Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Episodes 1-6 Streaming
In a digital fantasy land, four countries have been battling for ages. The leaders of the four nations—referred to as “goddesses” by their citizens—join together to sign a peace treaty that finally puts an end to the war. Previously the four goddesses fought each other to gain the “Shares” from which they get their power. The new treaty states that they will focus on getting their Shares domestically. Blanc, Noire, and Vert, the leaders of Lowee, Lastation, and Leanbox, go home and start racking up the Shares. Neptune, the goddess of Planeptune, goes home and plays video games. Naturally her Shares decrease, and in order to get her nagging fairy lieutenant off her back, she promises to go study the governance of her goddess peers. In the meantime villainous Arfoire and her mousy sidekick Pirachu are gathering mysterious red crystals in preparation for a lethal attack on the seemingly indestructible goddesses.
You can make a positive statement about literally anything if you throw in enough qualifiers. So it doesn't really mean anything when I say that Hyperdimension Neptunia is pretty good for a video game adaptation that has no decent characters and a surplus of molesting slime-dogs and lolicon tongue-monsters. But I really do mean it. Neptunia may be about the least promising series to ever be barfed out by the anime-gaming complex, but once it gets its legs under it, it's a surprisingly engaging little adventure. Pointless and unimaginative, sure, and probably artificially elevated by our septic expectations, but engaging nonetheless. Damn. There I go with the qualifiers again.
Honest, Neptunia is surprisingly enjoyable. Not that you'd know that from the first couple of episodes. It takes the series a while to distill something interesting from its mess of moe RPG fluff, and in the meantime it does some truly awful things to us. Among its lesser crimes are the early episodes' dippy plots. Episode one is basically about Neptune crashing at Noire's place, with some time taken out for dull dungeon-crawling action. Episode two revolves around a silly kidnapping plot. Episode three is about the goddesses setting up a party for themselves. These are the kinds of episodes you'd expect from a toothless friends-at-school comedy, not from a fantasy action-comedy. Going up a rung or two on the atrocity scale, there are the Team Rocketish villains, one of whom is literally a big mouse, who go around being kind of inept and distinctly unthreatening.
The truly appalling mistakes, however, are reserved for the show's fan-service. Beginning with the goddesses' magical transformations. Most of the goddesses grow up—and in the case of Neptune, grow up a lot—in their transformed states, so every time one of them transforms (with the exception of Vert, who is a buxom young woman before and after) we get the UFO Princess Valkyrie treatment. Which is to say, the memorable sight of young girls sprouting adult boobs and voluptuous rears. That's weak tea, though, compared to what happens when the show gets serious about titillation. In the first episode that means having puppy-shaped slime monsters swarm the girls and crawl under their clothes, leaving them spent and artistically splattered with dog ooze. In the second episode that means having a tongue monster assault the cast's two youngest girls, Blanc's little sisters Rom and Ram. There's nothing like watching a potbellied abomination slurping little girls to cripple you with convulsive cringing.
While the show's screwing all of that up, it's doing a handful of important things right. Even at its vilest and stupidest the series maintains a good-natured lightness that makes it hard to take serious offense. That lightness is particularly essential when things get downright gross, but it also helps the cast's capering, making it seem silly and fun when by all rights it should be forced and irritating. The blinding cuteness of the girls helps on that front too—Neptune in particular should be a happy-go-lucky blight, but is so damnably cute that you somehow can't hate her—as does the series' periodic aptitude for dreaming up adorable things for them to do. The scenes where Vert's virtual reality system transforms the girls into brawling little slime-monsters are just plain murder.
The most important things, however, that the show does well going into the meat of its first arc are 1. Its action, and 2. The relationships between the goddesses and their little sisters. The first is wholly a function of execution, at least in the show's early stages. The semi-technological magic of the goddesses—they get their power from the Sharicite, which is powered by the esteem that their subjects have for them—has built-in visual appeal, from their surprisingly cool (and, of course, revealing) battle dress to the high-tech design of their melee weaponry. More importantly, though, director Masahiro Mukai knows enough about timing, splashy editing, and action posturing to turn that visual appeal into reasonably exciting action.
As for the sisterly relations of the goddesses, they're the only thing in the show that is honestly affecting enough to qualify as its heart. The series is careful to give each goddess—excepting Vert, who doesn't have a sister—a different flavor of bond with their little sister(s). Neptune's relationship with her responsible sister Nepgear is all unforced admiration and mutual support. Noire is strict and forbidding with her sister Umi, pushing her hard to better herself and never praising her enough, which leads Umi to have a serious inferiority complex. Blanc clearly loves her mischievous twin sisters, but cannot seem to express it in a healthy way.
The series takes those two things and narrows its focus exclusively to them as it heads into the finale of its first arc. What results is a massive, two-episode battle in which the goddesses—stripped of their power and in increasingly mortal danger—must rely on their untested little sisters to defeat the show's paper-tiger villains, who, it turns out, have real, black villainy running through their bumbling veins. Mukai pushes his action to greater heights, using his limited budget cannily as Nepgear and company soar and clash and the little sisters face down the unhealthy parts of their sisterly attachments in order to unleash their true power. It's unexpectedly involving stuff, helped along by the deeply unsubtle but highly effective emotional manipulations of Mukai and his small stable of composers.
Of course, after it's all over, the show goes right back to cotton-candy fantasy silliness. And even while running full steam the show is never less than wholly predictable and cornily clichéd. Still, for a few episodes we were able to forget that we were watching a show about anthropomorphized game consoles (yes, that's what the show's about) and to put the loli-licking robots behind us. And for that, and for easily vaulting over our rock-bottom expectations, the show deserves at least some measure of praise.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C-
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B
+ Channels its sparse strengths into a surprisingly involving serial finale; solid action and high cuteness levels; little sisters are pretty sympathetic.
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