Reviewby Nick Creamer,
After suffering a breakdown in the wake of his sister Ayumi's death, Yu Otasaka has finally returned to the student council with Tomori and his other classmates. But just as he begins to settle back into school life, a new danger strikes, as Yu finds himself remembering a secret prior life and a larger family he once knew. Led by Tomori to a secret facility, he learns that what he knows about those with special powers has barely scratched the surface of the true picture. And with the secrets he uncovers, Yu just might be able to restore his sister's life.
Charlotte began as a fairly comprehensible and even sometimes engaging fantasy drama. The central conceit allowed for plenty of unique episodic narratives, as Yu, Tomori, and their associates traveled around and saved those abusing their own psychic powers. It wasn't a great show, but it was a coherent one.
When Yu's sister Ayumi died, all of that changed. Leaping off its episodic adventure tracks, Charlotte's dramatic train went rambling down a rocky slope, as Yu's breakdown took the narrative in directions it was never built to go. Material that in a different show might have come off as emotionally effective felt absurd and comical here, and by the time Tomori dragged Yu back to school, it seemed like Charlotte wasn't even sure who it was anymore.
If you were hoping Charlotte's second half would put its pieces back together in something resembling a coherent order, you can give up on that right now. Charlotte's second half seems to pack every single idea silly fantastical idea Jun Maeda has had over the past half-decade into just six episodes, making for a rambling, disjointed, and fundamentally incoherent series of revelations, deaths, and absurd twists. I've watched worse-written shows than Charlotte, but I'm not sure I've ever seen a show quite so incompetently structured.
Basically every event in Charlotte's second half is a spoiler, so it's hard for me to critique its specific choices one at a time. Fortunately, none of its dramatic choices emerge naturally from the ones that precede them, so it's also easy for me to list off its absurdity without fear that a reader might connect any dots about what actually happens. So to give a brief indication of what you're getting into, Charlotte's second half contains the following ingredients.
Time looping. Selective amnesia. Music healing a crazed mind. Music also unlocking secret pasts. Double identities. Secret siblings. A magic meteor. The power to have all powers. A hostage exchange. A torture session. Power-inspired blindness. A shogi match. A vaccine for magic. An explanation of medieval witches. A reunion between parents and their ghost daughter on a food network program. An assault on an afghan military camp. Amnesia a second time. Double identities a second time.
Charlotte doesn't seem to understand the difference between a story and a collection of ideas. Swerving wildly from new plot to new plot, it fails to imbue any of them with any kind of dramatic tension. Many of its individual conceits are actually compelling, and a few even succeed as isolated sequences (there's a great power-focused prison breakout), but by giving each of them far too little focus before moving on to the next thing, Charlotte ends up being far less than the sum of its parts. Even the very last episode focuses on Yu adopting an entirely new mission to counter an entirely new menace, making zero use of the many characters it introduced in both its first and second halves. The show's eleventh episode ends on the tragic death of a character we barely knew, while the cast that defined the first half do basically nothing for the rest of the show.
In short, Charlotte's story is a total disaster. Narrative events only become exciting when they're imbued with weight and consequence, and Charlotte's narrative choices are far too abrupt and disjointed to ever manage that. Charlotte is less a coherent story than a series of ridiculous events that happen.
The show still looks nice, though. The characters are expressive, color design attractive, and animation generally solid as well. The direction is also relatively dynamic, and the show is able to at least adopt distinct visual tones for its comic and dramatic moments. During one of its many narrative detours, the Charlotte crew end up going on a globe-trotting adventure, and the strong background and character art definitely sell the idea of Yu visiting a wide variety of countries. Charlotte's visuals are rarely beautiful, and don't really elevate its storytelling, but they're crisp and eye-pleasing.
The show's sound design is similar - rarely stunning, but consistently strong. The show has a wide array of orchestral songs, and also a fairly broad set of insert rock songs courtesy of its in-show post-rock band. As usual, those songs make this one a weird dubbing experience. Beyond the usual jump between English and Japanese, there's even a scene where someone breaks out into an acapella version of an English-lyrics song in the middle of a scene, which basically involves the character briefly losing their English fluency. Later on, there's also a segment that involves Yu trying to translate from English using a set of flashcards, which also doesn't really work with everyone speaking fluent English in the first place. That being said, the alleged “natural speakers” of English aren't fluent in the Japanese dub, so there's not really any winning with that one.
Charlotte comes in a standard Aniplex slipcase and bluray case, housing the show on two discs. There are no physical extras, but the on-disc extras include trailers, clean opening/endings, a bonus episode, and some bloopers by the english dub cast. The bonus episode is basically just another episode in the structure of the first season, following Yu and the gang as they track down another ability user. And the bloopers are, well, bloopers - a mix of jokes on the material and a whole lot of accidental mumbling.
Overall, in spite of its polished aesthetic execution, I can't really recommend Charlotte. The show has some likable characters and some individually effective moments, but the overall narrative is so disjointed that it barely feels like one contiguous story at all. “More ideas” is not an automatic good - a show needs to use its ideas in a purposeful and coherent way for any of its choices to feel meaningful. Charlotte is a bubbling stew so overstuffed with ingredients that it doesn't taste like anything at all.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : D+
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Generally polished production in terms of art and music, some strong individual scenes
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