The Spring 2017 Anime Preview Guide
Armed Girl's Machiavellism
How would you rate episode 1 of
Armed Girl's Machiavellism ?
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How was the first episode?
The first, most prominent, most unavoidable thing about Armed Girl's Machiavellism is that its premise is the worst. The show presents a school where the danger of men has led women to create a kind of matriarchy police state, to the point where any boys who attend the school are brutalized until they wear makeup and “act like girls.” The assumption of a world where women dominate men to the point that men are forced to, as one character says, “throw away your dignity as a man and live as a woman” is a misogynistic nerd fantasy of oppression. In a world where women are still treated as lesser and commodified even in the most ostensibly progressive of nations, this idea of an oppressive female-led dictatorship essentially just validates a crowd unwilling to accept the natural limits of how they're entitled to be treated. Armed Girl's Machiavellism's first episode even contains the natural counterpoint to its own premise, as male protagonist Fudo Nomura's skirt-flipping demonstrates: maybe the people presenting this vision of apocalypse are actually just sexist guys who are mad they can't get away with sexist behavior.
But all of that is essentially the premise we're working with: that is the show we've got here, so that's the show that I must critique. And as far as that particular show goes, Armed Girl's Machiavellism is actually a fairly competent premiere. The first six minutes or so drag out the introduction of our leads, but after that, the show jumps into a surprisingly thrilling sparring match between Fudo and the sword-wielding Rin Onigawara.
This premiere's big fight scene dominates the whole second half of the episode, and aptly demonstrates Armed Girls' strengths. Clashes are brought to life through dynamic direction and fairly reasonable animation, and even more than the visual execution, the actual flow of the fight is easily parsed through their motions and conversational back-and-forth. It's easy for fight scenes to either devolve into visual noise or get dragged down by explanations of attacks, but Armed Girls strikes a strong balance to offer a fight that actually feels like a tense back-and-forth, even if the conclusion is obvious.
Essentially, Armed Girl's Machiavellism is a perfectly competent execution of a premise I find both silly and kind of revolting. The characters play into the assumptions of the premise, so I couldn't really like any of these characters, and the comedy is tepid as well, but the show certainly knows how to pace and visually execute a dramatic setpiece. Armed Girls is absolutely not for me, but for an audience less stone-cold to its premise, this seems like a reasonable offering. I'm ultimately just left hoping this staff gets something better to adapt next time.
There's plenty of room in the anime world for what I like to call “stupid fun.” It's the kind of entertainment you get when a series takes a ridiculous premise and leans into it, pairing strong execution with a wholehearted embrace of its own insanity. It can be amusing and even refreshing when it's done well, but it crashes and burns like no other when it's done poorly. The first episode of Armed Girl's Machiavellism is a prime example of stupid fun done very, very poorly.
Problem number one is the premise, which is neither clever enough to be interesting nor absurd enough to be funny. If you're a teenage delinquent, you get sent to a former all-girls school where five ladies with swords will (figuratively) chop your balls off and force you to wear makeup. That seems to be all there is to it; no subversion of expectations or self-aware escalation into truly ridiculous territory. It all feels half-hearted, like the writing is aiming for the lowest-hanging fruit it can find. The jokes are predictable, and the delivery is largely phoned in. The unexplained presence of a bear at the school is as close as this episode gets to genuinely owning its stupidity, and even this is underwhelming.
You'd hope, then, that the fight scenes are at least exciting enough to make up for the limp comedy. Unfortunately, the production values just aren't up for it. The running battle between Rin and Nomura is a mess of overused visual shortcuts, from obnoxious motion lines to overly stylized text spelling out the name of every single attack. Toss in plenty of expository dialogue to explain why the audience is supposed to be impressed and you've got a full house of cheap action show hallmarks.
If you're looking for something with the boneheaded enthusiasm of a Ben-To or the logic-defying inventiveness of a Keijo!!!!!!!!, this show will probably disappoint. It doesn't even have the crutch of ample fanservice to lean on, leaving me to wonder what the point is. It might make for good cannon fodder if you enjoy making fun of bad shows, but I don't see it being worthwhile in any other context.
