Reviewby MrAJCosplay/Cartoon Cipher,
With the help of his first human friends, Shiki finally leaves the planet he grew up on and seeks to explore the galaxy. With a small crew formed and a ship passed down to him by his late robotic grandfather titled the Eden Zero, Shiki seeks to escape the Sakura Cosmos in order to find Mother, a giant mythical being who is said to have the ability to grant wishes. However, the Eden Zero is missing two androids who are necessary to bring the ship to full power named Hermit and Valkyrie. Both androids have been missing for years and little does the gang know the dark, violent history revolving around their absence.
When Edens Zero first came out, it was admittedly very difficult for many people, myself included, to judge the series on its own terms. Coming off the heels of Hiro Mashima's very successful Fairy Tail, Edens Zero did have a lot to live up to because love or hate it, its predecessor was one of the more popular long running shonen anime to come out in the past couple of years. None of this was helped by the fact that Mashima had very explicitly put in a lot of character look-alikes and names that specifically hearkened back to Fairy Tail in Edens Zero. At best this could be distracting but at worst it could also give the impression that Mashima didn't have much confidence in this new series; fully content with riding the coattails of his previous success. I had covered the first half of this first season when it had dropped on Netflix and argued that while those elements were present and originally distracting, this series had enough going for it where it could more than stand on its own. In this second half, my feelings remain the same.
The show continues to lean into previous out there plot devices such as time travel and predicting the future. I can't tell if the relative simplicity of how these concepts are explained is a strength or weakness for the narrative but for now it feels like the show is more concerned with setting things up with these concepts than fully fleshing them out. The show has firmly established a sense of self awareness right down to having a character act as a storyteller addressing the audience at times as if we're looking at a series of unfortunate events unfolding. Picking up right where the last episode had left off, our heroes continued on their path to finding the remaining two members of the four shining stars, Hermit and Valkyrie. Episodes 13-16 deals with recruiting Hermit whose story expands upon the previously introduced stigma humans have with robots but taken to a horrifying extreme. It is very on the nose and pretty much wraps up exactly how you think it would but I was genuinely surprised at how much I still felt for her predicament and it helps that we know enough about Shiki leading up to this arc to reasonably believe that he would probably be one of the only people that could help pull her out of her depressed slump. All of this is done in a virtual setting that feels appropriate as Hermit is looking to escape the hardships of reality while also feeling like Mashima is having fun with the whole “trapped in a video game" storyline that has long been overused before this point. However, there is a decent amount of intrigue and twists.
One of those twists involves an outside force infiltrating the group while impersonating a main character and ironically only really works because we don't know that much about said character outside of her funny quirks. I would cry foul if this very character, Homura, didn't then act as one of the main driving forces for the remainder of the season. These final couple of episodes probably make up the strongest arc of the show as it better foreshadows certain events without explicitly spelling them out to the audience with an overall theme that is surprisingly bittersweet in a more relatable way. Mashima has always had this prevailing theme of family throughout his shows but this season seems to push how far that optimism can go in a world that is just straight up filled with people who only care about themselves and satisfying their base desires. The show has already established that the main characters are not invincible so it's interesting seeing how far they are pushed physically and emotionally to be better people than those they encounter across these various different planets. The end result is a very emotional payoff that firmly establishes this group of characters as a crew who will be there for each other when the world knocks them down. When Shiki says he's a friend, not a hero, I think that perfectly sums up everything.
The downside to setting up your theme like this is that you really need to have villains that sort of represent the worst that humanity has to offer and personally, I think that acts as a double-edged sword. Simplistic villains aren't a new complaint if you're familiar with Mashima's other works. A majority of his characters do lean more into the eccentric side of things so on the one hand, it is rather impressive that he is able to come up with so many different designs and quirks for even relatively minor characters. I'm not saying that the main antagonistic forces for this show need to be overly deep and complicated (I'd almost argue that if you overwrote the villains too much it would kind of take away from the joyous simplicity of the series) but at the very least you should not make them boring. We get some fun sub-villains like the creepy hacker Spider who sadistically gets a thrill out of killing sentient NPCs in a video game but then you have characters like the professor from Hermit's flashback whose main defining character trait is that he just hates robots…and that's it.
I wish he applied a bit more of that quirkiness we see in the main cast and these side characters to some of the main antagonistic forces covered in this half of the season because as it stands, they are the least interesting parts about the show. There is a satisfaction in seeing them get their comeuppance but they are very easy to forget after that. They serve their bare minimum purpose of highlighting how corrupt this galaxy is as they seem to be defined by major selfish traits such as greed and racism but I don't find the characters themselves that memorable. I'd even go so far as to say that some of the henchmen to these big bads are easier to remember as I'm writing this. There is a character known as Drakken who seems to lean into a balance of interesting and despicable but this season acts more like a set up for him as the next major villain.
When it comes to the overall direction and art design, the anime's production is a step above average. Colors are bright and vibrant without really any moment I can think of that has a noticeable dip in quality. At worst the presentation is consistent while at best there are some very interesting and noticeable animation cuts every other episode. I've previously praised the show's use of unique powers like Shiki's gravity abilities like how he's able to fall in various directions to give us the illusion that he's flying and I think the anime does a good enough job of highlighting such unique powers. Trust me, this show looks better than most of Fairy Tail ever did even is the music isn't as memorable comparatively. There are grand sweeping pieces that help emphasize the size of the adventure and when the character needs a quiet moment to reflect, things can get surprisingly somber. However, while the score serves as a good compliment, nothing really stands out on its own and the series really lacks some distinctly memorable themes. This is all wrapped up in a piece that feels very tightly paced with little to no filler and dare I say the show seemed to perfectly fit Netflix's bing model format. The downside to the pacing is that there are a few moments of convenience where a character will show up or an effect will happen for the sake of moving us along to the next outcome. Thankfully it's not too egregious but still undeniably there.
Finally on the topic of voice acting, the dub is fairly solid across the board. I give props to whoever was in charge of casting for taking the time to reach out to the Texas based actors who were originally in Fairy Tail in order to come back and play their look-alikes here. Maybe I'm too nostalgic but it just feels right hearing Tia Ballard and Colleen Clinkenbeard play characters like Happy and Erza's lookalikes respectively. Hiro usually has a lot of his more eccentric characters give off some kind of vocal eccentricity whether it be a verbal tick or some kind of distinct laugh and disappointingly the dub doesn't carry all of these elements over in English. However, on the flipside there are some bits of punched up humor that felt very reminiscent to the dubs of Hiro's previous works while still feeling perfectly in line with who these characters are. Everyone bounces off each other well with good chemistry and comedic timing. Even though all these characters couldn't really know each other for more than a few weeks, there is a kinship here that feels charming.
Overall, this half of season one continues to expand upon a lot of the things that were established in the first half. The world feels bigger and bigger with each new planet that we visit while also feeling darker and more selfish along the way. While there are references to previous works and cheeky reminders, thematically it does feel like a different story and a different lesson is trying to be pushed here. The final episode ends with some previews of what's to come and assuming that the pay off is handled well, I think we have a lot to look forward to. If you're looking for a relatively fun adventure series with a bit more edge to contrast the bright colorful exterior, then I would say hop aboard the Edens Zero and check it out!
Overall : B
Story : B-
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B
+ Very animated, emotional climax, character have good chemistry and fun banter, eccentric side characters
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