The Fall 2021 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Tesla Note ?
What is this?
"Mission T" is a shadow war of spies and secret intelligence waged to prevent the world's destruction. The story follows Botan Negoro, who has trained as a ninja since childhood, and has grown to become a talented spy. She teams up with Kuruma, a spy who has a flair for theatrics, in a new mission with the world at stake: to retrieve the "Tesla Crystal," the "legacy" of genius Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla. But other countries and their agents are already moving to secure the Tesla Crystal, and Botan and Kuruma will have to use all their wit to outsmart them.
How was the first episode?
On the surface, Tesla Note appears to be just the kind of insanity I can get behind. I mean, the backstory is literally that Nikola Tesla left behind a number of crazy sci-fi inventions and, before he died, tasked a Japanese ninja with stopping them if they went out of control. Now, that ninja's granddaughter is on a mission to Norway hunting for a device that can teleport objects miles away, which is being used with disastrous results.
While most of the characters are milquetoast stereotypes, Botan—our ninja Japanese schoolgirl—is rather endearing. A badass in a fight, her general excitement about the whole story not being something her grandad made up in a fit of dementia is rather infectious. Watching her adventures could be a lot of fun—you know, if it weren't for the fact that this anime is a total mess visually.
Now to be clear, I don't have anything against 3D anime. While I prefer the traditional 2D look, 3D animation, partial or otherwise, is in no way a deal-breaker for me. However, as a general rule, I do expect any anime that uses both to merge them into a single cohesive visual style.
That is not the case with Tesla Note. Some scenes are 2D animated. Some 3D animated. Some contain both 3D and 2D. And to be clear, I don't mean that the cars or machinery or something are 3D while the background and characters are 2D, I mean that 3D animated characters are standing next to 2D animated characters. Heck, even the 3D animation is not uniform in quality. Some of it is clearly just unedited motion capture data, making the characters look like VTuber knock-offs rather than actual anime characters.
What's even worse is there is no consistency in which animation is used where. The film Eureka Seven: Hi - Evolution: Anemone used three types of animation: 3D animation signified the past, widescreen 2D animation the present, and reused 4:3 animation from the TV series depicts events in a different world. In this way, budget constraints were turned into a creative visual shorthand for the storytelling. In Tesla Note, on the other hand, the style of animation is changed randomly and without warning. The clash of styles is jarring and looks terrible.
So while I may check out the original manga on this one, I can't imagine watching another episode of the anime.
After all the fuss about Tesla Note being the next EX-ARM, I'm almost disappointed by how not-incompetent this episode was. It certainly wasn't good by any stretch of the imagination, but it wasn't the utter shitshow on every level that EX-ARM was. Plus, the story was actually pretty solidly fun.
But let's talk about the animation first, because that's the part that had everyone talking. Tesla Note is primarily CG, spliced with some two-dimensional animation here and there, including sometimes switching mid-shot. Neither looks good; the CG is awkward and stiff and looks at least a decade out of date, and the 2D animation is extremely limited. When the two coexist within the same shot, they look like they aren't even on the same plane of existence. The background extras switch between the two styles, and the CG ones are particularly nightmarish nondescript blobs.
There are a few unusual choices around switching between the styles. One of the big problems with CG anime is how limited their facial expressions are. When characters' faces are based on rigs rather than drawing, their features can't really stretch and deform in the way necessary for exaggerated reactions. To work around this, there are a couple of moments where Botan and Kuruma switch to being hand-drawn for the express purpose of those reaction shots. I can't say it totally works — I'd rather they just use hand-drawn to begin with — but it's at least interesting.
The plot is pretty boilerplate science fiction action: MacGuffin causes chaos, team of hypercompetent agents must capture said MacGuffin, often trying to outsmart rival hypercompetent agents. In this case, the MacGuffin is the “Tesla Crystal,” a creation of the inventor Nicola Tesla that causes… things… to happen, like train cars warping through space to disappear from their tracks and crash land in the middle of a street miles away. The team is the Japan Safety and Promotion Company, led by the teenage ninja girl Botan and the super-spy Kuruma. There's no long setup, and the script keeps the jargon to a minimum, preferring to just jump right into the action. It's not the most intelligent writing, but I had fun.
