The Winter 2021 Preview Guide
Scar on the Praeter
How would you rate episode 1 of
Scar on the Praeter ?
What is this?
The story is set in the fictional "Akatsuki special ward" of Tokyo, formed as a "lawless" independent state after the Akatsuki rebellion overthrew the ward's corporate masters. Maintaining order over the ward are three organizations — Helios, Artemis, and the Public Safety Bureau — who all employ agents known as "Scard." These agents are marked with Divine Tattoos that grant them the power to turn away any bullet or blade, making them virtually invulnerable.
How was the first episode?
There are so many anime about boys this season! You got your idol boys, your dystopian boys, your tattooed boys, your clean-cut boys, your sports boys, big boys, itty bitty boys, Mississippi boys… oh wait, that's Lizzo. Well, she would be pleased with this season, because it's positively a smorgasbord of boys. Smorgasboyd.
There are also a lot of jargon-heavy series, and hoo boy, does Scar on the Praeter deliver on both fronts. The totally-made-up Akatsuki Ward (which is a word I'm starting to get sick of hearing in anime) has descended into lawless chaos because… uhh… I actually don't really know! I swear I was watching the entire episode and not futzing around on my phone, but I can't remember a single thing about the world-building or plot. There are magic tattoos and shadowy organizations named after Greek gods, but other than that, in my head it's all just a morass of pretty boys having gunfights and stilted, exposition-heavy conversations that I can barely remember.
So that leaves me with two things to talk about: the characters and the animation. This seems like the “heavy queer subtext” kind of pretty boy show, judging on what we get so far. Most of the emotional thrust of the episode seems to be banking on you getting really invested really fast on the relationship between Kai and Eiji, who are almost identical in appearance other than one having slightly messier hair. These two, however, never met before the start of the story, and barely talk, so their sudden relationship seems abrupt and uncomfortable rather than sad like they were going for.
Visually, the show is pretty bad. It's not at Hand Shakers' or W'z' level of mind-shatteringly awful, with their zooming camera angles and constantly-off perspective, but I genuinely detest GoHands' house style. The character designs are fine, if little more than functional and a bit samey, and sure to appeal to some fans. But dear god, the use of CG. Everything except the characters is made using computer-generated imagery and it's all poorly-composited and ugly. Check the scene where Eiji scratches his head with a gun (bad idea to begin with, great way to blow your brains out by accident) that doesn't look like it's on the same plane of existence as him. For some reason, GoHands makes extensive use of color filters and gradients, so a character's hair will change from scene to scene and even as they move through a shot. Everything is in washed-out blues and greens, making everyone and everything look sickly.
I just don't get GoHands. I can only assume they've found an audience who likes their bizarre aesthetic, since they keep using it, but I'll never be part of it. This is the weirdest sequel to Pretear ever.
On the basis of its storytelling alone, Scar on the Praeter would be a pretty terrible anime no matter who made it. It's a jumbled mess of meaningless proper nouns and exposition, buoyed by scenes of nonsense dialogue where none of the characters sound anything remotely like human beings. It's something to do with how the Akatsuki Special Ward has been overtaken by the mafia and abandoned by the Japanese government for some reason, so a bunch of male models dressed up in low-rent knockoff Tetsuya Nomura cosplay have to run around shooting guns at faceless soldiers and using magic powers to do fights and stuff. Yamato Kai is such a void of personality and identity that there are only two characteristics that differentiate him from Eiji Arashiba, resident badass: Eiji has a tattoo that gives him superpowers, and he has slightly darker hair.
The music is god awful too; it switches from treacly post-rock, to edgy butt-metal guitar riffs, to boppy jazz tracks, and then back again, and there is not one iota of rhyme or reason to be found with any of these needle drops. Therefore, Scar on the Praeter would still have been crap even if it had been given a gargantuan budget and was produced by ufotable. This is Studio GoHands we're talking about, though, so Scar on the Praeter isn't just bad. It is monumentally terrible in every single way that an anime can be bad, save perhaps for being morally reprehensible. Even then, I still find myself getting genuinely offended every time this studio puts out a new series, because they insist on doubling down on their house style at every turn, and their house style has consistently produced the worst looking anime that I have ever seen. Scar on the Prater has all of the usual hallmarks: Garish and terribly blended CG models that are mixed with choppy looking 2D characters; layers upon layers of nauseating color filters, cheap-looking effects, and pointless camera movement; a complete and total disregard for even the most basic conventions of scale, perspective, and decent taste. If anything, Scar on the Praeter is even more brazen than Hand Shakers. It doesn't induce motion-sickness with its camera work, sure, but I couldn't point to a single frame of this episode that isn't hideous to look at. The work that GoHands is doing in series like this is antithetical to the very foundations of the art of animation.
