of five handsome young men (who also play musical instruments), but one of their number, Yosuke, can't merge with his Substance. His teammates largely ignore him, because he's both useless in battle and annoying in personality. Only Takt, his childhood friend who taught him how to play the guitar, really cares, but he tends to get overridden by the others. One day, the team gets called into action for their first combat mission, leaving Yosuke behind. He rushes in anyway and stumbles across a girl in his search for survivors, who appears to be a military secret only known as the Sixth Dirigent. When Yosuke vows to save her life, he's able to merge with his Substance and become a true Rider for the first time. Scar-red Rider XechS is based on an otome game and can be found streaming on Funimation, Tuesdays at 2:05 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
So I'm gonna give you guys a little peek into the ANN preview guide process. When we first started separating the story summaries at the top from everyone's individual reviews, it was my job to do the plot rundown for every show in the guide. Starting with this season, thanks to the insane workload of the endeavor, the whole editorial team has pitched in to provide you with these plot summaries. You can even turn this into a game of guessing who wrote the summary for each show, if you want! Usually, each writer claims the show they'll summarize before they've actually gotten the chance to see it, and for Scar-red Rider XechS, Rebecca Silverman drew the Old Maid. My point is that she deserves a gold medal for her efforts, because hell if I could tell you what happens in this disaster of a first episode.
The animation is bad. The designs are generic-to-outright-ugly. The comedy doesn't work at all, and most dramatic moments accidentally become comedy instead. Oh, and most importantly, Scar-red Rider XechS's plot is as incomprehensible as its name. It makes one garish writing and pacing mistake after another, spending the episode's first full five minutes on purposeful obfuscation and exposition before introducing what might be our protagonist in a confusing scene where his sentai-familiar does more talking than he does. After that, it's more terrible animation, cringey gags, and giant dumps of proper names before getting to a battle of sentai suits where it's hard to even remember who's doing what, much less care about any of it. By the time the mysterious MacGuffin-lady-in-the-box looked longingly into the hero's eyes and whispered "I want to die," I felt myself picking up what the episode was putting down for the first and only time.
This season is packed to the gills with lots of options for viewers seeking reverse harem or fujoshi action-adventure. Poor XechS is hands-down the malformed runt of the litter, and you can check out just the first episode for maybe a cringe and a laugh if it doesn't bore you to sleep first.
There's a whole lot going on with Scar-red Rider XechS. There are vague, alien-ish enemies known as Nightfly O'Note and secret government Riders, teenage hero coaches and teenage secret weapons. There are at least half a dozen proper nouns with vague definitions, and a whole squad of sentai warriors. There are rock music motifs and giant laser cannons, along with multiple factions already emerging even just within the good guys.
You'd think all that Stuff would make for a frustratingly busy premiere, but XechS seems to understand a lot of its variables are standard enough that their significance can be inferred. The nature of Yosuke and his fellow Riders becomes clear as soon as the first major fight starts - they're basically just sentai warriors, who merge with their Substance familiars to fight the dreaded Nightfly O'Notes (I have a feeling that name will never sound any less silly). The secret weapon that the government is transporting becomes clear the moment its container opens - it's the textbook Weapon That Is A Girl, staple of scifi stories throughout the ages.
The fact that XechS' various pieces are all relatively familiar works in its favor in this episode, as it allows the first half to be a slow and atmospheric introduction to just a couple of the central characters. There's a great sense of place to scenes like would-be Rider Yosuke poorly strumming his guitar on the roof of an abandoned school, or his new coach tramping behind him through endless fields of grain. And I like the rock music motif underlining this story; the narrative is all pretty typical setup material, but adornments like that are the stuff that give individual shows personality within well-worn templates.
That said, this really is all a familiar template so far - team of restless youths (all cute, whispy boys, in this case) are tasked with fighting back a faceless alien menace, and likely dealing with ambiguous motivations within their own group along the way. None of the characters have really defined themselves in a positive way yet - in fact, the only cast member who really stuck out was the Rider who kept yelling nonsense English words, an artificial quirk that only distanced me from the drama. The show also isn't much to look at; the character designs are attractive enough, but there's not much animation or dynamic direction to really lift things. Scar-red Rider XechS had a competent premiere, but it'll need to do more to distinguish itself if it really wants to shine.
If series based on visual novels typically feature a minimum of guys surrounded by a bevy of girls then it only makes sense that a series based on an otome game would have the reverse. The weird thing is, though, that of the three female characters shown so far, none of them are at the center of the hot guys – at least not yet, anyway. If the girl with the red, white, and blue-striped accessories is supposed to be the female insert character, then why she out on the periphery at this point? Or is that role supposed to go to the long-haired girl who is referred to mysteriously as the 6th Dirigent?
