Reviewby James Beckett,
Episodes 1-12 Streaming
One day, a mysterious group of alien beings called the Unknown invaded Earth from another dimension, killing everything and everyone in their path. The children of Japan were locked away in stasis deep underground for protection, while the adults did their best to fend off the Unknown menace. Years later, the children awoke, all of them bearing mysterious powers known as Worlds. Now Ichiya Suzaku and Canaria Utara are two of the many children who have been recruited and trained to use their Worlds to combat what remains of the Unknown, discovering the dark secret behind their invasion.
Qualidea Code belongs to a particular class of anime, one that I've come to refer as “anime stew”. An anime stew is any project that takes a bunch of ingredients we've seen dozens of times before, familiar themes and ideas and characters, then tosses them all together without much care or thought. None of this is to say an anime stew is necessarily a bad thing, just that it has to rise above the limitations created by its derivative aspects.
Based on the summary alone, it's pretty clear that Qualidea Code doesn't offer much in the way of uniqueness of premise (magical teenagers fight off mysterious alien threat) or setting (Futuristic Japan/Techno-Magic Academy). Still, by working a little magic with its action and animation, or by tossing some fresh ideas into the story on a deeper level, there is still potential for good entertainment. Unfortunately, this series doesn't succeed at using either its spectacle or script to make a better impression.
The spectacle side of things is the easiest and most immediately recognizable failing of the series. It simply doesn't look that impressive. None of this production is outright bad; the character designs are clean and recognizable, and the animation is at least consistently functional. However, motion has an inclination to stiffness and off-model awkwardness that it's never quite able to shake, hampering the battle scenes quite a bit. For a series revolving around super-powered teenagers fighting hordes of alien invaders, these fight scenes are never quite able to hit their marks, all the way up to the final episode. There are plenty of moments that are obviously meant to be cool and exhilarating, but their framing and execution are just ever so slightly off. A-1 Pictures has proven that they are capable of making well-produced and even striking animation, but Qualidea Code was apparently not given the resources it needed to succeed.
On the writing side of the equation, things are a little more complicated, since many of the series' biggest storytelling flaws aren't apparent until two-thirds of the way through the series. At first glance, Qualidea Code's writing is perfectly adequate. We have our protagonist, Ichiya, and his ostensible ditzy love interest, Canaria, and for the first four episodes, we follow them as they join up with their classmates to battle the Unknown. Neither of these two are particularly interesting (Ichiya himself borders on being unlikable), but they serve as familiar archetypes, and I can see them working well for a lot of viewers. The Unknown are also absolutely okay as main villains; a little too vague and mysterious for my liking, but their attacks keep the plot going for those first four episodes well enough.
It's on that fifth episode that everything begins to change, not necessarily for the best. There's a big twist I won't spoil here, but it does cause the anime to shift perspectives pretty wildly, dropping Ichiya and Canaria almost entirely and focusing instead on students from their rival organization in Kanegawa, two girls named Mai-HiME and Hotaru. These two have been around since the opening episode, but they don't take the spotlight until this middle third of the anime, and they end up getting much more development than Ichiya and Canaria ever did. While I found them to be much more interesting as characters, the shift in priorites proved really jarring for the story. Their middle third of the anime is at once the most entertaining and the least important to the plot, accomplishing in four episodes what could have easily been done in two, with the rest mostly taken up with dragged-out dramatic battle scenes.
Then there is another twist and another perspective shift, this time devoting the back third of the series to following Asuha and Kasumi Chigusa, a brother and sister duo from Chiba. Once again, they've been around the entire time, but for them to suddenly become the new main characters feels jarring, since we've only just gotten to know Hotaru and Mai-HiME, and Canaria and Ichiya are barely around at all. This is the portion of the anime where things really start to fall apart, with a number of Big Twists being thrown at the characters over the true nature of the Unknowns and the ultimate fate of humanity. All of these developments are rushed through so fast that they have barely have any emotional impact on either the characters or the audience. World-changing revelations are accepted more or less immediately, and a series of betrayals and back-stabbings lead to a final encounter that's resolved in the span of one and a half episodes. By the time the end credits rolled on the final episode of the show, I actually laughed a little at how easily everything had been wrapped up.
Qualidea Code is a multimedia project that spans a series of light novels in addition to this anime, and I think a lot of these script problems stem from there. Breaking down the story into three distinct parts that each follow a different pair of characters might work well in a series of books, but in a twelve-episode anime, it just doesn't hold together. All of the characters feel underdeveloped, lacking any real emotional arcs. The first two-thirds of the series dole out the lore of the world in tiny bits and pieces, only for a wave of information to come pouring out over the span of just a couple episodes. As a result, the back third of the show feels overstuffed and undercooked, spreading itself too thin in trying to shock the viewer with reveals while also neatly wrapping up the entire story. Put simply, it's a mess.
This series had potential. Plenty of shows have started off working with overly familiar ingredients, yet still remained successful in the long run. Heck, look at Re:Zero. There are few things more overdone in anime than a light novel adaptation featuring an everyday hero stuck in a fantasy world, but Re:Zero managed to be one of the biggest hits of the last couple years. Sadly, Qualidea Code wasn't destined for the same success. It underwhelms as a spectacle-driven action series, and the writing is too slapdash and slipshod to make up for it. It isn't a terrible show, but it's about as unremarkable as an anime can be. Like so many mediocre series, it is less than the sum of its parts, taking a whole mess of potentially entertaining ingredients and ideas, but somehow managing to be all the more forgettable because of it.
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : C
Art : C+
Music : C+
+ Mahime and Hotaru's arc is fairly engaging, decent character designs, story offers up some interesting ideas
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