The Winter 2020 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
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How was the first episode?
Outside of it's mostly passable production values, Plunderer has all the hallmarks of a truly awful show: A dumb-as-bricks premise that doesn't even seem make sense to the characters that are living through it, some truly cringe-inducing efforts to play off a creepy sex pest as some kind of hero, and dialogue that literally forced me to pause in the middle of the episode to take a break on account of how bad it was. In fact, I can actually pinpoint the exact scene in Plunderer's premiere that cemented it as one of the all-time worst that I've ever had to cover for Preview Guide. It wasn't the tonal mess of an opening, which showed our protagonist Hina tearfully watch her mother get swallowed up by Generic Anime Arm Monsters before flashing forward to a completely casual scene of adult Hina getting molested by a weirdo in a mask while she washed her feet. It wasn't even the scene that immediately followed, wherein Hina desperately tries to escape from the sex offender in the weird mask before laughing it all off like an innocent schoolyard prank.
No, the moment that earned Plunderer its PhD in Horribleness was the extended info-dump that Hina gets from the conspicuously busy woman named Nana, who has the number 77 emblazoned on her breasts (because where else would they be?). In this scene, Nana spends an extended period of time explaining to Hina the extraordinarily lame conceit of this entire fantasy world, which sees every human being assigned some…thing that will magically be tallied via the numbers on their bodies for all time – the higher the number, the more status and power you have, to the point that you can literally order around anybody with a lower number than you like a slave, or something. For Nana, her number goes up and down based on the compliments or complaints she gets about the food served at her restaurant.
There are too many gaps in logic and reason within this system for me to get into here, but that isn't even the worst part. The show explains that Hina grew up isolated with her mother, but even so, I found it impossible to believe that Hina could be completely ignorant to this number that is literally etched onto her skin, which represents the structure of the world's entire social system – not to mention the fact that letting the number go to zero means you get dragged to hell for all eternity. Then, after Nana spends what feels like an eternity reviewing this concept, Hina just giggles and says, “Oh yeah! My numbers count the kilometers I've walked!” So, she knew what the number on her leg counted, and she cannot possibly have ignored the fact that these numbers exist for every other human on the planet…she just never once bothered to learn about what that meant until now?
You can imagine the audible sounds of my brain short circuiting when I realized that this entire conversation was an utterly meaningless waste of time that exists only because Plunderer thinks its audience can't be trusted to understand a plot this stupid unless it shoves the information down their throats with a giant rubber hose. We haven't even gotten to the second half of the episode, yet, which devolves into a slurry of even more inane plot and dialogue that gets mashed up against even more lecherous fanservice. Make no mistake: At no point in this rambling, incoherent premiere did Plunderer even come close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. I award it no points, and may God have mercy on its soul.
I've watched a whole lot of anime, but I believe Plunderer may have the unique distinction of having the stupidest world-building conceit I've ever seen. And believe me, that's saying something - I've watched a show whose premise was “what if the most powerful scissors met the most uncuttable hair,” so it takes a whole lot of stupidity to phase me.
Plunderer's conceit is that in its world, everyone possesses a number etched somewhere on their body (generally shoulders or arms for men, and of course crotches or boobs for women). This number goes up when they succeed in doing a certain Thing, which is different for each person and seemingly entirely arbitrary. If they fail at Thing, their number goes down, and if it gets to zero, they are immediately yanked underground. At the same time, anyone with a lower number must obey any command of someone with a higher number, meaning society is run by whoever happens to be very good at fulfilling a particularly forgiving number task.
Plunderer relays this convoluted, unbelievable, and just-plain-stupid world-building over the course of a sequence that visually focuses on a groper being kicked around a group of screaming women. The heroine Hina's own number is placed on her upper inner thigh, meaning that tearful reflections on her mother's death are accompanied by shots of the camera zooming in on her crotch. And even Hina's own number task underlines the convoluted stupidity of this system - her number is attached to “kilometers walked,” meaning it can only go up, because how can you un-walk a kilometer?
But really, even digging into the profound laziness of this show's silly conceit is giving it too much credit. This first episode was stuffed with unconvincing, poorly written exposition, heavy on creepy, predatory fanservice, and absolutely bereft of any likable characters or narrative hooks. By its end, it expects us to sympathize with the first character whose personality is “I molest women,” because he's less aggressive than the second character whose personality is “I molest women.” Lacking in any impressive production values, and alternating between repulsive and simply stupid in its narrative, Plunderer is the season's worst show so far.