Botan is an acceptable protagonist. Her grandfather has been training her for this since she was a little girl, so naturally she's competent at the job and takes everything in stride. Her partner Kuruma, however, I wanted to punt into the sun. He's loud and unpleasant, demeaning the much more competent Botan from the very start and simultaneously arrogant about his own abilities until his bitching and complaining leads him to make a mistake that almost gets them killed. The subtitles add a misogynistic note to his complaints that wasn't present in the Japanese, calling her a “chick” when she talks about getting some waffles after their mission is done.
I will not be recommending Tesla Note, here or to anyone else. I will not be watching more of it either. But at least it wasn't the worst premiere I watched today.
Stop right there, punk. I know what you're about to do. You're about to say this show looks nearly as bad as EX-ARM, aren't you? Don't lie to me. But I know your game too. You didn't actually sit yourself down to watch that whole slow-motion trainwreck of a production. You laughed at out-of-context GIFs on Twitter and maybe watched a youtube video roasting it. I, on the other hand, watched that whole miserable slog of an aborted TV show and am thus uniquely qualified to actually compare Tesla Note to 2021's ultimate anime punchline. And as the foremost expert on EX-ARM, I can say with confidence that this show is nowhere near that bad.
It's still awful, mind you. It's a poorly constructed mess of a 3DCG production that clearly had neither the time, resources, or expertise necessary to make anything it's trying to do work on a TV budget. It's easily the worst thing I've watched so far this season and not likely to be dethroned too quickly. There are plenty of amateurish sequences that horribly breach the border between its 3D character models and the 2D background characters that will make for great jokes on social media. It's extremely fortuitous that the first thing to happen on screen is a literal sci-fi trainwreck, because that's exactly what this entire production is. But it's still leagues more competent than anything EX-ARM ever accomplished, and we need to keep that in perspective when talking about it, if only for the sake of healthy discourse. This is a garbage show, no doubt, but it is still categorically superior to one of the worst things to ever be called anime.
For one, the characters are at least capable of complex facial expressions. They're rarely used well, and are more often just flapping jaws delivering this show's weak excuse for exposition, but they are theoretically able to create a discernible facsimile of the human face. The mocapped movement is jittery and clashes constantly with the static backgrounds and traditionally animated mob characters, but they do at least move and gesticulate. The action scenes are poorly choreographed messes that try to compensate for a lack of impact with slow-mo close-ups, but at least there's no smoke filter over the screen to mask terrible digital compositing. There's never been a time where Tesla Note would be a good-looking show, for certain, but this could have been a competent tech demo around 2003. It just came 18 years too late and is attached to a ridiculously thin sci-fi premise.
Make no mistake, this isn't a hidden gem being buried by a misguided production. The characters, plot, and setting are pure nonsense thrown together like sci-fi adventure ad-libs at best. You have a teenage girl trained as a super ninja by her grandfather, who joins a private international investigator and a flashy 20-something secret agent to hunt down science crystals left by Nikola Tesla that keep causing interdimensional car accidents. They spend the entire episode bickering and trading what's supposed to be clever dialogue but is in fact painfully underwritten attempts at breaking the fourth wall. The story is so silly it borders on parody, held together as flimsily as the car line this show shares a name with. It's a mess, and no amount of polished animation would have saved it.
So yeah, this is a bad show. Possibly the worst thing this season! But I'm not letting any of you rewrite history here, especially not when I had to bleed for it. That said, I'm still giving it half a star because there's no way I'm letting you chucklefucks vote this in for a hatewatch review.
It's rare when an anime gives you the impression that it is literally being made up as it goes along, from scene to scene, but by golly, that's exactly what I got out of Tesla Note. So far as I can tell, it is the debut series from Studio Gambit, and boy does it show. Even before we dive into the story, such as it is, the first thing that will stand out to viewers is Tesla Note's use of CGI animation for its characters. Well…most of them. The background characters are sometimes animated in the traditional two dimensions, but sometimes they aren't, and it is impossible to discern how and why the choice for either medium is made.
Either way, regardless of whether it is 2D or 3D, the animation in Tesla Note is bad. Really bad. When the characters are moving, it is with all the grace and subtlety of the early seasons of RWBY, and that might even be too generous. When they aren't moving, they very literally don't move a single millimeter; like many other modern anime studios, Gambit has apparently failed to learn the most basic lesson of CG animation, which is that the shortcuts and cheap tricks that you can use to get by in 2D animation simply do not work the same in 3D. When 3D models stand as still as statues in the background of a scene, or when 2D models are frozen solid in the same shot as their 3D counterparts, it ruins any illusion of life and motion that the audience might have been investing in.