Either way, this looks like it is intended to be a weird twist on a sentai show, as the battle suits of the Riders have that kind of style even if the colors are more subdued than you might expect. We can pick up from bits and pieces that an extradimensional threat exists which the Riders have been recruited to fend off, that the situation is dire enough for murder to be necessary to get the 6th Dirigent into play with all due haste, and that the 6th Dirigent is regarded as the key to a successful resistance, though exactly how she's going to do that – and, for that matter, why she wants to die – isn't clear. What is clear is that she's special and dangerous enough for Akira-level precautions to be taken in securing her. (Surely I'm not the only person who was reminded of that movie by that early scene in the underground facility?) And I'd bet that our pretty boy who has trouble transforming is going to be key to bringing her into play.
Despite some choppy editing at the end of the episode, I actually thought that the first episode laid the circumstances out fairly well. Beginning with the lead character strumming a guitar while the camera panned over the environment was an interesting and welcome touch, as is the musical theme running through the rest of the Riders. The extradimensional creatures are also kind of interesting, and the action scenes aren't bad. The big problem here is that the character designs for the young men at the center of the story are not attractive at all, and that's as big a blow here as an unattractive set of female characters would be for a male fan service-oriented show.
Still, I think the series shows at least some promise, so I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt for now. It's going to have to show some good character and story development to make up for that key weakness, though.
I like the way the first episode of Scar-red Rider ZechS starts off. Moody hero Yosuke strums his guitar on the roof of a building as the show wanders through a series of establishing shots, gradually revealing that the building Yosuke's standing on has had a bunch of holes blown in it, presumably by some sort of weapon. It's a little cheesy, sure, but it makes for a much more low-key and atmospheric introduction than having some overly serious narrator ramble on about some sort of impending apocalypse. It's kind of cool, a little different, and significantly better than the rest of the episode.
It quickly becomes obvious that this series is trying way too hard to be stylish. The handsome gentlemen who make up the show's transforming mecha hero team look like they'd be more at home in a male idol series, and their oh-so-charming personalities give off the same impression. Each Rider practically screams, “I'm the quirky one!” or, “I'm the tough one!” within thirty seconds of appearing on screen. Granted, that's more information than we get about the story. The script drops a lot of deliberately vague references to important-sounding plot points, but seems to go out of its way to avoid actually explaining much. These are the good guys, these are the bad guys, this is the important thing they're fighting over, and everything else apparently isn't important right now.
All those attempts at being cool and mysterious inevitably rob the series of any real substance for the time being. Even with a more thorough knowledge of what's going on, I'm not sure I'd actually care about any of the characters. Sticking closely to stock character archetypes isn't so bad in a show that's willing to be silly, but it really doesn't work if the audience is expected to take anything seriously. Having a largely underwhelming action sequence doesn't help, either.
Still, there's at least some hope for Scar-red Rider XechS. If it can start developing Yosuke and his Rider buddies a little bit and fill in some of the narrative blanks, it could turn into a reasonably entertaining mecha series for viewers who prefer their robot suits to be piloted by handsome guys. I doubt it'll rise beyond the level of a disposable genre title, but it might merit a second episode if it seems like your preferred form of popcorn entertainment.
Musicians by day, Power Rangers by night, they are – um, I'm not sure, actually. Scar-red Rider XechS hasn't really bothered to give its superteam a name beyond their military division number, and that's not particularly catchy. But then, very little about this first episode is. It wants really, really badly to be a Serious Show wherein beautiful and vaguely irritating young men, most of whom have chins you could use as drill bits, merge with somewhat silly looking creatures known as Substances to become Riders, which as far as I can tell means “guys who merge with Substances.” Naturally there's that one broody fellow who can't quite pull it off, and that would be Yosuke, who, since he has the red suit, is probably the main character/eventual hero. Plus he's the one who interacts with the two girls, both of whom are seriously underclothed.
The premise, that the Earth is under attack by mysterious creatures who bear a slight resemblance to real animals, is fairly hoary. That the show opens in a ruined school by the sea adds more cliché than atmosphere, and this is quickly emphasized by the appearance of a sprightly young woman with tricolor hair ties and booty shorts. (Please, please let her not be American.) She's probably the new teacher for the boys of the Sixth, who is rumored to be seventeen years old, but for now she's the fool who runs around taking selfies and getting spooked by cows and Substances, necessitating Yosuke's help. He mostly spends this episode either brooding or helping women, which is presumably meant to indicate that he's a nice guy underneath it all. But honestly? It's hard to care. There are so many recognizable elements ripped from other similar shows that this just feels like a collage slapped together by someone who forgot to do their Mecha 101 homework. We have the determined woman officer, the perky teen girl, the full complement of hot guys, plenty of technobabble and random English, a mysterious naked girl in a pod, and alien villains. Bake at 350 for thirty minutes and serve while hot.
Now that Yosuke can transform, however, and that the naked girl known as the all-important Sixth Dirigent has awoken, there may be some big improvements in episode two. It seems possible that the series is plopping us down in the middle and will now go back and explain things in such a way that will make the characters sympathetic and the plot more enticing. It will have to do a lot of work to make this unique enough to be appealing, however, or at least less of a mess of clichés. In the meantime we can enjoy the quite nice guitar playing, chuckle about how the monsters implode rather than explode, and pity the person who has to help the Sixth Dirigent brush her hair.
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