The Summer 2017 Anime Preview Guide Battle Girl High School
How would you rate episode 1 of
Battle Girl High School ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
I suppose I can't really hold it against Battle Girl High School that it isn't exactly Symphogear. With its fourth season just having begun and awaiting a streaming announcement, there's nothing I want to be watching more than Symphogear right now - it's the gold standard of Nanoha-style magical girl action shows, and a terrific franchise in general. But even if it weren't being released right under the shadow of its far superior comparison point, Battle Girl High School would not be a particularly inspiring entry in the genre. Battle Girl High School is gray, flavorless action magical girl paste.
Battle Girl High School's first problem is its cast. We start off by meeting Miki, who uses a sword to fight the generic videogame enemy Irous, but she and her two friends are quickly joined by close to twenty other similarly powered girls. This incredibly overstuffed cast means pretty much every character here is reduced to one line and a broad archetype, making it impossible to care about any of them. And this episode lacks the close focus to even begin to mitigate that issue, making the ensemble as transparent of a “pick your favorite design” setup as possible.
It also doesn't help that the story here is both simplistic and not terribly exciting. The big conflict of this first episode is “the magical girls are fighting somewhat worse than they used to,” something which never actually results in any consequences, and which doesn't really inspire audience excitement. The Irous monsters they fight are all dispatched without effort, and the fights aren't given any other stakes. Pretty much everyone in this series doesn't seem particularly invested in their own story, and the biggest character conflict we receive is “two girls in slack-off after school clubs don't want their clubs to be shut down, so they're grumpy.”
Finally, Battle Girl High School also just looks bad. The character designs are generic, there's almost no animation, and the fight scenes are basically just a series of groundless explosions and one-attack charges. The “idol performance” that's contrasted against the first lousy fight scene features basically no dancing at all, with the two singers mostly just standing in place and pointing at each other. The mediocre visual execution and poor storytelling mean Battle Girl High School's theoretical highlights, its fight scenes, are actually just tedious - with nothing to be dazzled by and nothing to be invested in, they simply fill minutes. From its conception to its storytelling to its execution, there's not really anything to recommend in Battle Girl High School.
How can a series with “battle” in the title have such a dull premiere? I'd be tempted to say that it's due to being based on a cell phone game, but yesterday Touken Ranbu (and other examples from past seasons) showed that that's no excuse for a mediocre show. And Battle Girls High School's first episode is nothing if not mediocre. The premise, that the girls of Shinjugamine High School are sort of magical girls who fight Irous, which are sadly not R.O.U.S.es powered by Apple but instead translucent monster mechs, is interesting enough, especially when you consider that the school has at least the word “shinju,” meaning lovers' suicide, in its name. (Can anyone confirm if the actual characters are used?) Given that there's a lot of potential yuri bait in the show, that could be an indication of a darker edge lurking somewhere in the future.
Sadly, that's not at all present in this episode. The story can't quite seem to decide if it wants to focus on the girls themselves and their (adorable) high school lives or if it wants to probe into their fighting, with the result that the storytelling feels unsettled. The plotline about the teachers worrying that the girls are growing complacent in battle, with the indication that they've been fighting Irous and winning for so long that they've lost their edge, has merit. Its implications speak of a backstory that would give the girls currently in high school a history of military accomplishment have potential, especially if they've never suffered a defeat or a loss and the story is going to change that. Regretfully the episode choses to deal with that by “training matches” that we basically don't see, and the overall glut of characters doesn't help to make us interested in any of them. There is an effort to showcase all of the standard types, but we see them so fleetingly that unless you're familiar with the game or have a very specific favorite anime girl trope, it's hard to feel interested in or attached to any of them.
Simply put, Battle Girls High School, in its effort to cover all things, ends up feeling like a surface-level pastiche of cute girl stories. With lackluster transformations, a surfeit of characters, and a random pop idol scene, to say nothing of dull character designs, about all this has going for it is the things it might have been. If that's not a sad statement, I don't know what is.
It's been exactly one day since I praised Katsugeki: Touken Ranbu for doing a good job of adapting a character collecting game into an entertaining and accessible show. How fitting, then, that Battle Girl High School has come along to provide a useful counterexample. This first episode dives headfirst into the same pitfalls that have plagued so many similar titles in previous seasons. It's a sensory overload of too many characters, an unfocused narrative, and an overwhelming sense that we've seen this same show too many times already.
Game adaptations often seemed determined to cram as many characters as possible into their opening episodes, no matter how badly it affects the story. Battle Girl High School suffers from this problem in the biggest possible way, throwing so many girls into its first action scene that it's difficult to count them all, let alone learn anything about them. As the episode's middle section jumps from one school life scene to another, it starts to feel like the characters are pushing one another out of the way just to get a few extra seconds of screen time. I can't say I openly disliked any of them, but that's largely because even the central trio of Miki, Haruka, and Subaru rarely stuck around for more than a minute at a time.
