Reviewby Theron Martin,
Valvrave the Liberator
Sub.Blu-Ray - Complete 2nd Season
Shocked by Commander Cain's Kamitsuki-like abilities, Haruto and L-elf are ultimately unable to stop him from leaving with the prototype Valvrave. Though the attack is otherwise eventually fended off, JIOR's students are left uneasy, Hartuo is fearful that he might randomly attack someone again, and nobody is quite sure what to make of Akira becoming the fifth Valvrave pilot. As the students push to get Module 77 to neutral territory on the Moon, other forces are at work, including the Magius of the shadowy Council of 101, whom the students are not even aware are their real enemy. Haruto and L-elf learn the hard way about another nasty side effect of the Valvraves and how it is tied to what actually powers them, while on the Dorssian side, some of the Karlstein Agency members start to become suspicious about what their commander is really up to. Many deadly trials still await the students of JIOR, and sacrifices will definitely be made, but in blood, battle, and the bonding of two intrepid souls the seeds of a future empire are sown.
Since the beginning the Valvraves have been pitched as “the system that will reveal the truth of the world.” The first season, though, gave little indication that such a statement was anything more than typical colorful hyperbole. The second season changes that, as it gradually reveals all of the relevant truths and eventually clarifies further what “the Liberator” in the series title is referring to as well.
Now, that is not to say that all of the grand truths are all that original: there's an Illuminati-style organization (typical) of body-jacking, vampiric aliens (okay, not so typical) manipulating things and connected to the power source of the Valvraves. The twists are that the Magius are operating primarily for self-protection, rather than any grandiose designs about controlling the world for moral superiority, and that instead of blood they suck out something called Runes, which are described as “fundamental particles of information” and which are found most strongly-concentrated in human memories. Pino and Pero, the spirits of Haruto and Cain's Valvraves, respectively, are two of them who somehow got caught by JIOR scientists in their disembodied forms (how, exactly, that could have happened is never explained) and are effectively being used as the units' engines, which means that the Valvraves also eat Runes. In other words, a long-term side effect of piloting a Valvrave beyond a certain power limit is memory loss in order from the oldest to most recent memories. The logic here is shaky, as even those fatally drained don't lose motor or language skills, and the process of bringing that revelation out pushes the whole “driven crazy” phenomenon to the curb; exactly how the two factors interact is inadequately explained.
And yes, that means that the after-effects of the rape scene from the first season eventually tail off, too. Haruto's guilt over it heavily influences his actions and attitudes for the first few episodes, but after that it is never really a factor again. (Of course, the fact that they get separated for several episodes has at least something to do with that.) Saki, contrarily, never does show any signs of having been bothered by the incident, and is, in fact, the one pushing to be closer to Haruto. In other words, if you were left unsatisfied with the way the matter was handled in the first season, the second season is not likely to change your mind.
But the inadequate explanations are not really a hindrance because this is not, and has never been, a series where logic matters much. No, this is a series for which jaw-dropping revelations and spectacular plot twists are its bread and butter, and it continues to deliver on that point. Pacing is largely irrelevant here, which sometimes results in the twists playing out much too quickly; all that matters is whether they play into the heavy melodrama. That also means a lot of death scenes. We know from the first season that Saki survives into the Galactic Empire 200 years into the future, and that L-elf likely at least survives long enough to have offspring given the princeling's resemblance to him, but who else will endure and who will not? At the end, how many will you have guessed right? All of the deaths make a certain amount of sense in retrospect, though some may be shocking at the time, and some of those still around 200 years later (as revealed in the series' epilogue) may be just as much of a surprise. (Supposedly according to a clarification posted in social media, though, one character who seems to have endured was actually the character's lookalike descendant.)
The themes prevalent in the first season remain through the second. The biggest, “adults can't be trusted,” is reinforced with all of the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and added to it is gross prejudice and humanity's seemingly unrestrainable ability to jump to conclusions; in fact, if the series drives home any one point aside from adults being untrustworthy, it is that humanity is disgustingly fickle and reactionary. Another prevailing theme is the impact that social media can have on events, and in this the series stands apart from all others of its ilk. The snap judgments which can be brought about by the setting's version of the Twitterverse can be a powerful force for garnering support or suffering condemnation, and few anime series (much less mecha series) more heavily emphasize the impact of news and social media manipulation.
The second season also makes a serious stab at character development, with mixed but generally positive results. L-elf is cut from the same “cold, calculating bad-ass” cloth as Inaho from Aldnoah.Zero is, but unlike Inaho, he actually has a personality. For all that he always had a meticulously-considered plan and normally seems to act unemotionally, he also always gives the sense of a burning passion underneath, one which has occasionally poked through in the past but finally surfaces when he has a chance to rescue Dorssian Princess Liselotte. The bond and understanding that he gradually forms with Haruto, who is about as contrary in personality as can be, is one of the series' highlights. That most of the other Karlstein Agency members (except for the tediously annoying Q-vier) eventually show their own minds, ambitions, and personalities is a pleasant surprise, as is the delinquent Raizo proving to be at least a little more than a hot-headed thug. Akira is also fleshed out more, as exactly why she is a recluse is revealed and why her brother is so doting and protective now, and Marie's mysterious backstory (yes, she had one, though this was never brought up in the first season) is also explored. Shoko and Saki get comparatively little additional development, though, and the villains are entirely uninteresting.
Visual quality remain consistent with the first season, including the distinctive color palette. Action scenes offer some of anime's finest examples of CG mecha animation, with all of the Valvraves being sleek, beautiful machines with striking color patterns, though some battle routines do get tedious after a while. The artistry also at times slacks somewhat on the quality of its character modeling and rendering. The outfits that the Magius wear show that they did not become a shadow power because of their fashion sense, but otherwise clothing is pretty ordinary. Fan service continues to be nearly nonexistent, but the graphic content is very high; one sequence in particular, involving a mass slaughter late in the series, is quite disturbing for its ruthlessness.
The musical score, which sports a nice mix of orchestration, piano, and even organ, also continues to be a strong point, though it can get a little overbearing at times. New opener “Kakumei Dualism” by Nana Mizuki (the voice of minor secondary character Kreimhild) is a respectable song packed with energy but has a more generic sound to it than the first season opener. The same cannot be said for first closer “Realism,” which mixes orchestration and synthesizer and ends with a vocal lick which always reminds me of the opera singer in The Fifth Element. It is replace in episode 19 by “I Give These Red Memories To You,” a more poignant song that fits the mood of the later episodes better.
Aniplex's release of this season spreads the twelve episodes across three Blu-Ray disks, which may partly be why this looks so sharp on Blu-Ray. They are split between two cases which come in a flimsy box. On-disk Extras, which, curiously, are found on the first disk, merely consist of a cleaner opener, clean versions of all closers used, and a “Battle Scene Collection,” a frenetic, roughly seven minute long collection of battle clips from the entire breadth of both seasons, delivered in no particular order with the backing of the series' most pumped-up music. As with the first season, only a Japanese soundtrack is provided, but translated lyrics for the opening and closing songs are not. Physical Extras include reversible covers in both cases, a trifold mini-poster with alternative artwork, and several glossy postcards featuring the Valvraves.
As a whole, Valvrave the Liberator works reasonably well as an action-packed, melodramatic mecha series. Its urge to be spectacular sometimes leaves its story being impatient and sloppy, and a little too much of it is run-of-the-mill mecha fare despite all of the crazy twists. It does at least try to innovate, however, and in the long run succeeds better than one might originally expect on the characterization front.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Valvrave animation, musical score, some pleasant surprises in character development.
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