The Winter 2021 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
What is this?
High school student Akira Natsume's brain is saved when he is involved in a traffic accident, and it later becomes part of an advanced weapon. Akira cooperates with the police's EX-ARM countermeasure division in order to regain his lost memories and body.
How was the first episode?
Rating: Twenty-five blank, open-mouthed stars
I'm feeling a lot of pressure here, to be honest.
EX-ARM has been the laughingstock of the anime community for… wait, it's only been two months since the trailer was released? Seriously? What the hell, I was sure it had been longer. Definitely felt that way. Anyway, ever since that fateful day, people have been thoroughly examining, analyzing, and mocking the show for its consummate incompetence, concluded by the arrogant announcement that it would be, “declaring war on all of science fiction.” Not a single person with any experience or understanding of animation touched this project and dear lord does it show.
How am I supposed to review something like that sincerely? And at the same time, what jokes can I make that haven't already been made? You understand my dilemma here, right?
There were a few creative choices that surprised me enough to make me laugh out loud. There was a billboard that apparently hadn't been changed between 2014 and 2020. In the opening, the character models rotate otherwise motionless, like someone is futzing around in their character creator. The world seems to be populated partially by two-dimensional human beings who, while observed, are only capable of moving their mouths while standing stock still like a cardboard cutout, but are able to move freely when no one is looking at them. The way their mouths moved reminded me a bit of weird old Syncro-Vox cartoons, except that the lip flap was often completely desynced from the vocal track. Their expressions rarely match the situation, like Minami's puzzled smile as she's threatened with vivisection.
These things made me laugh, but I spent most of the time staring in open-mouthed shock, my facial expression mirroring Akira's. How could this happen? I mean, we know more or less how it happened by now, but who made the first bad decision that led to this abomination and are they legally liable? I bet someone out there could prove damages. Maybe the manga team that saw their creation turned into this, or some of the investors. Or hey, maybe the poor, pitiable reviewers who were forced to sit through this mess for professional obligation.
Any lawyers out there, drop me a line.
Rating: 10 stars out of 5
By now, if you've heard of EX-ARM, it's either through out-of-context gifs showing off its animation on twitter, or through my peers' less than positive reviews. You might have, understandably, come to think that this newest Crunchyroll Original is an inept piece of trash thrown together by a clueless production committee and brought to life by a wholly unqualified director who has never worked with any kind of animation before. You may even be associating this sci-fi show with phrases like “total embarrassment” or “what the hell were they thinking?” if not worse.
Well I'm here to tell you you're all wrong.
EX-ARM is a work of creativity so staggeringly ahead of its time that I am certain it will be decades before the public at large understands just how high a level it's operating on. What we are witnessing here is the new pinnacle of bleeding-edge sci-fi animation, the likes of which the industry has never seen before. EVA? More like What-EVAr. Ghost in the Shell? More like Go Fuck Yourself. Tomorrow morning nerds around the world are going to leave their houses en masse to burn their Gunpla figures because they are truly, irreparably obsolete in the wake of EX-ARM.
Your first reaction at seeing this show may be to laugh at and mock the visuals. Your unenlightened brain may take in the dead-eyed, play-doh like character models who move with all the grace of a stop-motion lego video on youtube, and assume this is sheer incompetence. But what you don't understand is that this is all on purpose. By bringing in a director who has no experience in animation, EX-ARM's production is tearing down the restrictive conventions of the medium to create an astounding piece of outsider art, with downright revolutionary results. To the unwashed masses the confusingly edited, awkwardly choreographed fight scenes that make up the bulk of this episode are just “insulting bad on every level”, but with the right mindset, one realizes that this premiere is daring to question the very nature of violence in media. How can any work claim to abhor or reject war when it sensationalizes the technology of death? By intentionally turning its action sequences into flaccid, weightless exercises in tedium, EX-ARM has become the first true Anti-war piece of cinema, and I know somewhere in the afterlife Francois Truffaut is weeping with joy to have finally been proven wrong.
The world is wrong about EX-ARM, and in due time they will realize it. Let this preview guide stand as a testament that this is the future of anime. Do not avert your eyes, for EX-ARM is the first glimpse of tomorrow.
Rating: Jeez, I don't know, man. What the hell even is this?
Okay, Crunchyroll, the jig is up. We get it. You clearly got tired of people dunking on your Crunchyroll Originals for being pretty mediocre all around, and so you suckered some poor intern who has no experience whatsoever in producing anime to spend a weekend slapping EX-ARM together as a revenge prank. I can imagine the Crunchyroll Executives board meeting now: A bunch of men chomping on their cigars and sipping on Cognac through the haze of smoke, chattering about stocks and trades and whatever, when Johnathan Andrew Crunchyroll, Esq. stands up and thunders, “You think Gibiate and The God of High School were bad, eh? Well then, what do you think of EX-ARM! We made it wrong on purpose, as a joke.” Well har-dee-har. The joke's on us. Well, done.
