The Summer 2021 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Scarlet Nexus ?
What is this?
Solar calendar year 2020: grotesque organisms called Others have begun eating people. To take down this new enemy, the Other Suppression Force is formed. Saved by this elite team as a child, psychokinetic Yuito withstands the training to enlist. On the other hand, prodigy Kasane was scouted for her abilities. But Kasane's dreams tell her strange things, dragging the two into an unavoidable fate.
How was the first episode?
I feel like something went wrong in the planning department when it comes to the monsters in Scarlet Nexus. When the first Others appeared on the screen, my initial thought was, “Are those giant, evil root vegetables?”, which I'm guessing was not the reaction they were going for. Of course, that's just one of the several Others variants across the first two episodes, which Funimation kindly released early, but the other two involve lampshades stuffed with flowers on Barbie legs and some sort of lion/garden faucet hybrid. Terror-inspiring they are not.
That's more or less how the entirety of these two episodes feel: like someone was trying really hard but ultimately something went wrong. (Although I will admit that I was positive that Nagi was the character most likely to die; I was surprised when it turned out to be Naomi.) Certainly, one of the problems right off the bat is the sheer number of named characters, all of whom also come with a specific psychic power that we're meant to remember, to say nothing of half of them also having a specific grudge. That could be a result of the show's origins as an ARPG; in the game the player controls either Yuito or Kasane, so presumably all of the characters from both of those player options are being thrown into the adaptation. But there also isn't quite enough time spent developing the world the story takes place in; we're just thrown in, introduced to the characters, and then they're off and fighting. On the one hand, it does give a very good sense of how very dangerous the world is – the OSF (Other Suppression Forces) is mobilized about four times across these two episodes, with the newly minted cadets being sent right out in lieu of training. But on the other hand, “danger” is not a substitute for “good storytelling,” and Scarlet Nexus either doesn't know this or thinks its appeal lies solely in its fight scenes.
There are some interesting aspects to what's going on. There's a very high instance of siblings joining the OSF, which may say something about propaganda and recruitment or about how many parents died before the OSF got the Other situation under some semblance of control – or about how many adoptions there have been following the incursion of the Others that led to situations like Kasane's and Yuito's, where they feel obliged to repay the “debt” incurred by being saved. Yuito's family is also highly involved in the upper levels of governance in New Himuka, and since his dad is dropping hints about family history, that may turn out to mean a lot more than the silver spoon some people are accusing him of. This isn't entirely without potential, it just doesn't seem to quite know how to get itself off the ground.
I suppose I should start off by mentioning that I have not played the game this anime is based on, despite hearing good things about it. In fact, I was expecting these first two episodes to capture my interest and give me that little extra push I needed to buy the game. Sadly, watching them has had the opposite effect.
The looming problem with the first two episodes of Scarlet Nexus is that they are almost entirely one big exposition dump. Characters stand around and talk about things they should already be intimately familiar with—i.e., the status of the world and their interpersonal struggles—for no other reason than to convey this information to us, the viewers. Not only is this the most boring way to get this information across (“show don't tell” is drilled into our heads for a reason, after all), but the world itself isn't exactly that unique or interesting. The same basic setup—i.e., post-apocalyptic humans living in cities that are protected from monsters by an elite few—has been used in everything from Attack on Titan and Black Bullet to Seraph of the End and Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress.
Aside from the general information blitz, we are introduced to a staggering number of characters (17 by my count), each of which has a different superpower. With so many characters, it can be hard to differentiate between them—especially when the vast majority share the same red/black color motif. Things get even worse once they head into battle and throw their masks on, making them all but indistinguishable from one another if not for their powers.
Yet, oddly, what got stuck in my head was one tiny detail: that the clairvoyant, Tsugumi, uses a gun to kill the monstrous “Others.” This implies that you don't need superpowers to fight them (anyone can use a gun after all) which in turn brings into question the need for a superhumans-only army like the OSF in the first place. Now, I don't know if this is a plot point or a plothole, but I spent more time thinking about this than I did any other aspect of the first two episodes.
