Reviewby Theron Martin,
Cross Ange: Rondo of Angel and Dragon
Blu-Ray - Collection 2
A fleet has come to the badly-damaged Arzenal supposedly to rescue the Norma, but that quickly proves to be false and deadly chaos ensues. The aftermath sees the Norma scattered, with Ange, Tusk, and Vivian winding up in another place where they learn the full truth about the Dragons, the Light of Mana, the real nature of their world, Vivian's origin, and how it's all connected. Just as importantly, Ange learns about the true demon behind the whole twisted system: the godlike Embryo. Unfortunately for Ange, defiance actually excites him, and he insists on taking Ange as his bride for the new world of his creation. Even with allies new and old gathering behind her and the power of Vilkiss at her disposal, how can she stand up to an immortal man with seductive power over almost everyone?
Whatever your reaction was to the first 12 episodes of Cross Ange, your reaction to the last 13 episodes is unlikely to be any different. Those who found plenty to hate about the first half will find more things to despise in the second half, while those who loved it will see even more fun in the events to come. For all the nastiness and mecha action that happens in the first half, the second half is where the series truly hits full throttle.
After episode 13, the story moves away from the confines of Arzenal. The setting was not bad by any means, as the whole story about a colony of outcasts forced to be warriors for the benefit of those who cast them out definitely had its own appeal, but staying at Arzenal also constrained the story's ability to explore its bigger picture. Because of the forces at work in the world, breaking out of there is a messy and brutal process that changes the status quo, disrupts relationships, and ends lives on both sides, sometimes in such a graphic fashion that the artistry goes vague on the visual details.
Still, the move away from Arzenal allows the bigger picture to be established. That Norma not only couldn't use Mana but also actively rejected it on contact vaguely suggested a more sinister underpinning to the whole setup, and the second half doesn't take long to bare the truth. (But that's hardly surprising, since the series – for better or worse – rarely takes its time getting to anything.) There is nothing especially complicated or innovative about the twists to follow, but they're juicy revelations nonetheless, staged fairly smoothly.
Character and relationship development are just as important to the overall entertainment value of this second half. In learning these revelations, Ange earns something she hasn't had since everything collapsed on her in episode 1: a true friend. She meets a woman as strong, capable, and competitive as she is, and Ange also turns out to be the first true equal in spirit that the other young woman has ever encountered. One brief appearance in the first half suggested that these two had been linked throughout the ages in one life or another, and the chemistry that quickly develops between them makes that montage wholly believable. That does not in any way interfere with Ange's growing relationship with Tusk, however. Back in Ange's original world, several of her fellow Para-Mail pilots have undergone substantial yet credible changes in attitude, while dealing more directly with Embryo spins another one out of control. Hilda gradually gives up on any illusion she might have had about only being a lesbian by necessity and lets her full attraction to Ange start to show, and two other characters also finally realize the depths of their feelings for each other. For as sensationalized as these lesbian elements have sometimes been, the writing at least makes a real effort to establish some true relationships at its heart.
The focus of the series never strays far from Ange, however, and her development makes the series as much as anything else. The first half toughened her up and left her embittered, but as she progresses into the second half, she became a far more fiercely independent heroine. She is harshly unforgiving and refuses to play by anyone else's playbook, both for better and for worse. That doesn't put her above falling in love or seeking emotional support in times of weakness, but everything she does is on her own terms. Try to degrade her, seduce her, or torture her, but she won't break that easily. That makes her the ultimate foil for Embryo's womanizing villainy.
Of course, that also makes some of the fanservice elements divisive. In addition to the alluring pilot suits and the camera's tendency to linger on boobs and butts, expect plenty of undefined nudity (Ange winds up naked in about half these episodes), lesbian kisses, phallic food, and both consensual sex and attempted rape. The running joke about Tusk faceplanting into Ange's crotch continues but with enough interesting variations that it doesn't get too old, and fanservice of a nerdier kind can also be found. There's one clear reference to a character from Gundam Seed, for instance, and two characters appear at one point in dresses that their respective seiyuu have been known to wear. Embryo also drops hints that he is a fan of both the composer Antonín Dvořák and the philosopher Immanuel Kant.
On the visual front, quality control is a regularly recurring problem with character animation, resulting in characters sliding off-model all too frequently, especially in group shots. On the upside, the mecha animation is still consistently slick, fully articulated, and smoothly integrated, making for a number of sharp-looking action scenes; judged solely on mech suit animation, this is one of the best-looking mecha series of recent years. The wardrobe for the dragon people can be more than a little silly, but a couple of characters get interesting makeovers at various points, including Ange, whose hair grows out a little over the course of this second half.
The musical score remains as strong and bold as ever, though it doesn't just rely on established themes. Among new additions this half are further versions of the “Eternal Story” song featured at various points in the first half (including one by a male singer), additional types of dramatic backing vocals, and some ambitious classically themed piano work. The fittingly titled new opener “The Apocalypse of Truth” is performed by Yoko Takahashi (of “Cruel Angel's Thesis” fame) and uses a mix of new and recycled visuals for a bold sound that's a perfect match to the rest of the score. The new closer, sung by Ange's seiyuu Nana Mizuki, features simpler visuals but is just as strong.
In my review of the first half I expressed concerns about how well Juliet Simmons (Myucel in Outbreak Company, Kurome in Akame ga KILL!) would sound as Salamandinay based on a brief sample, but those concerns prove unfounded. Chris Patton, as expected, perfectly portrays Embryo as the ultimate cad, and Emily Neves does better with Ange's sharper moments in this half. Performance quality for returning roles otherwise remains the same, with some minor supporting roles being a little spotty. Overall though, it is a competent dub job.
Sentai Filmworks' release of the second half splits the 13 episodes across two discs. A couple of on-screen notes are added in places to explain difficult concepts in the subtitles. Extras include clean versions of the new opener and closer, a collection of Japanese commercials, and a collection of music videos featuring long versions of the theme songs set to clips from throughout the series. The special extra this time is “Cross Ange Talk Show,” a roughly 23-minute live piece apparently recorded during a special event in Japan that debuted the first two episodes of the series. It features the voice actresses for Ange, Hilda, Rosalie, Chris, and Salamandinay talking about the series. Among the most interesting comments are acknowledgements that this series used much harsher language than most of them were used to, and that their characters were so mean to each other that they sometimes had to remind themselves during the recording sessions that those feelings didn't carry over to their fellow actresses.
The second half of Cross Ange is not without some significant flaws. By far the most egregious of these is one point where the writing backs itself into a corner over the apparent death of one character so hard that it completely dodges any explanation of how that character could have possibly survived before they reappear in the next episode. More minor details also strain credibility in a few places, although in some cases the show's ridiculous melodrama is treated more directly as a joke. Overall though, the series is a complete story with no loose ends and delivers impressively well on mecha action, character development, and general fun factor. While I wouldn't rank it among the best series I have seen in recent years, there are few that I have found equally entertaining.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : A-
+ Mecha action, character development, Ange becomes a great anime heroine
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