I'm sorry, what's that? Oh my. I've just been informed, dear readers, that EX-ARM is apparently not a prank by Crunchyroll, but rather a real anime that paying subscribers are meant to take…seriously? Well, then, I guess the egg is on my face, there. That means I also should actually review this thing then, so, uh…the main character is some guy named Akira Natsume, I guess, and he very stupidly gets himself hit by a truck in the year 2014, which somehow leads to his brain being put in a kind of fancy future-computer-thing called the Ex-Arm in the far-off year of 2030. There are allusions to a vague, non-COVID catastrophe in 2020 before all this, but all we get for now is that there are all these androids running around, and some of them are good androids that are fighting a bad android, so the good android (Alma) has Akira's brain hack into her body so she can win the fight and…
Wait a minute, I'm sorry, and I'm sure that the manga this anime is based off of has a perfectly good knockoff Ghost in the Shell story hiding around somewhere, but I can't focus on any of that when the only question I have is “Why the hell does EX-ARM look like this? Who thought this was okay!?” Why do all of the Photoshop-looking backgrounds get rendered in such terrible resolution? Why do all of the 3D models look and move like lifeless dolls from a one-person machinima project circa 2002? Why are some of the characters rendered in horrible looking 2D animation, and then just placed right alongside the terrible 3D models as if nobody's going to notice!? I knew EX-ARM was going to look terrible based on the preview videos and the general lack of experience from seemingly everyone involved at Visual Flight, but Good Lord, this was embarrassing to watch. The characters could have been perfectly performing a Shakespearean play, and it wouldn't make a damn bit of difference, because there isn't a screenplay on Earth that could survive the crimes against animation that EX-ARM is committing at every single turn.
If you had told me that there would be a worse-looking series than Scar on the Praeter even one day ago, I likely wouldn't have believed you. Well, EX-ARM is at the very least a contender for the throne that GoHands has been sitting on for a few years now, and it only needed one episode to do that. Unlike Scar on the Praeter, though, I would actually recommend that you see EX-ARM for yourself. GoHand's particular brand of heinous animation is nothing new for them, but I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like the disaster that is EX-ARM. It's a one-of-a-kind cornucopia of bad ideas and bad follow-through that must be seen to be believed. Just don't say that you weren't warned in advance.
Rating: Half a Star
I'm sure, if I dig deep enough in my memory, I could come up with a show that looks worse than EX-ARM. Then again, given how awful the art and animation are here, maybe that's just me trying to put a positive spin on things. This was one of those episodes where I kept checking how many minutes were left, and I swear, at one point when I checked only thirty seconds had passed. That's nightmare territory right there.
The glacial pacing is actually a little odd, too, because there's no shortage of things happening. The story opens in 2020, when a…person-shaped thing is apparently going crazy and destroying Tokyo. Then we jump back to 2014, with a high schooler named Akira (who may also be the thing), who can't look at phone screens because his vision goes wonky. His brother is pioneering some kind of android technology, so when Truck-kun heads over to EX-ARM after he's finished in Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation and kills Akira, it's kind of a no-brainer that his brother will try to save him. And he does – because now we're in 2030 and two women are trying to steal/recover a metal briefcase labeled “Ex-Arm 00,” and when one of them opens it, Akira wakes up. Apparently his brother managed to preserve his brain, encase it in titanium, and keep it functional. How this relates to 2020 is unknown, but by this point both Akira and the viewer are fairly confused.
In addition to suffering from a too-busy plot with terrible pacing, EX-ARM also features godawful animation. The 3D is poorly rigged and the collision is equally terrible, although really the rigging is so bad as to make it the thing that stands out the most. Mouths use minimal controls for rigging, with just an open/close motion, and the rest of the face is largely static, meaning there are no facial expressions to speak of. (Except for Akira's brother, who, for some reason, looks like he may be traditionally animated.) This makes for an unsettling viewing experience that's further compromised by clothes that don't move with the characters and some very egregious censorship, courtesy of our friend the giant glowing light band. It just feels cheap.
There are plenty of other things to watch this season without subjecting yourself to EX-ARM. My advice would be to let this one be.
Initial preview videos for this original series gave glaring warning signs that this one could be epically bad, but they did not do the series justice. It's even worse than those videos showed; in fact, this may be one of the worst debut episodes that I have done a Preview Guide entry for in many years.
That's all the more depressing because the underlying concept is a potentially interesting one: a young man dies (or nearly dies) after being struck by a vehicle and, 16 years later, finds himself as a disembodied brain and treated as a super-weapon, in part because he apparently created mass havoc a decade earlier. The catch, of course, is that he does not remember any of this, so the foundational mystery here is whether that #12 was really him, and so, why doesn't he remember it? This is meant to be the foundation for a story about human and android officers trying to confront the titular over-tech weapons – which also, of course, cannot be fought by ordinary means. Akira discovers the neat trick that he can take over various systems, including the female android bad-ass.
All of this sounds okay on paper, but the execution is enormously sloppy. Choppy editing is a big problem, with scenes often jumping from one place to another with little to no sense of proper story flow or transitions, and the story completely disregards details along the way; for instance, one transition which particularly bothered me was a scene where the android cop is carrying the recently- rescued human cop, steps off the screen for less than a second when a bad guy shows up, and suddenly is positioned to jump off a wall at the guy without any hint of what happened to the cop she was carrying. Problematic details like that abound.
The real killer, though, is the visuals. Seriously, how did this series make to air/streaming looking like this? Why didn't someone step in on this one and bury the project? I apparently have a higher tolerance for bad 3DCG than most, but even I cannot tolerate this. The one good thing I will say about it is that it at least shows some sense of fight choreography, which may be explained by the director having some background in live-action martial arts films. Neither he nor animation studio Video Flight have any other anime credits, though, and it doesn't look like they even studied to get a good sense of what is and is not acceptable. Characters move around without any real sense of weight, facial expressions are stiff and jerky, and beyond the android Alma, body proportioning (especially in faces) often looks weird, and that's just for starters. In short, this looks more like an alpha or beta test than a finished product. Cases where visuals are so irredeemably bad that they kill any potential the series might have are, thankfully, rare, but this is one of them.
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