So, I'm truly not being hyperbolic when I say that the premiere of Scar on the Praeter is among the worst twenty-minutes I have ever experienced during all of my years writing about anime. Not only am I going to stay as far away from any future episodes as humanly possible, but I am going to be working to convince as many people as I can to do the same. Every eyeball on the screen means that there is that much more of a chance that GoHands will make another one of these things, and that is simply unacceptable. There's already enough nonsense to deal with in this world. Nobody deserves a Hand Shakers Part III.
Ever since establishing their signature 3DCG look and animation style with 2012's K, studio GoHands has been one of the more divisive major studios in the anime scene. Quite a bit of hate gets piled on their works (some of it deservedly so), but yet they continue to be successful enough that more keeps coming out. This series, which is an original GoHands production based on a franchise of drama CDs and character songs, is merely the 2021 installment in that run.
For better or worse, the first episode has much the same look as previous GoHands titles like the K franchise. That means that you can expect lots of lanky, cool-looking bishonen, snazzy military-style uniforms, and on rare occasions a female character wearing one of said uniforms. (In fact, all the first episode is really missing to be a spiritual descendant of K is either a busty catgirl or a Goth Lolita girl, although it does have a cute boy.) Naturally some of them will be using supernatural powers and fighting both each other and other bad guys to protect their turf. In this case the super-powers come from special tattoos, but that's mechanically not much different than the king system in K. Naturally this is all done with GoHands' particular brand of 3DCG. Although I didn't mind director/character designer Shingo Suzuki's work in the Mardock Scramble trilogy, I have not been a fan of his character design style since then, and that proves true again here; something about the facial proportions in particular just feels off. However, I have had much fewer objections to the animation style (especially in action scenes) than many others, and that also proves true again here. The tactical-suited guys may not look great, but the movements of the bishonen are crisper, with a greater sense of swift motion. The animation also does a little better than previous efforts on integrating character animation with backgrounds.
That being said, this first episode does not offer much to draw in those who have been averse to GoHands' style in the past, as none of the characters stand out yet and the plot is a typical “passing of the torch” scenario. If you have not appreciated GoHands' earlier titles then you're probably wasting your time by checking this one out.
I guess Fridays just aren't going to be my day this season. Scar on the Praeter is the latest bit of weirdness from GoHands, and the best thing I can say about it is that its first episode didn't give me motion sickness or trigger a migraine like their previous offerings. That doesn't mean it's any less bizarre, but I'm still putting that in the win category. It is not, however, about Ancient Rome or people speaking Latin, which I admit to being mildly hopeful about based on the title – “praeter” is Latin for “besides,” (among a few other things) and a praetor was an Ancient Roman magistrate. Neither feature in this show, at least not so far.
What it is is a story about the nicest-looking slum I've ever seen, ward B1 in the Akatsuki Special Ward, which is its own autonomous region, having been cut off from the rest of the country by something or other. In this dangerous area a man named Eiji, one of the Scard (he has a magic tattoo), is known as a hero, and teen Kai worships the ground he walks on. When the opportunity to work with Eiji presents itself, Kai doesn't turn it down (or more like bulls his way in), with the terrible result of Eiji having to give up his tattoo to save Kai's life, which leads to Eiji dying himself. It feels very much like set up for the rest of the series, where Eiji will live on as the absent character who occupies a disproportionately large space in the lives of those who survive him.
Meanwhile, Eiji's got a crew known as Helios (sun, associated with the Greek god Apollo) which is fighting against a mafia that goes by Dusk (you know, in opposition to the sun) while there's another gang of Scard called Artemis (who is the twin sister of Apollo, and thus will probably ally with Helios). Kai has a not-brother named Minato who apparently mostly sits in their ludicrously posh slum apartment while Helios runs a far-too-ritzy-for-B1 café, and there's also law enforcement just being…there. There's also a kid who may or may not be in need of rescue whose main purpose appears to be to facilitate the initial meeting of Eiji and Kai. It's all a jumble of pretty men with weirdly immobile faces shooting at each other or trading bons mots against photo-realistic backgrounds. I'm not entirely sure where it's going or why.
I'm really just happy that it didn't give me a migraine.
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