The Winter 2016 Anime Preview Guide
Pandora in the Crimson Shell: Ghost Urn
How would you rate episode 1 of
Pandora in the Crimson Shell: Ghost Urn ?
What is this?
Nene is a little cyborg with big dreams. If possible, she'd like to use her powers as an "adepter" (a cyborg with greater physical dexterity and strength than a human rather than the usual less) to achieve world peace. On her way to the technological resort paradise Cenancle Island to meet her aunt, she meets another full-body cyborg named Clarion and finally feels like she's found a friend, even though the kitty-eared maid girl doesn't seem to like her back. Clarion's guardian, the capricious scientist Uzal Delilah, sees a spark of promise in their meeting and decides to use the mysterious Pandora program to upgrade this cybernetic duo into a superpowered team to stop terrorist outbreaks across the once peaceful island, where virtual dreams can be made into reality. Pandora in the Crimson Shell Ghost Urn is based on a manga and can be found streaming on Funimation, Fridays at 11:40 AM EST.
How was the first episode?
I don't even know where to begin.
So this is a forgotten digi-paint show that was dug up in a time capsule from no later than the year of our lord 2002, dusted off, reformatted into 16:9, and re-sold as an adaptation of a Masamune Shirow manga from 2010. How else do you explain its hideous color palette, jagged flat designs, and painfully dated obsession with fetishes of yesteryear like catgirls, maids, androids/cyborgs with unusually sexual hardware, and busty scientist onee-samas? I refuse to accept that this was made by discerning working professionals in the modern-day anime climate. I mean, my god. Just look at it. And if your eyes rot out of their sockets from the onslaught of uggo that ensues, just get a load of that plinky-plonky-zero-effort soundtrack blaring away in the background, just underneath the unbelievably screechy performances of the poor voice actresses who got suckered into this exercise in purestrain cringe.
No sir, I did not like it.
Every second Pandora in the Crimson Shell was on, I could feel my skin writhing around on my bones, begging for me to turn it off. But I stuck it out to the end because I love you, and my only reward was a perpetually increasing sense of bafflement that this thing got made in 2016. It feels like trash from a bygone era, the exact kind of stuff that used to be mocked and scorned as pandering garbage in much the same way that light-novel-magic-high-school shows are now, and I definitely wasn't pining for its return. The advent of moe may have altered anime in plenty of negative ways, but one of the positive things that moe did for anime was give its comedies and slice-of-life shows a sense of calm and charm they didn't always possess before. Anime used to be so much more shrill than it is today, and I had almost forgotten that fact before Pandora in the Crimson Shell popped up to remind me. I don't miss the mistakes of yesteryear, especially when they reach that oh-so-special pitch that sets dogs to howling from several miles away. Yuck.
If you've gotten bored with the worst kinds of modern anime and want to start feeling some sweet nostalgia for the worst kinds of anime gone by, then give Pandora in the Crimson Shell a try. But if you don't want to feel precious seconds of your life slipping away one-by-one while flipping you a spiteful finger, you might want to steer clear of this nerve-grinding oddity.
Years ago, the name “Masamune Shirow” actually carried some weight. As the original creator of Ghost in the Shell, one of anime's few critically-adored breakout hits outside of Japan, his own decidedly stranger manga predilections were somewhat handwaved by the importance of Mamoru Oshii's seminal film. At this point, after years of work dedicated to creating porn and might-as-well-be-porn, the Shirow name doesn't carry quite as much significance. So what does that mean about his new adaptation, the bizarrely named Pandora in the Crimson Shell Ghost Urn?
Well, you shouldn't come in expecting Ghost in the Shell, at least. Pandora maintains Shirow's clear fascination with transhumanism, but it also leans well into his general perviness, and comes off more as a wacky comedy than a philosophical meditation. Full cyborg protagonist Nene is a ditzy dork, and this first episode finds her accidentally wrapped up in a series of explosive adventures with a woman who seems very likely to be some kind of evil genius. The whole show has a weirdly retro sensibility to it, from the very old-school silly faces to the indulgence in catgirls and bunny outfits. And by the end of this episode, Nene has bounced from getting used to her cyborg body to witnessing some kind of terrorist attack to getting conscripted into taking over her new island home.