While I've been pretty negative so far, I do want to mention some positives that give me a bit of hope for the series. Scarlet Nexus features some great monster designs that take everyday objects—like vases and spigots—and turn them into things that are legitimately unnerving. Likewise, episode 2 ends on a solid WTF cliffhanger that has me hooked enough to give the third episode a watch. I can only hope that episode 3 will turn everything on its head because, if not, I can't see myself sticking with this one.
Over the years, the seasonal Preview Guides have taught me a lot of formal and informal lessons when it comes to what to expect from any given anime premiere. One thing I've learned is that, in general, I become proportionately more wary of a show the more notes it makes me take on exposition, proper nouns, and character roll calls. I was initially excited to see what Scarlet Nexus had to offer, since the new game from Bandai Namco that it is adapting has been getting fairly positive buzz all around. Plus, I have to admit that I'm a sucker for the funky aesthetics that I've seen in the Scarlet Guardians' costumes and the designs of the “Other" enemies that they fight with their mind powers.
You can imagine how disappointed I was when the first of the two episodes that Funimation previewed ended up being little more than a glorified info dump. We get tiny bits of stereotypical character moments when we're introduced to Nagi and Yuito, the hopeful recruits to the Scarlet Guardian units of the Other Suppression Force, but nearly every other line and image that we get before the credits roll feels cynically calculated to cram as much information down our throats as humanly possible. Even the details that are important to the characters — such as Yuito's familial connection to the Supreme Commander, and his vague memories of the heroic Scarlett Guardian who saved him as a child — are hard to take in when the show is so concerned with making sure every other Guardian gets a moment to look at the camera and explain what their powers are.
The second episode actually ends up being a big help for the show, if only because it gives you a slightly better picture of what the story is actually going to be about. The mysterious connection shared between Yuito and the aloof Kasane gets a bit more buildup, and we get to see more action between the cadets and the Others. I actually really love the way that the CG Others are incorporated into the action, and the characters' powers and weapons are all very cool. The fight scenes themselves are solid but inconsistent; even when the art and animation is looking good, the storyboarding itself is overly static and sometimes a bit clumsy in its pacing.
Still, getting to see both of these episodes shows that Scarlet Nexus does have potential. It may not be the most original or exciting anime out there, but Studio Sunrise is putting in some work, and I could see the action and the writing coming together in a much more compelling way once the show finds its feet. At the very least, I'm more eager than ever to see if the game lives up to the hype I've been seeing, but until I can get around to it, I'm at least willing to give this anime another couple episodes to prove itself s worthy adaptation.
Although its first two episodes are clean and polished, Scarlet Nexus is another in a long list of video game adaptations that are ultimately forgettable. The plot, which follows a ragtag team of cadets as they take down monsters with their psychic abilities, will immediately strike you as derivative. At least it puts in the time and animation effort to give the characters some personality, although there are too many characters to develop effectively, and none of them are fleshed out beyond their archetypes.
The 3D animation is the highlight of the premiere: It fits in smoothly with the 2D animation, and the movements are expressive. It's another win for Sunrise's in-house 3D team, which has seen massive strides in the past half-decade. The action choreography is also easy to follow throughout, which is a relief considering the complexity of the designs and how many moving parts they had to juggle.
But none of these technical strengths make up for the half-baked script and the weak attempts at suspense. At the end of episode 1, our main character says in the narration that there's a big conspiracy behind everything, and it's immediately followed by a shot of the commander saying the nation deserves to be annihilated. It's no fun when it's that obvious where the plot is going.
Most of the time, outside of mobile-based gacha multimedia projects, it takes years for a video game to get an anime adaptation. Only the most popular games receive the oft-dubious honor of being stripped of their mechanics and often everything that makes the game interesting, for the narrative to be flattened out into a linear format it was never meant for. However, considering the game Scarlet Nexus came out all of six days ago and the first two episodes were up on YouTube even before then, I have a sneaking suspicion that this tie-in was planned well before the release, designed to capitalize their synergy or some kind of corporate-speak like that.
