The Spring 2017 Anime Preview Guide Frame Arms Girl
How would you rate episode 1 of
Frame Arms Girl ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
Golly gee, I feel like someone's trying to sell me a model kit. Frame Arms Girl is a series-length commercial, but at least it's honest about it. It's clear from the outset that the show's objective is to push real-world merchandise through a mix of cutesy humor and the occasional sprinkling of fanservice. That makes it pretty easy for the audience to decide whether or stick around or bail out, though even its target demographic may not be all that impressed by what's on offer.
The assembly trivia shows up early, and this episode lays it on pretty thick. None of Gourai's advice seems particularly advanced, so I doubt you'll learn anything new if you already build models as a hobby. The prospect of seeing the girls battle one another is probably more enticing for existing fans, but again there's nothing terribly special here. The fight between Gourai and Stylet is short and not very imaginative. I think the virtual arena setup might actually be working against the series; wouldn't it be more interesting to use Ao's real apartment, with everyday objects acting as cover and obstacles? Let's see these characters vaulting over bookshelves and hurling cutlery at one another.
The upside is that Ao and Gourai have some pleasant chemistry, with Gourai's serious personality playing nicely against Ao's lack of interest in dealing with all the little details of assembling a model. There's definitely room for some charming moments down the line as Gourai begins to figure out her emotions and Ao starts caring about her little robot roommate. The other two girls seem overly simplified in terms of their personality types, but I suppose that could be due to the limited screen time they receive. There's also some decent comedy here and there, with the rivalry between a bird and a delivery drone making for a fun running joke.
One definite point in the show's favor is the decision to have a female protagonist. Ao avoids many of the weird romantic comedy pitfalls that a teenage boy would face, allowing her to make a joke about Gourai's outfit without sounding like a total creep. If Frame Arms Girl can do a respectable job of developing their friendship, then I can see this being a palatable adaptation for fans of the franchise. Beyond that, however, it has some serious work to do if it's going to win over any casual viewers.
This is one big 'ol commercial Kotobukiya's model kits of panty-baring girls in snap-on armor suits. The girls are designed by Humikane Shimada, the designer behind the better known armored panty girls, Strike Witches. Strike Witches at least had a robust setting to place its characters into and plenty of creative space for spinoffs. Frame Arms Girl wants to sell you models, model accessories, and model tools. I have to give them a hand for being so blatant about their motivations that they even gave the lead robot girl a monologue espousing the merits of Kotobukiya nippers.
A decent amount of time is spent introducing the technicalities of model kit building for audience laymen, which is helpful for anyone watching who has a cursory interest in the hobby. If you're like me, and the show's newbie protagonist Ao, it's a complete bore. I'm not the target audience for this (as in I have no intention of purchasing these models) but I've successfully put together Ikea furniture so I don't exactly need exposition explaining that I should follow an instruction booklet to successfully build something. There's layman (“use extra care snipping so your parts fit together tightly”) and there's assuming the audience lacks common sense.
The show gets kudos for Ao though, who I felt I could relate to through the majority of this episode. She isn't a perfectionist type and isn't entrenched in model building already, so when Gourai tells her to build her armor which includes a sheet of tiny pieces, she shrugs it off as too much work. The intricacies of what is supposed to otherwise be a fun activity are a drag. Lost a tiny piece and can't find it in the room? Eh, it's probably fine. She gets an extra wordy PR e-mail from Gourai's manufacturer and her eyes glaze over. I feel you, Ao.
Lastly, we should probably get to the elephant in the room here. My initial hope was that this would be a revisit of Angelic Layer. The obvious monetary motives killed that almost as quickly as the opening theme shot of robot-doll panties. The fanservice is what it is, it's pretty tame compared to some of the shows released each season. They couldn't leave it at that though. They had to make the robots children. I don't mean that in a physical development sense, but in a mental aptitude sense. Gourai explains to Ao that she has the mental equivalency of a 10-year-old. Why the staff decided they had to reference it that way, I don't know. It's not like there's some sketchy story that have to adhere to, the entire thing is built around merchandise. You can have your panty robots, your orgasm joke, and have the “learning via interaction” software plot beat without bringing kids into it.
Ao even brings it up again when she tells Gourai that all her questioning reminded her of when she was a kid. Yeah, Ao, but your mom probably let you wear pants.
So the very first shot of the opener is a panty shot. That usually tells you something about what to expect about the nature of the series, but in this case it's a little misleading. Aside from wearing skirts so short that panties frequently show, there is no other fan service to the first episode. (And Gourai emphatically insists in the Next Episode preview that it's actually part of a body suit and not panties, but I'm not buying that any more than Ao does.) This doesn't give the feel of being a major fan service title, either.
What it does give the feel of is an advertisement for a model kit line – pretty blatantly, in fact – which is to be expected given that it is, indeed, based on a model kit line. The first episode even expounds at length about the best-quality nippers to be used for cutting out the pieces of equipment for Gourai. That a high school girl is the owner/master is quite an unusual choice for this kind of thing, as model kits in general are typically aimed at boys and this kind of figures seem especially attuned towards male owners; if you broaden the context out to a meta level for anime, male protagonists are far more commonly associated with miniature female characters, too, especially ones that are supposed to be advanced robots or androids. It could be a marketing ploy to get more girls involved with the kits, but that seems at odds with the whole panty-flashing thing.