The show is consistently silly and raunchy in a way that feels so out of step with today's more light novel-based styles of pandering that it's almost endearing. Nene isn't self-aware in the slightest - in fact she's a total idiot, and happily accepts her companions’ unbelievable explanations in a way that seems more appropriate for a show like Excel Saga than today's wincingly self-referential comedies. In what seems almost like a wink to Chobits, her cyborg catgirl companion Clarion has some kind of USB port in her crotch, which Nene has to activate in order to unlock her powers. The show has plenty of fanservice, but it all feels more like a joke than anything, or an unintentional tip of the hat to a more innocent age of silly anime.
Overall, Pandora isn't really my kind of show, but as far as fanservice-comedies go, it actually felt pretty charming. The characters’ retro personalities felt more endearing than the archetypes we now get in shows like Phantom World, and this first episode certainly didn't lack for scifi adventure ideas. Pandora isn't a great show or anything, but if you're in the mood for a fairly unusual anime comedy, I might give it a look.
This show can't quite seem to decide if it wants to be a goofy feel-good comedy about an adorable android who just wants world peace and to pet the kitty android's ears or if it has darker undertones about cyber technology with loli fanservice. As a result, it doesn't quite land in either category and feels like a weird hodgepodge of anime tropes, all dressed up and unable to get where it's going. Given its originators, this actually makes sense as what you might expect from the minds behind Ghost in the Shell and Excel Saga.
We've very recently seen disparate genres combine into something wonderful (School-Live!), but Pandora in the Crimson Shell does not have the same facility with trope mixing. Nene's utter perkiness and innocence is only barely underscored by whatever tragedy landed her in a prosthetic body in the first place – we know she's an “adepter,” someone who easily mastered her new synthetic body, and we know that the sight of a building collapsing triggered a memory of her presumably deceased parents, but beyond that she's much more likely to flutter around being bubbly or to play an old video game system. None of this takes away from her downloaded ability to suddenly fire guns like a professional or to transform like a magical idol girl in order to “camouflage” herself, or her shock at either of those things. Our shock, or titillation, comes from how she gets the powers – the other android she meets has something called the “Pandora System,” which is located directly above her vulva. A hatch opens and a blushing Nene gets to put her hand in so that it looks vaguely like she's sticking her hand in the other girl's underwear. We won't even get into the whole “Pandora's Box” linguistic/slang metaphor going on here; suffice it to say that this is some loli fanservice that thinks it's winking and nudging when it's more beating you over the head.
Along with this there's a nice selection of fetishes to choose from in this episode, with all of the villains (I think – I was a bit unclear on who they actually were) wearing maid, bunny girl, or other recognizably fetishized outfits, along with the other android's cat ears and the busty scientist who definitely has designs on Nene. Nene herself is the model of innocence and undeniably cute, but all of that just serves to further muddle the story that's trying to unfold. Just what that story is remains unclear – along with Nene's tragic past, we know her aunt is somehow a player in the android business and that Nene herself is special enough to merit tampering with so that she becomes more useful...and naïve enough to go along with that tampering even though she probably shouldn't. This darker undertone is what saved the episode for me, because the sillier aspects almost went too far without doing anything to distinguish themselves from any other cutesy show.
Perhaps the best word for this episode is “unbalanced.” Torn between its serious, fanservice, and silly sides, the story flails around and never quite sticks a landing with any of the three. Nene is cute and parts of the story are amusing while others are intriguing, but none of it is enough to make this a truly enjoyable episode.