You ever get the feeling that a certain aspect of a story exists for a reason other than stated? That's Plunderer's game at least in part. Nominally everyone in the series' world has a number somewhere on their bodies as part of the world-building – it counts something specific to each person and the idea is to get it to go up rather than down so as to survive. There's even a semi-decent argument to be made for where they're placed on the body having to do with what they're counting – Hina's is on her leg because she counts distance walked, Nana's is on her chest because compliments are supposed to be from the heart, etc. But when you consider how many times someone tries to pry Hina's legs apart to get a look at the number on her inner thigh, you have to stop and wonder if the rest of it isn't all just a well-crafted excuse.
That's the main highlight (so to speak) of this episode, really – the sheer number of times someone, usually a man, tries to open Hina's legs. While this doesn't have to be a sexual gesture, the show goes out of its way to make sure that we know it's meant to be, from framing Licht (a character manga readers will know is the main male protagonist) as the resident pervert to David preying on unsuspecting young women with his pretty face and a stuck-on white star. Nana's exposed breasts are just sort of there in the grand scheme of things – it's Hina and her thighs that are clearly meant to be the draw of the show. (Do we give them bonus points for tentacle hands?) While this perhaps isn't entirely unexpected given the provenance of the series – based on the manga of the same name from the creator of Gou-dere Sora Nagihara and Heaven's Lost Property – it is more aggressively played than is entirely comfortable.
It's a shame, because while there certainly are generic fantasy aspects to the story, there's also some really intriguing points. The idea that people are dragged down into something called The Abyss when they reach zero speaks of some higher, or at least other, power that may be running the world for its own ends, especially since one line makes it seem like going into The Abyss does not necessarily equate to dying. Nana commenting that Hina uses kanji to write her name might be indicative of a past apocalypse, meaning that this is actually Earth, as does the fact that Licht wears a Noh mask; the fact that these two things exist together makes it feel very deliberate. Just what the War of the Wastes was and Licht's use of the plural for Aces is another piece of what could be a very interesting puzzle if the show decides to tone down the sexual aggression angle and let the plot sell itself. This isn't great shakes right now, but depending on where it goes, it could turn out to be more worthwhile than it at first appears.
In some regards this debut episode reminded me of The Seven Deadly Sins, as it has a somewhat similar set-up: the female protagonist is on a journey to find a legendary hero and encounters a man who is a skeevy sexual harasser and seeming all-around loser. When she gets in dire trouble, the pervert reveals himself to be the very hero that she was looking for. The problem here, at least for now, is that Licht doesn't display half of the charm that Meliodas did in the same time frame. But at least Licht has one point in his favor: even if he regards Hina's quest as misguided, he's emphatic that her effort should not be mocked. The kabuki mask was an interesting choice as well.
Beyond that, what's been revealed about the underlying concept so far is an intriguing variation on the occasionally-used sci-fi/fantasy concept of a count on a person's body which numbers their days or years. That the count could be connected to all kind of different activities raises a myriad of possibilities, though the mechanics are fuzzy so far; at what age does that count take effect, for instance? Is what raises the count something the person intrinsically knows, or do they have to discover it via trial and error? Or is it automatically keyed to an activity that the person is involved with? Connecting a high count to social status is also an interesting concept, though I could easily see it being problematic in execution, especially if the activity which raises the count is a socially unacceptable one. The particulars of a Star Stake also seem so loosely-defined as to be open to abuse – which is, I suppose, the point of why the soldier forces Hina into it – and it seems to be based more on social expectation than a compulsion, which can make it hard to enforce. That Hina seems to understand what her Count means without knowing about Counts in general (especially given how much she has traveled) also seems unlikely.
A bigger problem for some may be that the treatment of Hina gets is more sexually aggressive than some viewers may be comfortable with. The first episode makes it plain that fan service in general is going to be part of the picture, which isn't necessarily a problem on its own, but the lead soldier's ultimate intentions towards Hina are quite clear and the visuals seem oddly fascinated with spreading Hina's legs in a suggestive fashion. Hina's count being on her upper inner thigh (it falls at miniskirt cutoff level) just encourages less savory camera angles as well.
The base concept here is interesting enough that I'm willing to give the series another episode or two to prove itself, but with technical merits, character types, and plotting so far all being typical, the series is going to have to distinguish itself more to win me over for the long term.
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