Whatever the case is there, the first episode is a pretty mundane example of its type. The miniature characters and their circumstances are introduced to the protagonist (and the audience), basic personalities are established, and there's a fight scene involving the characters being transported into some kind of virtual space for a duel. The personality types are standard so far: white-haired Gourai is the businesslike one who's learning about emotions, blue-haired Stylet is the prideful and energetic one, and Baselard is the sleepy one, while Ao is the classic chipper, mediocre student living on her own due to parents being overseas. The CG animation used for the Frame Arm Girls (and especially their battle scenes) is a bit better than the norm and definitely multiple steps up from what's seen in Alice & Zoroku. The artistry in general is pretty good but, again, not a stand-out. The one place where the episode shows some definite extra effort is with the crow vs. delivery drone business, which makes for a pretty good joke the second time around.
Clearly Gourai is going to prove to be something exceptional in the realm of Frame Arm Girls, but whether the series is going beyond that isn't clear. That leaves me ambivalent about whether or not the series is worth following, hence the middle-of-the-road rating; there's no real turn-off factor, here, but not a lot to get enthusiastic about, either.
Some shows like to conceal their true natures, hiding either their tone or their narrative thrust in order to facilitate some kind of future twist. Other shows throw it all out there from the start, opening with a statement of purpose that's clear and unambiguous. Frame Arms Girls falls squarely into the second camp. Opening with a shot of a tiny girl's panty-clad butt and plastic armor, it promises exactly two things: fanservice of cute girls and fanservice of plastic models.
There is extremely little to get out of Frame Arms Girls if you don't have a vested interest in fanservice, model kits, or both. The show's premise is a transparent excuse to combine the two - Frame Arms Girls are tiny AI girls equipped with classic mecha-style weapons, who must be carefully assembled in order to fight each other. Our heroine Ao acquires three Frame Arms Girls over the course of this episode, and receives a variety of lectures on proper model assembly procedures. Suffering from dull comedy, predictable and slow narrative turns, and a totally arbitrary and stakes-bereft premise, Frame Arms Girls offers pretty much nothing outside of its model kit fascination and consistent panty shots.
Frame Arms Girls is also held down by its poor visual execution. The show's traditional animation is very conservative, its aesthetic bland, and its titular characters animated through very shoddy CG. Not only do the Frame Arms Girls’ CG models make it hard to find the show appealing even on its own terms, but the choice to stick with CG doesn't even seem to pay off in terms of fight choreography. This episode's closing fight is visually and tactically boring, even when you leave aside the fact that there's no sense of stakes or urgency.
There are some bright spots here, but they're mostly just small incidental choices. I liked Ao's consistent lack of enthusiasm at the prospect of dealing with model kits, and I also found it funny how the show immediately dove into questions of the Frame Arms Girls’ humanity, and how their method of learning from human behavior is much like how human children learn as well. But overall, Frame Arms Girls does very little to rise above its fundamental “fanservice plus model kits” pitch, and isn't a particularly inspiring dose of fanservice or model kits either.
I don't automatically dislike all model tie-in anime series, but I can't say I'm ever excited for them. Frame Arms Girl is a good example of why. When unsuspecting high school student Ao receives a mysterious package via drone delivery and it contains a “Frame Arms Girl,” a tiny little robot battle Barbie with the stated intelligence of a ten-year-old thanks to its “Artificial Self” (AS) system, you know precisely where this is heading: she's somehow randomly been chosen to test some new battle game toy which will quickly take over her life and eventually spread to all of her friends like a virus on a cruise ship. In this first episode Ao ends up with three of the supposedly adorable/sexy little suckers, a rate of accumulation that makes me a little nervous about how many of them there will end up being. (As many as they can sell, I'd imagine…)
Cynicism aside, there are some good aspects to this episode. Ao is not all that keen on the Frame Arms Girls’ entry into her life, in part because Gourai, the initial one, bosses her around almost immediately upon awakening. Little does Ao suspect when she accidentally activates Gourai, but now she has to assemble her armor (after cutting them from their plastic frame with the appropriate tool, naturally) and teach Gourai about emotions so that her AS can grow. Ao is definitely not down for this, and watching her try to skimp on the armor assembly and get fed up with Gourai is a nice touch. (In fact, when the next two girls show up on her doorstep, Ao is all set to just let them languish in their shipping boxes until after school.) Later it turns out that she didn't pay a whole lot of attention to the whole assemblage bit and as a result Gourai's gun doesn't function properly, a good piece of realism for a girl who is clearly not thrilled with what's going on. She does start to get more into as the episode goes on, but the fact that she's not immediately overcome with enthusiasm makes this a little more palatable.
But then there's the fanservice. Both Gourai and Stylet (clearly pronounced like “stiletto,” which is interesting) wear skirts so short that their striped fetish underwear is visible at all times, which adds a bit of an uncomfortable note to the show. Up until that point, this might have been to encourage girls to play with figures and more stereotypically masculine games; the underwear coupled with Baselard's Playboy Bunny getup and the moan Gourai lets out when Ao plugs her in suggest otherwise. The fact that they're supposed to be ten in terms of intelligence/emotion makes it even more uncomfortable.
I can't say that I found a lot in Frame Arms Girl’s first episode to make me want to watch more. With its odd choice of CG for the Girls’ faces (something about Gourai's looks disproportionate as well) and cookie-cutter storyline, along with the vaguely discomfiting fanservice, about all this seems to have going for it are Ao's personality and that one scene in the opening with the Girls riding a cat. I hope that subsequent episodes prove me wrong, but right now I can't say that I'll be watching to find out.
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