Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Concrete Revolutio (Episodes 1-13 Streaming)
There are heroes among us - beings with extraordinary powers, be they man or machine or otherwise. There are ghosts in this world, and spirits of the land. There are great beasts, and those who have been made monstrous by science or circumstance. While society acknowledges these creatures, the government does not - or at least, not officially. In truth, the covert Superhuman Bureau exists to track, protect, and if necessary destroy these mysterious figures. But the world's superhumans aren't planning on sitting quietly undercover - they're going to build a better world, whether that means stopping individual evildoers or challenging a government that lies to its people. And in a society still scarred by war and wracked by social unrest, can true peace exist in the face of such unknowable powers?
Concrete Revolutio is packed with more superbeings than you could possibly ask for. There are traditional sentai warriors here, and child geniuses piloting giant mechas. There are massive beasts created by government experiments, and cyborg detectives sworn to protect the peace. There are forces of nature and forces of darkness, invincible warriors and self-destructive terrorists. There's even a robot girl called Earth-chan who floats in space and answers the prayers of those who call for her using her mechanical star-antenna.
Not all of these beings can be trusted, and not all of them can fend for themselves, and so the government of Japan has created the Superhuman Bureau. Sworn to protect superhumans, these intrepid figures register and shelter those who walk among the rest of us, along with occasionally disposing of those who refuse to walk peacefully. There's Jiro, the conflicted hero who rides a transforming car-stallion into battle. The magical witch Kikko, who brandishes her wand and brings clouds to life and performs all other sorts of wild tricks. The Ogre Emi, whose bond with the natural world gives her great and mysterious power. And all manner of other bureau investigators or allies, all sworn to protect the peace and uphold justice.
If that sounds more like the premise for a wincingly earnest 60s production than a modern superhero narrative, it's because that is the world Concrete Revolutio inhabits. Conrevo is set in an unabashedly post-war Japan, and the style of its heroes reflects that - the show is full of winking parallels for famous robot boys and sentai teams and various other classic do-gooders. But modern superhero stories have moved well past unquestioningly trusting the nature of heroes, and Conrevo reflects that as well. Conrevo is a work infused with cynicism depicting a world still fresh with innocence, and as its episodes add up, we see the bureau deal with increasingly thorny cases, its members each seeking their own “justice” in the course of either helping or hindering the superhumans of their world.
Most of the show's episodes play out as episodic adventures within a slow-burning larger story, with the general template of “a new threat/event has appeared, the bureau must investigate” providing the impetus for each new trial. Judged as a collection of individual stories, Conrevo can sometimes come across as clumsy, or a bit emotionally flat. Some of its episodic stories, like a later time-travel focused one, are straight-up brilliant; others are disposable, and sometimes paced or organized such that you can't really get emotionally invested in their heroes.
Fortunately, judging Conrevo as a sequence of episodic stories is probably the worst way to look at it. The key to Conrevo is the big picture, and the way all of its many, many characters interact. The motives of the Superhuman Bureau, its detractors, the government, the media, and various individual superhumans all shift throughout this story, as the balance of society shifts beneath them. On top of being a sequence of wild superhuman vignettes, Conrevo is an unabashed Message Story, and it has a whole dang lot to say.
The various loyalties of Conrevo's many characters all play into its overall metaphorical time period, a power-shifted postwar Japan. In fact, major elements of its plot aren't even metaphors - the show is full of student protests, and the threat of US imperialism guiding Japanese policy hangs constantly overhead. The use of superhumans as a metaphor for both military/political control and for social power is clever and robust, with superhumans alternately embodying forces as disparate as the bomb, proxy military control, the sins of wartime atrocities, and even the power of music or cultural icons to inspire youth unrest. And the complexity of Conrevo's morals means none of these superheroic vehicles are truly defined as good or bad - between governmental rivalries, earnest student action, and the capitalist demands of cultural producers, the “justice” of virtually any act is cloaked in ambiguities and situational meaning.