Sadly, even if Tesla Note weren't absolutely painful to look at, it isn't like the script was ever going to be its saving grace. Most of this premiere is exposition, and it's all nonsense that establishes the destructive capabilities of Nikola Tesla's crystal thingies while introducing our main characters. Our female protagonist is Botan Negoro, a teenage super ninja who was raised by her ridiculous grandfather to save the world from Nikola Tesla's Big Whoopsie. She can do all sorts of ninja movies, instantaneously read the lips of people speaking in almost any language, and she somehow has the ability to magically create a disguise out of thin air using nothing but a wig and…hope, I guess? Then there's Kuruma, an asshole who is useless at literally everything he does. He accomplishes absolutely nothing in this premiere, and I have no idea why he's here.
Why did Nikola Tesla make these horrifying storage cubes that are apparently wreaking havoc throughout the world? Why does the fate of the world rest on the two most ridiculous bozos on the planet? Why does Tesla Note look so damned ugly? I don't know, and I can't say that I care too much. If you need any more evidence for how dumb Tesla Note is, how about this: At one point, Botan the Ninja Girl finds herself in a train that is overflowing with melty corpses and death. A man falls from the roof of the train, his flesh sloughing off his bones, his voice a gurgling wail of despair and suffering. Seeing this, Botan bends down and calmly asks, “Are you okay?”
Tesla Note might make for a good prank to recommend to people that you especially dislike. Otherwise, there is no earthly reason that anyone should waste their time with it.
I didn't have particularly high expectations coming into this, first because of the very jarring opening scene where our heroine Botan is noticeably rendered in 3D animation while all of her background classmates are traditionally done in 2D, but also because the game Gakthun of the Golden Lightening basically ruined all other anime Teslas for me. (Maybe I shouldn't be admitting to that.) But while I wasn't blown away by Tesla Note's first episode, I did end up enjoying it a lot more than I anticipated, and it looks like it could be a solid sci-fi spy caper.
The visuals are, unquestionably, one of the things most likely to create a stir. While no scenes are quite as visually disconnected as the opening one of Botan leaving school, the mix of styles for the characters is very noticeable and not always visually comfortable. Most often we see it happen in crowd scenes, where the main characters are in 3D and the background characters are in 2D, but there is one argument between Botan and her reluctant partner Kuruma where they suddenly shift, possibly due to the nature of the exaggerated facial expressions they're making. But while that can feel odd, other scenes are striking; the inside of the wrecked train filled with the bodies of passengers, skin sloughing off and luggage compartments melted, is some very nicely done horror. When the sole surviving passenger drops through the ceiling, looking half-zombified with a brick in his skull, it's scarier than most of Mieruko-chan's first episode. (Or maybe that's just me.) It's not quite Phineas Gage-level stuff, but it is, to put it mildly, alarming.
It's also a chance for Botan to show the range of her talents. Raised by her ninja master grandfather, she's been recruited by an intelligence agency to figure out what happened when a train en route to Oslo, Norway suddenly shot out through a wormhole into the streets of the city. Botan's grandfather, and therefore Botan, suspect that the incident involves a Tesla Fragment, a crystal left behind by the great inventor Nikola Tesla containing one of his inventions. Before his death, he asked Grandpa to look out for them, which is why now seventeen-year-old Botan is on the case. (Since Tesla died seventy years before the show starts, Grandpa's pretty old.) When a car and later a truck also show up in Oslo through wormholes, it's starting to look like someone got ahold of one specific Fragment and is using it for their own, presumably nefarious, purposes.
That's a solid premise for the show to turn on, and if Botan's partner Kuruma seems, despite his boasts, like the world's worst secret agent and is annoying to boot, well, at least she frequently calls him out for things like referring to her as “a chick.” I'm curious if Norwegian police officer Erik is going to turn out to be a recurring character in the Zenigata vein, since he's not only got a name but shows up at two different accident sites, and I'm a bit concerned about the blond guy at the end (he seems like he could be obnoxious), but overall I think this has potential. I don't love the art, but I'm willing to get used to it for a good story, which this may turn out to have.
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