This season's second “special high school” series is based on a manga rather than a light novel and hearkens back to the days of battle high schools rather than magical ones, but it's basically the same vehicle with a new coat of paint. Armed Girls' Machiavellism takes one confused boy and plops him down in a high school full of high-powered girls. The twist here is that the school is, in fact, co-ed, but that doesn't stop most of the boys from being forced to wear makeup in an attempt to control them and curb their baser instincts. They're patrolled by a group of five girls allowed to carry swords on campus, and their harsh rules have given Aichi Coexistence Private Academy a reputation as the place to send delinquent boys, because this school will reform them.
I'm not entirely comfortable with that “reformation” taking the form of emasculation via makeup. For one thing, it seems a little half-assed – why makeup? Wouldn't high heels be more of a punishment and impediment to delinquency? You can run with a face full of makeup, but just try it in a pair of stiletto heels. There's also the idea that putting on some eyeshadow instantly robs a man of his masculinity and cows him into submission, which frankly sounds ridiculous, even for anime.
All of this is ancillary to the fact that this just isn't particularly good in its basics. The characters have that reheated feel, from always-angry Rin Onigawara (and she wears an oni mask! Clever!) to the girl who looks sort of like a Shinto priestess to Warabi, who inexplicably keeps a large bear on a leash. Nomura is the usual roguish male lead who has more tricks up his sleeve than anyone expects, ready to use his charm and uncrushable attitude to change everything for the better. Apart from Rin's creepily glowing purple eyes (and the bear), there isn't much here that sets it apart. Unfortunately, that not much includes some really awkward looking animation, from Nomura's deformed leg as he prepares to jump out a window to running that is jerky and a little weird looking. I'm also not a huge fan of Rin's attacks taking up half the screen when written out as or before she performs them; it's distracting in that deliberate way that feels as if they're hoping you'll read the screen rather than watch the animation.
There are a few hints that there's more to this story. Nomura's “spirit bullets” appear to have been developed due to a tortured past, and we know that he was the one who was the most injured in the brawl that got him kicked out of his last school. If the next episode starts to explore that more fully, this could have a promise belied by the first episode. But otherwise not even the random conversation that Rin and Nomura have about male nipples during their battle can quite make up for this episode's failure to really stand out.
No reason to bury the lede on this one: Armed Girl's Machiavellism is an incredibly stupid show. I would explain why, but the summary at the top of the page hits pretty much every asinine plot point for me. (Theron wrote that one; we all divvy up those synopses, so you can make a game out of guessing who did which one!)
This level of stupidity would be fine if the show was also funny, and I think AGM is attempting some humor (with the numerous cutaways to the Five Swords' pet bear), but calling this a comedy still feels like a stretch. This is mostly a battle school anime that sits somewhere between Tenjho Tenge and Ikki Tousen without ever feeling much like either of those shows. See, those other two examples committed fully to their premises, with complex martial arts techniques and centuries-old rivalries driving the action, with plentiful breaks for humor and fanservice to break up the brawlings. Armed Girl's Machiavellism doesn't seem to take either itself or its audience that seriously, with mediocre animated fight sequences driven by underexplained, completely improbable combat techniques that mostly rely on snide references to better-known shows.
With this lighter touch, you'd think that AGM would be focused more on comedy, but the only thing that could pass for a joke is its premise, which it mostly plays straight. The idea of a frightening matriarchy where girls emasculate boys is old as dirt and remains painfully unfunny, but the show treats the whole scenario as neither threatening (for drama) nor ludicrous (for comedy). It's just laid out bald as a lazy excuse for a series of fantasy school combat scenarios. With no real punchlines to laugh at but no stakes that matter in the fights themselves (five anime stereotype girls chasing a douchebag around school because he won't put on a skirt is not a compelling plot), this one comes across as a pretty big stinker with an extremely limited audience. Come to think of it, there wasn't really much fanservice in it, either! What's the point?
With easily the stupidest premise of the season so far and no real commitment to a compelling tone in any direction, I can't recommend this to any but the most ardent high-school-harem-battle-show fans. Admittedly, there were enough of those to keep Ikki Tousen going for like five years, so maybe this'll scratch that itch for a significant audience. It's a total goose-egg by me, though.