The first two episodes of Scarlet Nexus are… fine. They focus on Yuito Sumeragi, a 16-year-old (because of course, child soldiers) with psychokinesis who just completed his training for the Other Suppression Force, or OSF, and fights monsters called Others alongside other psychic soldiers. This kind of boilerplate premise, combined with cool aesthetics and gameplay, could potentially take a game pretty far (and indeed it did, based on the reviews), but would need a lot more creativity to keep me interested in an anime version. Alas, there was not much creativity to be found.
Part of the problem is that, for me, character is king, and this has got to be one of the least charismatic groups of teenaged warriors I've encountered. The main group of Yuito, Nagi, Naomi, and Kasane have about three personality traits between them: Yuito is nice and competent but doesn't really believe in himself, Nagi is a skirt chaser, Naomi is nice and competent and confident, and Kasane is quiet and reserved. The optional party members secondary cast seems more interesting, but there are so many of them and their time is spread so thin that I didn't feel like we ever got to spend enough time with them.
You'd expect a tie-in to a high-profile game release to be glossy and full of motion, and you would be dead wrong. Scarlet Nexus isn't an ugly show by any means, with decent character art and backgrounds, but the animation is surprisingly limited. There are three major fight scenes across the two episodes: two fights against Others and one training exercise. Surprisingly, the training exercise had the most interesting fight choreography by far, with plenty of punches and kicks to go along with the psychic powers. On the other hand, the combat scenes mostly had characters standing and posing while throwing their powers at their enemies. The Others, bizarre mishmashes of household objects like lampshades and spigots, are animated entirely in CG with no attempt to make them mesh in with the two-dimensional space, giving them an uncanny feeling that really works.
Scarlet Nexus is pretty meh in anime form, but not bad exactly. If you can't play the game for some reason, whether it's because you can't afford it yet or aren't good enough at action RPGs, but desperately want to experience the story, this could very well be a perfectly acceptable alternative.
The word for Scarlet Nexus is “workmanlike.” As a piece of entertainment, these opening two episodes clock into work promptly at 8:59 am, turn in the various forms and spreadsheets requested of them, then clock out at 5:00 pm on the dot having neither excelled nor failed in any particular regard. If that sounds like damning with faint praise, that's only because it is.
Frankly put, Scarlet Nexus feels like the opening hour of a game I'd rather be playing while catching up on my podcast backlog – and not just because it's clearly adapting the story of a video game nearly beat-for-beat. The worldbuilding is sparse, throwing in only the necessary proper nouns to let us know why everyone has superpowers and how they're able to fight the bizarre monsters that fall from the sky. There are a few incidental bits that are at least charming – the news forecasts of when folks can expect monsters to descend from the stratosphere like precipitation percentages are a fun detail – but by and large the writing seems aware this is all just an excuse for some Action RPG battle mechanics and doesn't attempt much beyond that. There's nothing particularly egregious or confusing about any of it, and there are obvious hints at a larger conspiracy to thicken the plot as it goes along, but it's also lacking any real ambition to spark curiosity.
The characters are similarly functional. Their designs are decently differentiated, though once everyone dons their battle hoodies it becomes a lot harder to tell them apart at a glance, and they all start to melt together as we introduce a dozen or more of them all in the same black-and-red color palette. Personalities are broad and surface level, but generally inoffensive – though our hero's best friend Nagi threatens to be insufferable if his girl-chasing isn't nipped in the bud by the end of the second episode. Really, the most eyecatching part of this premiere were the genuinely strange monster designs – odd mixtures of industrial and organic forms that don't entirely mesh with the 2D animation, but are at least weird enough to justify that incongruity. Action animation is largely serviceable, though previewing these episodes on YouTube may have been a mistake; the site's compression made any moment with digital effects or even a light dusting of darkness a mess to look at, and that certainly didn't do these episodes any favors.
Overall I can't say this is an outright bad premiere, if only because there's not enough to it to actually leave an impression. As an advertisement for the newly released video game, this premiere may do its job in getting people to pick that up instead, but as a standalone piece of anime it can't hold up.
discuss this in the forum (317 posts) |
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history