It'd be easy for a show that's so heavy on metaphor to get totally distant and caught up in its own themes, and though Conrevo is indeed one of the busiest shows of the year, it also miraculously avoids this problem. From the staff of the ambiguous bureau outwards, Conrevo is filled with smartly constructed characters who nearly all get some great individual moments. There are very few “villains” in Conrevo - even the people pursuing their own selfish ends sometimes end up doing the “right thing” in the course of them (“in order to finance our own superhero craze, we'll expose the ways the government is abusing superhumans”), and for the vast majority of characters, the goal isn't power, it's their own form of “peace, justice, or freedom.”
Characters constantly clash due to difference in ideology or view of circumstances, and all of these characters end up feeling like endearing people worth rooting for. The idea of pursuing justice on a general societal level comes in regular conflict with pursuing justice as a citizen within an existing social structure, and everyone has very good reasons for how they feel. The bureau employee Jiro works within the government, but often shelters superhumans of his own accord; in contrast, the police detective Shiba values societal order above all else, and vigilante Claude seeks a broader justice by any means necessary. When heroes clash, it feels like heroes clashing - various people all trying to do right in their own way, truly depicting the complexity of the pursuit of a better world. At times, it feels totally understandable that many of the heroes within Conrevo end up seeking their own heroes, people who can embody the “pure, unquestioned justice” that seems out of their own reach. In a world where pursuing justice means breaking the peace, and maintaining freedom means taking unjust actions, the hero who embodies peace, justice, andfreedom can be hard to find.
Concrete Revolutio's politics are far more jaded than you usually get in superhero stories, something that may not sit well with some audiences. While student protests are often framed as heroic on an individual level, they are almost invariably manipulated by larger organizations with much murkier goals. Government agencies and private-sector corporations will freely shift their moral guidelines in order to pursue new objectives or make necessary compromises, and the United States is framed as almost unquestioningly (and unsurprisingly, given the setting) malicious. The aforementioned time-travel episode perhaps best encapsulates the show's moral fatigue, when a time-traveling hero who's made compromises with the government ends up having to fight his own younger, more hardline idealist self. Concrete Revolutio is angry and driven, but its framing speaks of a grim acceptance of many of the harsher realities of the world.
The show's incredible thematic/character/narrative busyness is further complicated by the narrative's wild time-shifting. Even within the first episode, character introductions are transposed against those characters' later clashes, and most episodes end with a cutaway to some mysterious, shattered future. Initially confusing, the shifts in timeline eventually come into focus as painting a clear picture of Japan as affected by the war, postwar Japan, and the Japan the protagonist Jiro eventually comes to rally against in pursuit of his own justice. It's ultimately just one more natural piece of a story that seems determined to talk about absolutely everything.
Conrevo's aesthetics match the creativity of its storytelling. Wild pop-art backgrounds make for a very distinctive visual look, with settings often looking intentionally flat and comic-book styled to match the golden age superhero characters. Vivid pastels and angular shading contrast against a wide diversity of character designs, with superheroes of many distinct visual styles making for a rich cross-section of classic anime/manga icons. There are all sorts of visual callouts to actual classic characters, but these references are really just window dressing on a show perfectly capable of defining its own style.
The show's animation is normally just serviceable, and occasionally gets worse than that, with some fights relying heavily on either stills or poor cycles of animation. There are also fairly regular action highlights, though, with episodes like the third and the finale beautifully matching the drama of the storytelling. The music is heavy on driving guitars, but can also whip out some clever, diverse songs that fit nicely for the show's genre-crossing aspirations. There are 60s-style pop-rock songs appropriate for the student protests, twinkling melodies for Kikko's magical witch moments, and even some melancholy, glitchy electronic tracks for the dreams of the lonely Earth-chan.
Overall, Conrevo is a rich and busy shows that sometimes stumbles in its narrative execution, but always surprises with more great ideas. Featuring a broad and engaging cast, an uneven but overall satisfying collection of episodic adventures, and a politically searing underlying narrative, it is as creative and engaging as message fiction can get. If you're down for a incisive love letter to superheroes that doubles as a scathing critique of society, get over here and join the revolutio.
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Diverse and engaging cast marked by contrasting values and loyalties build into a creative and blood-boiling social critique; also there are lots of fun superhero adventures.
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