Reviewby Theron Martin, Aug 9th 2013
Valvrave the Liberator
episodes 7-12 streaming
Despite the best efforts of Haruto and Saki to keep the existence of the other Valvrave units a secret, the students eventually learn of them and one student eventually has to be imprisoned to keep him from commandeering one. Meanwhile L-elf tries to seize control of the school, but a Dorssian incursion ultimately helps thwart that effort. As the Dorssians continue to mount ever-escalating attacks, L-elf uses Haruto's sanction to direct the students into a more military defense stance – and without his sanction two additional Valvrave pilots emerge. As Module 77 is gradually pushed towards the neutral territory of the Moon, student teacher Rion proposes the election of a new Prime Minister to represent New Jior, a move which L-elf approves of since it helps further his ultimate goals. Haruto's nature as a Kamitsuki (the name given to his condition by Aina) is dangerously getting the better of him with increasing frequency, however, L-elf learns some of the truth behind the Valvraves and why they're under the school, and L-elf's former superior Cain has his own troublesome notions about the Valvraves. At the height of Dorssia's most determined attack yet on the Module, a fifth Valvrave pilot emerges, but will even that be enough to turn the tide of battle when a new kind of threat also emerges?
Meanwhile, more than 200 years into the future, a still-young-looking Saki reminisces about the past.
The first quarter of Valvrave the Liberator built its appeal on the strength of flashy-to-the-point-of-absurdity mecha action, jaw-dropping twists, a unique take on social media integration, and an “adults are the enemy” mentality. While the last point fades some over this second quarter, the other three are fully evident and joined by a greater degree of character development, especially for L-elf. The real meat of the series is still in its story twists, though, and while none are quite as shocking as the ones seen early on, one is potentially disturbing enough that it has drawn quite a bit of extra attention to the series.
So let's get the elephant in the room pushed out the door right now: Episode 10 has an obvious sex scene which could quite easily be interpreted as rape. Whether or not it actually is rape depends on whether one puts more weight on the perpetrator's intent or the victim's reaction, as the equanimity with which the victim handles the situation – both during the event and in the days after – suggests that she was not particularly troubled by what the perpetrator did; in fact, the perpetrator is ultimately considerably more bothered by what he did than she is, and she refuses to let him take blame or responsibility for it. Granted, there were extenuating circumstances involved, and granted, the victim's response is in line with her established character, but some viewers may still see this as a case where the creators are trying to get away with something unusually daring by letting the perpetrator off the hook. Regardless of what angle one views the scene from, though, its inclusion is not gratuitous. It serves multiple functions within the narrative at that point, and a simple kiss or purely consensual sex would not have sufficiently replaced all of them.
These six episodes are not defined just by that event, however. Four new Valvrave pilots – three of them students and one of them a Dorssian – emerge over the course of this quarter, and while the identities of three of them will be no big surprise, the fourth one (who is the fifth of the five student pilots to date) may well be. One named, established character dies and a few unnamed ones are implied to also meet their ends. One of the Dorssians reveals that he knows something about what's happening with Haruto and company but leaves viewers to speculate about his cryptic comments. We see flash-forwards which suggest that actions being taken now have major impacts even a couple of centuries later and that the Valvraves do, indeed, make their pilots immortal; further cryptic comments here also suggest events yet to come. And the AI of Haruto's Valvrave is even more bizarre than first revealed. L-elf also transforms into something a bit more personable, Akira's character is explored a bit (let's just say that, given the way she was bullied in her flashbacks, it's a wonder that she was not driven to suicide instead of being a recluse), and a few others get some touches of development, although the characters are still not really where the strength of this series lies.
Plot and logic still are not strengths, either. The feasibility of what the students are doing is highly suspect, some events happen improbably fast unless these episodes show more of a time lapse than what is readily apparent, that various parties haven't made more of an effort to make peaceable contact with Module 77 seems odd, and the Dorssians take an agonizingly long time to finally figure out that they need to bring overwhelming force to bear. Yes, they do mitigate that somewhat by coming up with some rather clever means to combat the Valvraves, but the logic of “they're just kids” only goes so far in the face of a demonstrably powerful defense. The approach gives the distinct impression that showing off the capabilities of the Valvraves is ultimately more important than being practical and sensible, but those two words have never applied to this series anyway.
And when all is said and done, a showcase for the mecha is exactly what this one still is. The regular waves of attackers allow the battles to be spaced out about evenly over the course of this block, and each battle gives a new Valvrave a chance to show off. These are a bit inventive, too, including one that uses insect-like wings as shields, one that sprouts out to eight arms in full combat mode, and one that wields a pick-like weapon with an interesting side effect. The CG-fueled artistry and animation are at their best in these battle scenes (even if the action does quickly get repetitive), and the non-battle visuals remain about the same: respectable but not spectacular merits with occasional minor slips in quality. Color use is especially vivid throughout. The graphic violence is still prominent but a step down in volume from the first half, and fan service is surprisingly limited; even in the rape scene viewers actually do not see that much.
The fully-orchestrated musical score also remains steady as it provides proper levels of dramatic sound, though it occasionally flirts with going over-the-top. (Not that an exaggerated sound would be out of place here.) It also deserves credit for handling the series' most objectionable scene incredibly well. The opener and closer songs remain constant, although the opener updates to include a flash of each new pilot in full battle gear the episode after that pilot is established.
Quite possibly lost in the hubbub over the rape scene is that it is, in fact, a quite well-used and well-executed scene. Yes, its content may be too strongly objectionable for some to tolerate, but clearly Kou Matsuo and his Sunrise staff carefully thought out how exactly they wanted to use it and made sure that it was not presented as a sick and twisted form of fan service. Seeing whether or not the consequences will continue to linger should be interesting. Annoyingly, this season ends in the midst of the series' biggest battle sequence yet, so fans will be left hanging until the series resumes in the Fall 2013 season.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Flashy new Valvrave designs, plenty of dramatic twists and turns.
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