Reviewby Theron Martin,
Episodes 1-12 Streaming
In a far-flung future, human colonization of the stars has been facilitated by the discovery of Orichalt, a curious ore whose characteristics make interstellar teleportation and communication feasible. Mining Orichalt is a dangerous but lucrative business, as teenage cosmo-geology student Maya Mikuri learns the hard way. When one of her professors illegally sells her research project data for profit, Maya finds herself abandoned and classified as a criminal. That leads to her falling in with independent mining operation Excavate, run by a former military officer, his daughter, and a passel of other misfits. Unlike Maya, who can transfer her consciousness into a robotic I-Machine using a process called Mind Trance, most of the group's members permanently inhabit I-Machines because they don't have human bodies to return to, and sometimes not even memories of those lives.
What do you get when the creator/director for the Code Geass franchise teams up with the writer behind Gundam Build Fighters? This 12-episode original anime production, which aired in Japan during the Spring 2017 season. After many months of waiting, Netflix has made the full series available with subtitle options in English, French, German, Japanese, Spanish, and dub options available in all of those languages plus Italian. Whether or not this series is worth the wait is another story.
The notion of humankind discovering some new substance that allows for space travel is as old as science fiction itself: the Cavorite of H.G. Wells or the dilithium of the Star Trek franchise are just a few examples of many. So while the Orichalt is a more standard sci fi element, the I-Machines and Mind Trances are much more intriguing parts of the premise. I-Machines are mecha-sized robots that are controlled directly by transferring a person's consciousness into them rather than via conventional piloting or remote control. As a result, individuals can handle dangerous environments without fear of death, since if the I-Machine is badly-damaged, the controller can just Mind Out or, in a worst-case scenario, have her consciousness restored to her body from a backup, with the only consequence being some short-term memory loss. Permanently transferring consciousness into an I-Machine is illegal but also possible, resulting in individuals called Evertrancer,
The possibilities for this premise are broad and deep, even if the I-Machines aren't that much different from giant-sized versions of the full-body cyborgs used in franchises like Ghost in the Shell. However, while a couple major plot points do involve some of these consequences, the series as a whole shows little interest in stretching the limits of its concept. Instead, it's more interested in spinning a rather conventional tale about a search for identity, both literally in the case of the titular ID-0 and in the sense of finding a role in society for other characters. It also jumps through a lot of hoops to accommodate the presence of the little girl shown in the opener and promo pictures, partly ignoring the setting's own internal logic; her character mostly exists to act as a walking plot point and fulfill the series' seeming need for cute factor. This leads to a messy and complicated last quarter carried by very tenuous logic.
Taniguchi and Kuroda seemed to realize that the plot wouldn't be enough to carry the series, so they did at least make an attempt to establish a lively and diverse cast. We have a hotshot former racer who's a ladies' man even in I-Machine form, the practical-minded former female investor, the ex-military guy who's nominally the boss but often at a loss to keep his people in line, the frank but reliable guy with the mysterious past, and the young student with a caring heart who's overwhelmed by her circumstances. They are later joined by a sexy former enemy officer, who integrates with the group improbably smoothly. The leader's daughter Clair, who's the one fully human character besides Maya until the enemy officer shows up, doesn't have much of a presence, nor is much attempt made to factor her into the group dynamic. She's ultimately little more than a supportive peon. The little girl who comes to be known as Alice doesn't contribute anything either, only giggling or throwing non-verbal fits like a toddler for most of the series. The rest of the cast forms at least a tolerable group dynamic, but not enough clicks in the relationships between them to make up for deficiencies in the plot.
While the series has a significant level of action, it often seems more like a byproduct than a focal point of the story, and it's substantial enough or thrilling enough to carry the series either. The visual style might also leave some viewers cold. ID-0 is produced by Sanzigen Animation Studio, which also headlined Arpeggio of Blue Steel, and it's animated entirely in 3DCG. This works fine when the focus is entirely on the I-Machines, as their movements are fluid and expressive as a human's without needing to look remotely human. By contrast, characters in human form often come off slightly unnatural, and the combination of cel-shaded CGI and realistic features or proportions only heightens their unreality. As someone who isn't normally bothered by CG human characters, I found the uncanny effect to be milder than in other recent all-CG efforts, but I can't see this winning over those normally averse to TV-anime-level CG. Space vehicles, meteoroids, and other celestial bodies also have a certain level of unreality to them, perhaps because the coloring is too bright and lacking in texture. At least the visuals provide an amusing variety of different settings for the group's virtual meetings, which become a sort of running joke as the series progresses.
Music director Takayuki Hattori has had great success with titles like Martian Successor Nadesico and Tears to Tiara, but this isn't one of his more memorable efforts. It adequately enhances the action scenes and that's about it, although there is a very interesting choice for an insert song during the action leading up to the climactic scene in episode 12. It's stylistically quite different from anything else in the series, with its folksy sound contrasting sharply with all of the sci fi elements in play. The self-titled opener is largely unremarkable, while ending theme “Stellar Compass” is sung entirely in English by Hironobu Kageyama, who practically made a career out of singing dramatic themes for Dragon Ball Z but takes a more crooning approach here.
The English dub for the series is provided by Spliced Bread Productions, Inc., the studio that's done the bulk of Netflix's anime offerings, with the usual suspects like Todd Haberkorn, Cherami Leigh, Cristina Vee, and Christine Marie Cabanos in prominent roles. Performances are uniformly on-the-money, with Douglas Cavum doing a particularly impressive job as the playboy Rick in his first major anime role. The English script is also as tight as can be expected, though not needing to follow lip flaps much of the time doubtlessly contributed to the ease of flow.
Overall, the biggest sin of ID-0 is that it's just there. It never achieves a significant level of emotional or dramatic resonance, nor are the action and visuals sharp enough to be compelling thrill factors. The series had the potential to do much more, and I think a couple of extra character-focused episodes could have really helped, but at least it's a crisp and inoffensive production.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ Some interesting concepts, solid mecha visuals, good English dub
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