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World Trigger
Episodes 1-3

by Gabriella Ekens,

Several years ago, a mysterious invader breached the gap between worlds to start a war with humanity. Which anime is this? Nope, it's not Neon Genesis Evangelion, or Attack on Titan, or any of the dozen other series that come out with that premise every year, but World Trigger, a story that had some promise in print but left it behind during the interdimensional transfer to animation. The setting is Mikado City, and several years ago, black spherical portals started appearing in the sky and spitting out giant mechanical axolotls. As the amphibious automatons wreaked havoc on the city, people thought that they were doomed - until an agency called Border appeared on the scene, fought them off, and identified them as the inter-dimensional warmongers, "Neighbors." Now Mikado City serves as a permanent battleground between Border and the Neighbors, but society still functions somewhat normally. These are the circumstances under which pathologically considerate middle schooler and secret Border trainee Osamu Mikumo grew up: in a tense stalemate with good and bad (Border vs. Neighbors) clearly delineated for him. But everything changes when he meets Yuma Kuga, a transfer student and foreigner, not only to Japan, but to this dimension. He's a humanoid Neighbor who fights his own kind and has personal business on this side of the gate! What will Osamu learn about the Neighbors, Border, and himself by befriending Yuma?

World Trigger is a super literal translation of its source material, so all its strengths are borrowed and its number of weaknesses are freshly created. Boy are they big weaknesses, too. There are no words for World Trigger's production other than "incompetent" and "baffling." The first five minutes of the series' first episode - usually the best animated of the bunch - was literally a slideshow with shaking effects. The rest isn't much better. The utility of these frames are being stretched to their absolute limits here: there's plenty of repeated animation, closeups of talking heads, and lingering static shots. There's something off about the faces too. (Whoever is in charge of extras really doesn't know how to draw people smirking.) The Neighbors' axolotlbots look awful in the first episode, where they're rendered in CG, but slightly better in the second and third, where they're 2D. They have cool designs, but they're horribly serviced by this show's aesthetic, which paints them a cheap rubbery gray color and condemns them to three-frame animation purgatory.

I'm especially disappointed since there was a clear opportunity to make something really nice-looking out of this property. The World Trigger manga has a distinct style that cleans up well as anime lineart. It also looks best in color, something that manga rarely has an opportunity to indulge in. When it does, however, the manga is all in warm, expressive shades that emphasize the story's intimate and slightly cartoonish tone. The color palette in this anime, by contrast, is mostly beige and flat. I can't help but imagine what this show would look like directed by people who know how to use color, like Studio Trigger, but I guess a Trigger-made World Trigger was just never meant to be.

This is a shame because the story underneath is serviceable shonen, a bit like a much less brutal Attack on Titan. They're both about human civilizations under attack by mysterious man-eating giants of indeterminate origin. To survive, the protagonists must both combat the invaders and navigate a morally-dubious war state that probably has a stake in keeping the invaders' origins obscured. Information is doled out like breadcrumbs, usually providing more questions than answers. That's not to overstate the comparison, of course. There are mountains of difference between Attack on Titan and World Trigger, but putting the two side by side does a good job of showing how an adaptation's quality can make or break a series' chances for wider appeal.

World Trigger, with its Shonen Jump pedigree, had a chance to be something special. Yuma and Osamu's characters are both likable and well articulated, and parts of their story were pretty funny. I liked how Yuma keeps getting mugged because he doesn't have enough common sense to put away his wads of cash. He's a fun character in general, flippant and amoral but with a good heart underneath it all. (Also, he has constant duckface. =3=) His dynamic with Osamu is solid, as the clown to Osamu's too-responsible-for-his-own-good straight man. I'm engaged because of their characters, but it's in spite of a lot. So far, by virtue of its source material, World Trigger isn't a bad show, but it's a terrible adaptation. Just damn, that animation. Damn.

Grade: C

World Trigger is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.

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