The Fall 2021 Preview Guide
Ancient Girl's Frame
How would you rate episode 1 of
Ancient Girl's Frame ?
What is this?
The science-fiction story is set at the end of the 21st century in a world invaded by Nergal, giant lifeforms from space. Reika Minamiya, the protagonist who joins the anti-Nergal AG unit to find her missing-in-action older sister, becomes the pilot of an ancient humanoid robot known as "G's Flame." Along with her fellow recruits, she overcomes her anxieties and turmoil as she comes of age.
How was the first episode?
Ancient Girl's Frame's greatest sin in its first episode is being a checklist show. It's got a Chosen One with a tragic past (bonus points for that past involving both her father and her dead sister), a mysterious threat from outer space that looks vaguely like a sea creature, mecha that choose their masters, a bitter young commander scarred by the loss of a friend, a snippy young commander upset that our heroine was chosen over her, a genius who looks about seven years old, mysterious futuristic technology…heck, it's even got a mascot character in the form of Bororo, Reika/Xingdao's pet round flying robot. Oh, and let's not forget the idol aspect, which at this point is only mentioned briefly and hopefully will be relegated to bitter young commander Judith's past so we don't end up in another PuraOre situation. But I'm not holding my breath.
What all of this basically boils down to is that Ancient Girl's Frame feels less written and more cut-and- pasted from a list of popular themes and tropes. Many of those are popular for a reason, so this doesn't have to be a bad thing – after all, where would speculative fiction be without chosen ones? But others seem to be shoehorned into the episode so that they could say that all boxes had been ticked. Is there a reason for our genius to be a white-haired child with limited affect? Possibly, given the title, but she still feels like someone we see in every other show. Likewise, the oceanic lifeform living in space is a bit overdone, although I suppose it's less laughable than some other options; I can't quite imagine anyone being able to take, for example, chickens in space particularly seriously. So, the issue isn't so much that the episode is introducing so many clichéd elements as it is that there isn't much reason for all of them to be there. And if there is, perhaps spreading out their introduction more would have been a better route to take.
Underneath all of this, we have the very basic story of humanity being under threat from Nergal (occasionally spelled “nargal” in the subs), space jellyfish who, I would guess, feed on the newest energy source that humanity has developed, DG, standing for “divine grace.” DG, developed in large part by Reika's father, has replaced electricity, but he also blames it for the death of Reiu, his older daughter. Reiu was a member of an elite fighting force of adolescent girls, the Ancient Girls, and she died fighting. Whether her unit was powered by DG or the invention of DG simply called the Nergal to attack humanity isn't clear, but either way, Reiu and Reika's parents have zero intention of letting their younger child follow in her sister's footsteps. Unfortunately for them, Reika sneaks out to a recruitment test, and although she fails, she's still chosen by a mech, and that's pretty much that.
It is interesting that the show is available in both Japanese and Mandarin, with simulcast episodes first being available in the latter. That's because this is another Japanese/Chinese co-production, and I do think I preferred the Mandarin dub, although there's nothing wrong with the Japanese version. There's nothing overtly wrong with anything here, really – it looks fine, sounds fine, and doesn't have glaring plot holes. It just also isn't anything new or interesting, and its effort to throw all its tropes and themes in at the start makes it feel less than it otherwise might.
Ancient Girl's Frame is not a terrible anime, and I could see some diehard fans of giant robots and alien invasion anime getting a kick out of it. I love both of those genres too, and while the complete lack of originality in the show's premise and execution doesn't earn it any points, Ancient Girl's Frame at least has the decency to not be horribly boring. Reika is a likeable enough heroine, too, and I think her friendship with Misaki has a lot of fun story potential; Arhena Hakim is another addition to the cast that seems like she'll bring some charm and energy to the proceedings. If you're willing to overlook the series' artistic shortcomings, it might be a worthwhile addition to this season's “filler" pile of backup shows, the ones you put on while you're folding laundry or sorting stacks of old mail (provided you don't need to read the subtitles to understand what is going on, of course).
For me, though, those artistic failings proved to be too distracting and numerous to overcome, putting Ancient Girl's Frame in the category of an anime that I don't want to watch specifically because I don't want to watch it. This is a Chinese-Japanese co-production coming to us from Seven Stone Studios and they have plenty of credits to their name when it comes to series from countries, but the production for Ancient Girl's Frame just comes across as amateurish, and not just because of the awkward lip flaps or off-model characters. Shots of the robots or Nergal aliens that should be positioned at a medium distance are either pulled back too far or pulled in too close, and they lack the sense of perspective that would properly communicate the size-scale of the machines or the creatures. In any given shot, Reika or some other focal point will seem just a little bit out of frame, with too much dead space to one side or another. Cuts will last for a beat or two too long, and scenes will shift from one to the other with hardly any sense of meaningful transition.
The cumulative effect is that of a local theater company attempting to put on a big-budget showstopper despite their meager resources; you admire their gumption, but one of the surest signs of good direction is when a production is aware of its limits, and finds creativity within its constraints. Ancient Girl's Frame is what happens when an earnest C-tier anime tries to punch above its weight. It is neither bad enough to be ironically enjoyable, nor good enough to provide a genuinely satisfying half hour of entertainment. It's a passable effort, maybe, but not one worth revisiting any time soon.
It honestly surprises me how much I disliked this premiere. It's not due to ineptitude in the animation (it actually looks perfectly fine) nor is it mind-numbingly boring. The big problem here is the story and how it is put together.
I'd say that this show has no idea what it wants to be, but that's not it either; on the contrary, it wants to be everything at the same time. Ancient Girl's Frame uses the shotgun approach to storytelling: it tries to hit as many popular tropes as possible in the hopes of drawing in the maximum amount of people. This feels highly cynical to me as a viewer—it doesn't feel like I'm watching a work of art so much as a passionless cash grab. Not to mention that by trying to do so many different things at once, the story is chaotic and borderline nonsensical.
I mean, in this episode alone, Ancient Girl's-Frame has a space battle, an alien invasion, an idol competition, some cute-girls-doing-cute-things, a mecha pilot origin story, and family drama over joining the army. Worse still, I have no idea how any of these elements fit together. The show feels like it's just copying what has come before without any effort towards implementing them in interesting ways. It's two parts Macross, one part Aquarion, and one part Gundam (I mean, the mecha are literally called “G's Frames").
Character development for our protagonist likewise gets the shotgun treatment. She is the daughter of the creator of a new energy source whose sister is an ace pilot who disappeared. She, herself, wants to be a singer in the army (and to find her missing sister) but ends up piloting an ancient magical mecha that has been buried in the Earth for centuries—only to find out that the aliens aren't responsible for her missing sister; the army is (which she blames on her father for some reason). That's a lot for 22 minutes. There is no time for any of the emotional beats to hit before she's rushed off to the next. It all comes off as little more than white noise.
All in all, this show feels like someone was told to make a “popular anime” so they just went in and copied what was popular at random. The result is something that is both chaotic and devoid of passion. I felt equal parts confused and insulted while watching it. Perhaps, down the line, it will have its own unique twist that sets it apart, but there is nothing like that to be found in this first episode.
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