Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere
Episodes 1-6 Streaming
In the distant future, a collision of parallel worlds has altered national borders on planet Earth, forcing human civilization to rebuild from scratch. The airborne city-ship of Musashi embodies this new world order, where Edo-period buildings coexist with modern technology. At Musashi Ariadust Academy, the city's youth study combat arts, history and politics as they prepare to be future leaders. But the future looks questionable in the hands of student council president Aoi Tori, a perverted troublemaker. Tori's goal in life is to confess his feelings to an android girl who mysteriously resembles Horizon, his childhood friend from ten years ago. Tori's plans are derailed, however, when Lord Matsudaira—the city's leader—sets off a catastrophe that delivers Musashi into the hands of a foreign alliance, the Testament Union. At the center of the crisis is none other than Horizon herself, and now Tori and his classmates must save her!
It may not be trying to sell a collectible card game or a line of action figures, but Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere sure feels like a promotional corporate product. Every part of it seems to pander to the eclectic tastes of anime fandom: a fantastical future world, a storyline full of unusual twists, a cast of characters comprised of dashing young men and busty young women, and physics-defying battles where sorcery and technology meet. But the problem with trying to appeal to every fan, especially when their tastes are so specialized and disparate, is that you end up with a hulking mess where none of the tropes fit in with each other. In other words, you end up with Horizon.
Right from the start, the series ping-pongs incoherently between various modes, trying to figure out what kind of story it wants to tell. The first episode is grossly misleading; it introduces an entire classroom's worth of characters (most of which are crass stereotypes) in a no-holds-barred melee race, hoping that the promise of wild, eye-popping action will rope viewers in. Yet only a handful of the characters are essential to the main storyline, and the next couple of episodes are more about dense, world-building dialogue than thrilling action. This results in disappointment and confusion early on: What are all these students training for? Is Horizon dead or not-dead? Why do they talk about this parallel world of "Divine Harmonic States" and then never bring it up again? If there's a surefire way to induce boredom, it's with roundabout paragraphs of exposition like this.
One of the few things the series does right, though, is its clever presentation of the first-half story arc through different characters' eyes. Episodes 1-5 all begin on the same morning, but are told from different viewpoints, creating a multi-layered narrative that ultimately reveals the grand plot behind Musashi's downfall. The action and seriousness ramp up eventually, moving away from Tori's schoolroom antics, and so the exposition and political maneuvering become more enjoyable (as well as more comprehensible). Episode 5, with its climactic, all-guns-blazing battle, is the turning point where one could say the series starts getting good—except that Episode 6 deflates all those expectations with another tepid school-life chronicle. And therein lies Horizon's fatal flaw: it wants to be a political drama, mecha slugfest, raunchy school comedy, and coming-of-age tale all in one, and in straddling so many genres, never quite succeeds at any of them.
The series' visual aesthetic is also a patchwork of multiple styles dogpiling on top of each other. Mecha design is the area that fares best, with an eye-pleasing arsenal of robots facing off in the battles of Episodes 4 and 5. Most notably, these CGI creations blend successfully with the rest of the animation, proving that the production staff can put out quality work when needed. (See also: Episode 1's nonstop parade of chase and fight scenes.) The backgrounds, which bring together natural landscapes, traditional Japanese architecture, and outlandish sci-fi structures, also show a creative eye. Unfortunately, the characters themselves seem to have been designed as part of a blindfolded dare, with every military uniform, skintight pilot suit, and frilly maid outfit being thrown onto a generic, slightly throwback cast of teens. A few throwaway gag characters (a nude male demon and an Indian mystic, among others) add nothing to the show, proving that just because you come up with an idea doesn't mean you should go through with it. Animation quality also drops off considerably during dialogue scenes, where lazy directing turns most character interactions into a snoozefest of talking heads.
The music falls right in with the rest of the show's multi-genre mix-and-match: big-time battle scenes call for a grand, symphonic score, while more quiet drama is backed up by nostalgic strains, and goofing-off time is represented by the same repeating electro-pop tune. Even the theme songs get caught up in these mood swings; these episodes switch between two different ending sequences—a cheerful comedy number and a more serious ballad—depending on the tone of the story. (The opening, however, remains a typical uptempo tune that could be interchangeable with any giant robot or sci-fi battle series.) These wild variations in the soundtrack make it something of a head-scratching mess to listen to.
The greatest paradox about Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere is that, despite its head-spinning premise and poor storytelling decisions, there actually may be a good story in there somewhere. The first six episodes show potential flashes of greatness—something about twisted political maneuvers, of alliances and wars and weapons of mass destruction, and a scrappy high school class that might just save their entire city-state. If everything goes perfectly, it might even result in a stunningly animated finale, full of battling mechas and over-the-top weapons. But more often than not, the series' compulsive desire to satisfy every single viewer clouds its potential: bulky expository scenes, unnecessary characters, and Tori's tawdry humor all block the path to greatness. Without a better sense of creative direction, this show may indeed be stuck "in the middle of nowhere" in more ways than one.
Overall (sub) : C-
Story : D+
Animation : B-
Art : C
Music : C
+ A complex political drama, multiple points of view, and slickly produced action scenes prove to be the series' main draw.
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