It takes a special mix of stupidity, contrivance, and offensive tropes to rile me up nowadays. I might find a show's fanservice tired or its plotting predictable but it takes a perfect storm to get a bottom level rating. Armed Girls' Machiavellism has all of that topped with obnoxious jokes targeting cross-dressing and weight out of the gate, a plot driven by emasculation, ridiculous character designs, and a bear because why not at this point?
Our cocky protagonist is the new guy at a school run by girls and with a reputation for reforming delinquent males. He runs into one of his reformed classmates on his way in, a heavy-set guy in stereotypical okama make-up. In fact, all the reformed men are done up in the same fashion and we learn that this is the result of women running the roost. They “make the men live like women” because the definition of being woman-like is wearing heavy make-up and chittering absent-mindedly. Of course, deep down they're all suffering from losing their masculinity under the rule of the tyrannical girls who makeup the Council of Five Ruling Swords but no one has the gall to stand-up to them.
No one except protagonist Nomura who doesn't care about these silly girls and their silly ideas and silly rules. He'll best them with his superior fighting techniques, land a kiss on the leader that will reveal her feminine innocence that she hides behind a mask she sniped from Utawarerumono's Hakuoro. The whole thing is eye-rollingly bad, offering nothing unique in its setting or characters to make up what I can only describe as either tone deafness on a massive scale or insidiously sexist themes.
The show's comedy and conflict are built around the idea that if you put a bunch of girls in charge, well they're obviously man-haters who will strip guys of their manhood and turn them into subservient, politically correct pseudo-girls and that would just suck wouldn't it? If only these ladies met the right manly man to light their maiden hearts then we could get back to boys being boys and girls being girls.
If this concept wasn't bought and sold by a certain subset within the anime fandom this ridiculous premise would be only that and I could wave it on through with the usual tired sigh but this one stepped over a line for me. Wash your hands of this one, it's trash.
If the ubiquity of magical battle high school anime in recent years is getting you down, then how about a good-ol’-fashioned non-magical battle high school series? For better or worse, that's exactly what this new manga adaptation from Studio Silver LINK and the director of BlazBlue Alter Memory seems to be.
Frankly, the series’ curious name sparks more interest than anything about the episode's content. In The Prince Machiavelli wrote the definitive work on ruthlessly using political intrigue to one's advantage, and Machiavellianism as a word refers to using cunning and duplicity to get ahead, but absolutely none of that is in evidence in the first episode. In fact, masked girl Rin couldn't be more straightforward in her goal to quickly intimidate or physically beat (whichever is necessary!) Tudo into submission, and none of the other girls in the Supreme Five Swords show much propensity for it, either. Only the girl they refer to as Empress seems like she might have even a shred of cunning to her, as she already seems to know Tudo and is vaguely implied to have ulterior motives concerning his arrival.
That's disappointing, because otherwise the first episode does very little to distinguish itself from any other series where an armed girl threatens a male newcomer with a sword; the only slight departures here are that Rin's actions are proactive rather than reactive (Tudo literally hasn't done anything yet) and that Tudo isn't being either a milquetoast or a jerk. Tudo donning studded gloves to deflect Rin's attacks is a little unusual, and the fight between the two gets fairly intense (Rin clearly isn't a pushover, either), but the side commentary explains things in excruciatingly disruptive detail and Tudo is just the most recent in a long line of male transfers to have a secret trick up his sleeve for turning the tables. Technical merits so far aren't bad but, somewhat surprisingly, there's nothing even close to actual fan service despite Tudo making one reference to incidentally seeing one girl's panties.
The one thing that's not completely certain about the series at this point is whether or not it's going to take the traditional approach of heading in a harem direction. The lack of fan service suggests that it might not actually do that, and hints are dropped that Tudo might have a messy backstory. Something to distinguish the series is going to have to happen in the next couple of episodes to prevent it from being relegated into the “unmemorable” category – and no, the odd inclusion of the bear doesn't count.
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