Reviewby Theron Martin, Nov 17th 2013
episodes 1-6 streaming
Decades ago, an environmental disaster at a new plant in Tokyo resulted in the contamination of more than 90% of the city to the point where humans cannot survive without protective gear. (And in some hot spots even protective gear is not enough.) As a result, the survivors of the calamity were evacuated and the city walled off and left to become a wasteland. Some time later the development of Coppelions, children genetically engineered to be heavily resistant to the radiation, allows extensive exploration of the city. High school-aged Naruse (who has superhuman athletic ability), Taeko (who has been bred with superhuman senses), and Aoi (who's just whiny and pathetic) are one such group, a Medical Unit tasked with searching for survivors. And they do, indeed, find some – and not just animals, either – who have been lingering in safe zones within the city for years. Not everyone they find is keen on leaving, however, and other dangers lurk within the city, too, including mysterious and well-armed individuals who are using the cover of contamination to turn the city into a toxic dumping ground and a former military unit which has become the self-styled “protector” of the city. When the danger gets too much for the girls to handle, their supervisor, Vice-Principal Mishima, calls in a member of the Coppelion “Cleaning Crew” to help out.
Explorations of cities turned into wasteland by war or calamity are hardly rare in both anime and science fiction in general, as are tales of genetically-bred individuals who agonize over whether or not they still count as humans. So what does this new manga-based series from GoHands and director Hiromitsu Kanazawa have to offer to draw attention to itself? First and foremost is a first episode whose stylistic choices can leave quite a vivid first impression (though whether it is necessarily a positive impression is another story), but as the series progresses, the ambiance established by the inherent danger of the setting, and how the Coppelions stick out amongst the Barrier Suit-clad humans who live or visit the area, carries the content along. And eventually the series does, indeed, get to the action sequences promised in the advertising trailer, too, although little of that shows up before episode four.
Without question, the series is visually striking. Meticulous attention to detail creates a bleak, ruined city in the first stages of being gradually overtaken by nature. Faint color filtering applied to the scenery saps the life and energy out of the natural setting and furthers the impression that, despite whatever birds we might hear chirping, insects we might see crawling, or moss growing on buildings, this is a desolate place by human standards. The character rendering is no less distinctive, as while the designs are relatively ordinary, the way they are animated is not. They stand in stark contrast to the miniscule detail of the backgrounds, drawn with thick lines, manga-styled shading, and in a manner which gives the feel of them being layered onto the background rather than a part of it; something similar to this effect used to be commonplace back in the late '90s and early 2000s, but this seems more like a deliberate effort to force a visual contrast rather than the cheap animation and lack of technical skill responsible in that era. Vehicles are rendered in finely-detailed CG, which is not jarring in its inclusion but not perfectly integrated, either. Curiously, the series resolutely avoids displaying any hint of fan service despite using many fluid camera angles positioned ideally for seeing up the girls' skirts; in that respect the series is a tease, particularly given that Kanazawa has titles like Princess Lover! under his belt. In contrast, it does get fairly graphic at times. The animation varies between being very sharp and taking big shortcuts, with little consistency on which way it goes.
The problems with the series become apparent once one gets past the visuals and the surprisingly effective application of having everyone but the Coppelions in protective suits most of the time. Clearly the story wants to make some strong points about the nature of being human, the calamity that mankind can bring down upon itself, and the way people learn to adapt under such extreme circumstances, but its writing does not seem sure about how to pull off the impressions that it wants to leave. This leads to clumsy handling of content that could otherwise be compelling. The most prominent instance of this in the first six episodes is the plot line about the toxic waste dumping, which posits that a place which is already a hot zone becomes the perfect venue for the illegal dumping of contaminated waste. That such a thing might reasonably happen, and that someone might try to profit from it, is an entirely sensible idea. That a company would be able to get their hands on a B2 stealth bomber for such duty is not, nor is getting into a surface-to-air firefight with one as if it were a fighter plane. Yes, the fact that individuals could be bioengineered to be effectively immune to radiation in only a couple of decades is not any more credible, but as hard as this series strives to show realism on other fronts, the B2 business is sloppy sensationalism.
The writing also stumbles in its efforts to infuse credible emotional content into the story. It aims for heartfelt moments without having established a firm foundation for them and then executes them with a substandard acting effort and unconvincing dialogue. Weak character development also contributes to this; through six episodes, Taeko barely has a personality, Aoi is insufferably whiny and childlike, and Naruse is little more than the cool girl who has a deeply caring side. The Cleaning Crew boy who shows up in episode six is also surprisingly uninteresting even though his role is tailor-made for being a cocky stud. The angle about whether or not the Coppelions are really just animated dolls like their namesakes (their title is a reference to the ballet Coppelia, about a woman who pretends to be a doll which comes to life) is brought up from time to time, but has yet to be explored in much depth.
The most effective thing the musical score does is to be almost entirely absent in the first episode, allowing the vaguely eerie sound of blowing wind to be the only background sound in many of the scenes of the girls wandering around in the city. As a tone-setting maneuver, it is incredibly effective. Otherwise the soundtrack is largely innocuous. The opening and closing themes by the duo Angela (which has also done themes for Asura Cryin', Fafner, and Stellvia, amongst others) are both decent enough numbers but nothing terribly exciting. Japanese voice acting is only mediocre at best, which is surprising giving the filmographies of the lead actresses, especially Haruka Tomatsu, the voice of Naruse.
Overall, the first half of Coppelion is not as bad as the text above may make it sound, as it is still showing some good ideas and does nail the ambiance of the setting. (At least until it randomly and incongruously inserts some comedic moments in episode six, that is.) However, so far the writing and execution is not sufficient to get a great, or even good, result out of this one.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Some ambitious ideas, mostly effective tone-setting, impactful first episode.
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