Charlotte
Episodes 1-3

by Gabriella Ekens,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Charlotte (TV 2015) ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Charlotte (TV 2015) ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
Charlotte (TV 2015) ?

Appearances are all that matters to Yuu Otosaka. Even though he's rude, lazy, and narcissistic, he's the golden boy of his school. How did it happen? Well, a couple of years ago, Yuu developed a mysterious power – he can possess anyone, but only for five seconds at a time. It's not enough time to do anything big like robbing a bank, but Yuu makes it work for him. He cheats mercilessly at school and even ingratiates his crush into dating him. With perfect grades at an elite academy and the most beautiful girl in school, Yuu figures he's got it made. It's too bad someone's on to him. Cornered and exposed by the camcorder-wielding Nao Tomori, Yuu is given an ultimatum – transfer to her school, Hoshinoumi Academy, or face expulsion. With his previous life ruined, Yuu accepts, and finds himself recruited into a cabal of questionably powerful mutants.

It turns out that he's part of a widespread phenomenon of children manifesting superpowers at puberty. Despite its five-second limitation, Yuu's ability is one of the more powerful. Other top candidates at school include Takajou Joujirou, a teleporter who can mostly just crash into things, and Nao herself, who can become invisible to only one other person at a time. These superpowers are a very recent development, leaving a group of wicked scientists free to torture teenagers for the sake of “research,” since this phenomenon isn't widely known about yet. Their only safe haven is Hoshinoumi Academy, a school set up by a mysterious benefactor to protect superpowered teens. As the head of the student council there, Nao Tomori ushers new discoveries to safety before they can be captured.

It takes a lot for a “people with powers” show to stand out from the pack nowadays. With too many entries in the genre to name, it seems like everything has just been done already. Charlotte has a great premise because its minor change-up – people with bad superpowers – forces the writers to get creative. For example, Takajou is a teleporter who lacks the necessary control over his powers to do any of the subtle reconnaissance they're usually assigned. Instead, he subdues targets by ramming into them at mach speed. His attempts to do more standard teleporter things – like cut the lunch line – result in hilarious debacles. This quirk of the story also enlivens the combat. There's a scene at the end of the third episode where flawed invisibility, possession, teleportation, and pyrokinesis are used in tandem to eliminate some opponents. Yuu takes a guy out by possessing him and stabbing himself in the leg. (Yes, he does feel it.) Nao goes invisible to beat a dude up while another character mimics her actions from ten feet away, making it seem as though her blows are crossing that distance. Someone put a lot of thought into what you could do as a winner in the lame X-Men lottery, and the results are a lot of fun.

This is actually the first thing I've seen by Jun Maeda. I've heard a lot of things about him, both good and bad. He got started as a visual novel developer, has a penchant for melodrama, and mostly works with moe. While his earlier stuff is supposed to be sappy, I've heard that he made serious strides as a storyteller with Angel Beats!. Still, I don't have much to compare Charlotte to directly, so I'll just be evaluating it on its own merits. So far, I'm digging it. I can definitely see the melodrama. Everyone's story is hyperbolically emotional – there's always an endangered sibling somewhere – and big moments take place in mood lighting straight out of a KyoAni show.

The characters are solid. Yuu makes a strong first impression as a supervillain-in-training, using his powers to his own perverse advantage. His good side shines through pretty quickly, however. He cares about his sister and feels for Nao's tragic past. While I hope that Yuu's slimy tendencies don't disappear, he's already a more engaging protagonist than most. Nao is also well-realized. She feels related to Seraph of the End's Shinoa, aka the best part of that show. Her motivation (which I'll get to in a minute) also rings true. Takajou has mostly been comic relief, but I find his dogged insistence on using his crashing powers really funny.

I even like Yuu's little sister, Ayumi. While there's a healthy dose of her in each episode, she doesn't overstay her welcome. Somehow, Charlotte managed to breath some fresh life into the standard anime comedy “woman who can't cook” and “annoying little sister” tropes by combining the two. I think it's because the emotions behind them are so sincere – Ayumi wants to feed her brother, but she does so according to his childhood tastes. ("Ketchup omelette again?!") Yuu, who postures as Too Cool for This Sort of Thing, is both embarrassed and flattered. I'm sure that Yuu will feel different once Ayumi is taken away from him, as the rules of dramatic necessity dictate. It's just enough of a nuanced and effective setup to reinvigorate a tired situation. That's an adequate description for Charlotte as a whole, actually. It's a rote setup made interesting through seemingly minor differences, like the broken superpowers angle, tight plotting, and snappy pacing.

Ayumi also serves an important narrative function as a ticking clock for Yuu. Siblings of mutants are likely to develop powers themselves, so Yuu's high-profile antics could have gotten her kidnapped and dissected. His enrollment also lets Ayumi in, so Yuu is obligated to cooperate with Nao in order to protect his sister. This is all revealed in parallel to Nao's history – she had an older brother with the ability to control sound waves. Some scientists got wind of this, set them up in a fake academy, and used that as a cover to perform inhumane experiments on her brother. A year of this left her brother in a near-vegetative state. When Nao found out, she ran away. Now she and her brother are under the protection of a mysterious pro-mutant benefactor. He resides at a permanent care facility, while Nao leads the hunt to protect fellow mutants. Hearing this, Yuu comes around to her point of view and starts willingly acting as part of the student council.

The third episode introduces the final character on the poster, Yusa/Misa. There's a slash there because she's actually two people. Yusa is an innocent idol with the ability to channel the dead, so she hosts her deceased sister, the delinquent pyrokineticist Misa. We've seen more of Misa than Yusa so far, and I'm fine with that. Misa is more entertaining than her sister, who seems like an ultra-pure idol played straight. I'm curious how they'll be used in future episodes.

Charlotte looks quite nice. The direction is dynamic – there's a lot of moving camerawork and expressive cinematography. It also has sharp comedic timing. I haven't seen many P.A. Works series before, so the color work mostly reminds me of KyoAni with its moody sunsets. The third episode looked a bit rougher than the first two (those CG flames) but it's still a distinct, pleasant aesthetic. Despite initial reservations concerning its creator, Charlotte's won me over in a big way. It's a blast to watch, and I look forward to seeing how the story unfolds.

Some mysteries going forward – who is Nao's benefactor? Can they be trusted? What's causing the superpowers? Are they really safe at Hoshinoumi Academy? Will the mutants ever get an official name, so I can stop switching up my terminology ever other sentence? What will Ayumi's power be? Will she ever make anything other than a ketchup omelet? Will she harness the power of ketchup omelets?! Only time will tell.

Grade: A-

Charlotte is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and Viewster.

Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.


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