Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Coppelion Complete Series
In a future not far from our own, the city of Tokyo has been contaminated by a man-made scientific catastrophe. Rendered uninhabitable, humanity has abandoned it and left it to fall to pieces...mostly. Some people refused to leave or couldn't escape, and in order to save them and reclaim the so-called Old Capital, scientists have genetically engineered children who are immune to the pollutants in Tokyo. Called “Coppelion,” these children, now teenagers, are brought to the city by the JSDAF and tasked with either saving what remains of humanity...or “cleaning” it up.
What happens when you attempt to condense two distinct story arcs covering eight volumes of manga into thirteen twenty-four minute episodes? Those of you who answered “nothing good” would not be far off, although this adaptation of Tomonori Inoue's manga of the same name is in no way a total loss. Filled with exquisitely decayed remnants of our present culture and a heroine with a serious can-do attitude, to say nothing of references to a classical ballet, there's a lot in Coppelion to admire and enjoy. What suffers is the storytelling, which becomes excessively melodramatic at times, and a sense of any sort of conclusion.
The story follows three high school age girls, Ibara, Taeko, and Aoi, all of whom are Coppelion. The girls form a medical team and have been dropped on the outskirts of a devastated Tokyo to rescue those who have been left behind for whatever reason. Ibara, the leader and “class president” of the third year Coppelions (there's an odd mix of school and military cultures for these kids, which does make sense), is utterly devoted to her mission without fully understanding what it means to interact with people, something she does learn over the course of the series. Taeko is the kindhearted member of the group, able to communicate with animals and clearly has the most medical training, while Aoi is the most human of the three, whining and crying and getting hungry in a way that makes us question her presence on the team up until episodes ten and eleven, when her special talents finally come through. In the first arc of the story, they help a family of three, while in the second, things get much more complicated when they attempt to help a group staying in an old biodome. This second arc is the longer and more interesting of the two, introducing the Coppelion “clean up” crew (let's just say they aren't picking up trash) as well as a group of JSDF soldiers who feel abandoned by the government.
The theme of “humanity” and “being human” is a central one to the story, which is both interesting and poorly explored. The Coppelions see themselves as not being human due to the fact that they have been engineered to survive in the polluted world of the Old Capital and also been endowed with special physical gifts, like Taeko's ability to speak to animals or Kannon's electrical powers. However, they clearly experience the same emotions as the humans they're working with and helping and they certainly pass the Merchant of Venice test – if you prick them, they do in fact bleed, and at one point Ibara even requires a blood transfusion, which seems very human. While it is likely that this will be concluded in the manga, in the anime, it seems underdeveloped and a bit half-baked. Other issues about humanity – fears of abandonment, love, and emotional hurt – are much more fully shown, with one character making the comment that when the city was evacuated many of the elderly were simply left behind in nursing homes. As we see towards the end of the show, this may have been very short-sighted, as they have knowledge that no one else does.
The visuals of Coppelion far out-do the writing, which is clunky and unsubtle. I was able to predict nearly every outcome one to two episodes ahead of it happening, which is generally not a good sign in a show driven by a sense of suspense. Much of the world-building has to be inferred or flat out guessed from the events we do see, likely an effect of the condensing that had to happen to fit the story into the required number of episodes, and the Coppelia/doll symbolism is a bit overdone. Luckily the show is very nice to look at from a background standpoint, with a grim beauty to the depiction of the crumbling city of Tokyo, covered in moss and plants like a jungle ruin. We also see a variety of different hazmat suit designs, with nearly every group of people the girls encounter having a unique protective outfit, which helps to make up for the ludicrously leggy designs of the girls and the grotesquely swollen pregnant woman in the second half. Haruto, the one male Coppelion we meet, has more believable proportions than the girls, possibly because we cannot see his bare legs.
The Blu-Ray is noticeably sharper and brighter than the DVD; subtitles are in a readable font and songs-and-signs subs are an option on both types of disc. The dub is strong, sounding fairly similar to the Japanese language track, so your language preference shouldn't make a difference in vocal quality. For those who have only heard Cherami Leigh in a heroine role, however, you should listen to her Kannon, as she is delightfully malicious.
Coppelion has the makings of a great series, but its condensed storytelling and sense of melodrama really bring it down. It is easy to get hooked into the story, but the ending leaves you with a sense of not having really gone anywhere, with the larger issues remaining unresolved and a couple of plot threads left to dangle. On the bright side, as of this writing the manga is available legally online, so you can go get the full story, which definitely may help to make watching this feel more rewarding.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Great background art, interesting concept and use of the ballet “Coppelia.”
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