All of the rapid-fire introductions take a toll on the plot, which is a jumbled mess moment. We're told that the girls are starting to lose their edge in the aftermath of their last major battle, but it's hard to tell when the show doesn't give us any kind of baseline for how well they should be fighting. They certainly seem to be doing fine at the moment, as there's no real sense of danger in any of this episode's battle scenes. Two of the school's clubs are in danger of being shut down due to low membership, but there's no telling if this is going to be an important storyline or just a running joke. There's also a transfer student who thinks everyone else is lazy and incompetent, and for all I know she's right. There's just far too much going on for any of it to leave a lasting impression.
Battle Girl High School looks like the kind of adaptation that exists for the sole purpose of entertaining fans of its source material. My complaints will likely be less relevant for members of that intended audience who already have the expected level of background knowledge. For anyone who hasn't already played the game, just know that you'll have a lot of catching up to do for a story that may not be worth the trouble. It is what it is, so follow your instincts with this one.
At the very least, Battle Girl High School doesn't waste any time in letting you know what it's about. This is show about girls who do battle, and they also happen to be in high school. The generic title is especially appropriate in the case of this series, as this premiere doesn't really deliver anything of note beyond the limited title of its promise. Even now, only minutes after finishing the premiere, I'm honestly struggling to remember what happened, and which of the dozen characters were involved.
It's the overstuffed cast oversimplified premise that really kill this episode for me, and all of the other issues I have stem from these core issues. Here we have a cast of over a dozen young magical girls, and outside of their names and hair colors the only personality traits we get for any of them is that they are all varying degrees of cute. There's Miki, who seems to be the main protagonist of the bunch, but even then, all we get to know about her is that she is, perhaps, slightly cuter than the other girls. The show even does this weird thing where it takes the all-in battle that features every one of the girls that would usually serve as the climax of an episode, if not a full story arc, and tosses right into the beginning of the episode. This makes the episode feel more like the twenty-fifth episode of a season, instead of the first, and by the time the camera panned to the twelfth or thirteenth character I had given up any hope of actually learning who any of these girls are. This, more than anything, is the clearest sign of Battle Girl High School being an adaptation of a social media game. I suspect that the series just assumes that anyone watching will already have spent hours getting to know these characters online, and anyone unlucky enough to wander in unawares is simply left in the dust.
The weird placements of the action scenes aren't the only odd storytelling choice on display here. That fight is intercut with a musical performance of two idols that are friends with Miki, and who might also be magical girls themselves (though if I'm being honest, I had a very difficult time telling most of the girls apart). After this unexpected detour into idol musical territory, the show then spends most of its episode giving us some slice-of-life high school frivolity, before diving back into the action scenes again two thirds of the way through and then ending with the introduction of another magical girl. By the time the credits rolled, I felt like someone had just taken three separate anime and haphazardly spliced them together. I can appreciate the desire to mix and match the different genre conventions at play here, but that balancing act is very difficult to pull off when you have so many characters running around already.
Here's the bottom line: If all you want out of a series is to see girls who are in high school do battle with CG monsters, then this show might be for you. The animation works well enough, the action scenes are directed competently, and there is certainly a variety of girls to get attached to. Without a decent script, though, or any kind of genuinely interesting character writing, I can't help but feel that Battle Girl High School is little more than an expensive commercial.
Battle Girl is based on a mobile game which combines both a combat system and an affection system as a means to power up your girls, with the player taking the role of a male teacher (presumably represented by the one male character with speaking lines who appears in the first episode). In that game Miki is the starting character and Subaru and Haruka are the next two girls you can get, so there's no surprise about them being the featured trio. That being said, “featured” here only means that they get slightly more screen time than the vast volume of other girls introduced in this episode. In fact, the main goal of this episode seems to be to throw out as many characters from the game as possible instead of establishing any real storyline. Miki has an ominous dream at the beginning of the episode, and the newcomer arrives at the end who seems upset by the antics of the girls and them not taking the fights more seriously, but that's about it. Otherwise this episode is a mix of showing off the girls in combat against the Irous and generally behaving cutely.
In the absence of plot, the episode must then be judged on the girls, and in that regard it doesn't do much to stand out. The ones introduced so far are a typical array of appearance and personality types, with the only minor twist being that two of the girls actually are an idol duo. (Or at least suggestions are dropped that the featured idols are affiliated with the others.) Transformation sequences have a very magical girl-like flair, though given the weapons they manifest a better comparison might be My-Otome. The fights that they get in against the largely-unimpressive Irous are decent enough but, again, nothing exceptional, with more emphasis placed on style and personality displays than actually being thrilling. They also pack little real sense of danger and tension, but given the comments of teachers about the girls becoming complacent, that may be deliberate. The technical merits, though not bad, don't place this among the better efforts by studio SILVER LINK, so the series doesn't shine on that front, either.
One interesting tidbit dropped near the beginning suggests that in this setting humanity has returned to Earth after having to leave it for a time, but nothing is elaborated on that later in the episode. That and the initial dream give at least the hope that something intriguing will happen here, which is why I'm not rating this episode lower. However, it just doesn't do anything to distinguish itself an environment where there's no shortage of battle school series featuring loads of cute girls.
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