I probably checked my calendar three times watching this show to make sure I hadn't somehow traveled back in time 15 years. Pandora in the Crimson Shell is a conglomeration of early 2000s schlock, but unlike other recent revisits to anime decades past, it lacks any nostalgic charm. Cat-eared loli girls topped character design relevancy with MoonPhase and I think the last time I saw a Playboy bunny outfit used for fanservice was in the first season of Haruhi Suzumiya.
These are the first in a series of cues revealing how dated this anime adaptation of Masamune Shirow and Koushi Rikudou's manga is. This episode covers a little more than half of the first manga volume, and I can promise you the source material has the same dated story qualities. Rikudou's spastic humor hasn't aged well since Excel Saga was a thing, or maybe the audience that remembers it has simply grown out of that kind of juvenile, repetitive clowning. There's one joke in this episode: Nene thinks Clarion is omg so kyute and it's repeated ad nauseum. This protagonist personality used to be more common but it's usually relegated to a supporting character nowadays and we're all the better for it.
The pseudo-yuri sexual titillation where Nene has to put her hand in Clarion's robo-vagina to exchange OS code is simply a copy from Chobits. Even the “edgy” eroticism has been done before. Those who were approaching this show and hoping for the kind of sci-fi experience Shirow is better known for might want to take a flip through one of his artbooks. The guy has never shied away from blending sci-fi elements with lots and lots of sexuality. So, we're treated to two awkward fingerings, the latter of which starts up a magical girl transformation with an outfit I'm pretty sure the Love Live idols wore for one of their performances.
The only highlight in this 25-minute exercise in my patience was Clarion's short fight sequence. That was fun to watch, panty shots be damned. The cyclops robots she fought also didn't look like CG garbage, so there's that. Unfortunately, none of it lasted very long.
Watching this episode was like painfully reliving what I thought was funny (and scandalous!) with my friends 15 years ago. This show might seem fresh for anyone in that age group, but otherwise this is an eye-rolling yawn.
Review: Take Ghost in the Shell and cross it with Excel Saga and you'd get something really, really weird. Yet that's exactly what has happened with this new offering based on a manga from the creator of the latter (Koshi Rikudo) and derived from a concept by the former (Masamune Shirow): a work which somehow simultaneously has the vibe of both.
The influence of Shirow shows in the first episode's depiction and use of full-body cyborgs. These are not the virtually flawless human reproductions seen in Ghost, though; instead Nene shows doll or action figure-like articulation on her body everywhere but on her face. In this setting Nene's ability to manipulate her artificial body at a human-like (and possibly even superhuman) level is a rarity which intrigues the sexy Delilah, who gives all of the vibe of a mad scientist type; she certainly isn't above having Nene rendered insensate so she can experiment a little and then pass it off as Nene having just suddenly collapsed. The mystery at this point is how bad she actually is, though she does have a small army of cosplay-costumed female minions rebelling against her (the cosplay was her idea) and some kind of massively-destructive thing under her control until the minions inadvertently loosed it without the proper control codes.
Rikudo's influence shows in the goofier touches, such as the way Nene absolutely adores Delilah's cat-eared full-cyborg subordinate Clarion (who gets various nicknames as the episode progresses), much to Clarion's dismay – and further to Clarion's dismay, Delilah not only allows it but encourages it. And then, of course, there's the not-at-all-suggestive way that Nene has to use Delilah to trigger the Pandora Device, which can make her temporarily super-skilled at something or even given her an illusory costume courtesy of a magical girl-like transformation, or the way the aspiring reporter girl keeps taking falls because she gets knocked off of high things.
Really, I'm not sure what to make of this one after the first full episode, and I have no idea where this is going, hence the middling grade. What is clear is that the artistic production is pretty crappy. It is easily the worst-looking series so far this season and is not going to be easy to undercut as the season progresses. Still, it has enough of a fun factor with what it does do visually that its roughness might not matter. If you ever imagined what Ghost in the Shell might look like if it engaged in flights of fancy, this is it.
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