Armed Girl's Machiavellism
by Paul Jensen,
Since I forgot to mention it last week, I'll say it now: Nichijou is finally streaming in the US again, and you should go watch it. It's a clever, creative comedy with some fantastic moments of animation, and I regularly use it as a benchmark to judge any new series that specializes in absurd humor. If nothing else, this is your chance to understand why I never shut up about this show. Welcome to Shelf Life.
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Armed Girl's Machiavellism
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Shelf Life Reviews
Armed Girl's Machiavellism got a pretty chilly reception in our Preview Guide last year, but it's getting a second chance now that it's available on disc and in my review pile.
Our guide for this journey into mediocrity is Fudo Nomura, a teenage delinquent who has been kicked out of his high school after a massive fight. He ends up at a self-described “coexistence academy,” where a council of five sword-wielding girls rules over the rest of the students. Formerly an all-girl school, it began arming its female students for self-defense purposes after becoming co-ed. Anyone who steps out of line is “corrected” in predictably violent fashion, and even the toughest transfer students end up wearing makeup and acting like well-behaved young women, regardless of their actual gender. Naturally, a rebel like Nomura wants out as soon as possible, but male students need a permission slip stamped by all five council members just to set foot off-campus. He decides to get their approval the only way he knows how: by fighting each girl in a head-to-head matchup.
On paper, that's not too far off from any other “new kid fights evil student council” battle series. In practice, Armed Girl's Machiavellism does a pretty poor job of presenting that premise. The early episodes make a big deal out of how the sword girls are going to bring Nomura up to code, even if they have to figuratively castrate him and literally force him to wear makeup like the other male students. The problem is that this is presented in a way that's neither ridiculous enough to be a goofy comedy nor clever enough to qualify as outright satire. Instead, it comes across as a poorly thought out fantasy about a super manly dude fighting off a swarm of girls who think they can tell him what to do. It doesn't help that the first couple of girls fall madly in love with Nomura after being defeated in combat, which only adds to the impression that you're watching something written by an angry twelve year-old boy. To be fair, most harem comedies rely on some shaky logic in order to surround the main character with potential suitors, but some of the reasoning here is especially weak. The girls' responses simply don't match up with Nomura's actions.
The good news is that the series starts to figure things out after a couple of false starts. Some of the mid-season duels lean more into the absurd nature of the story: one girl makes Nomura take on a giant bear in a sumo wrestling match, and another is just completely bonkers and makes no apologies for her insane decisions. Even these story arcs aren't what I'd call good, but they do at least crank the silliness up high enough to make the show palatable. There's a certain sense of self-awareness here, as if the series finally figures out how to poke fun at itself. That, in turn, makes the story feel less like an adolescent daydream and more like a professionally produced entertainment product. It's probably a case of too little, too late for considering that most folks would probably stop watching before the series starts to improve, but that modest step forward is still worth applauding.
Sadly, an attempt at ramping up the drama near the end erases most of that progress. Some of the girls are hastily given tragic backstories, and Nomura's nemesis from his old school shows up and starts raising all manner of heck. Characters spout more expository dialogue than ever, and the consequences of the fight scenes suddenly get much more dire. There's a great deal of blood and shouting, but it's tough to take any of it seriously when it comes after much more lighthearted material. The final showdown is also plagued by a sense of inevitability; after everything Armed Girl's Machiavellism does to build up Nomura's fighting prowess, it's hard to believe there's any chance of him losing. As endings go, the extra hot spring OVA episode included in this set is arguably a better way to wrap this story up.
Bland visuals don't help Armed Girl's Machiavellism, especially since the show's two main appeals are fighting and fanservice. The swordfights are generally underwhelming, marked by animation quality that's average at best and the overuse of on-screen text to spell out the name of every single move the characters use. The fanservice is less prevalent than one might expect in a series like this, and the forgettable character art means there's not much to look at. On the upside, the English dub does a reasonable job with the material it's given, especially in the more comedic scenes; the original Japanese audio bleeps out the word “pervert” on a number of occasions for presumably humorous effect, whereas the dub uses a more varied and colorful selection of words. The dub isn't as strong in the more dramatic scenes, but I put part of the blame on a weak original script. Aside from the previously mentioned OVA, on-disc extras are fairly minimal in this standard release. There is a limited version available with some extra physical goodies.
Frankly, there's no compelling reason to watch Armed Girl's Machiavellism. It has a decent middle third, but that material is bookended by a weak beginning and a thoroughly forgettable ending. Neither of those sections are worth sitting through just for the watchable stuff, even if you normally enjoy school battle shows. Folks looking for something in this genre would do well to seek out a title with a more interesting premise and better delivery. Try Keijo for fanservice, Ben-To for ridiculous fistfights, and just about anything for a more engaging story.
That wraps things up for this week. Thanks for reading!
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