Shelf Life
Concrete Revolutio

by Paul Jensen,

There's apparently a new game in the Fate franchise coming out this week, and I hope it's good. Not because I don't already have a huge gaming backlog to deal with, but because I need an excuse to finally take a break from the Fate smartphone game. A person can only do those daily quests so many times before going completely insane, and I'm getting pretty close to that point. Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's review:
Concrete Revolutio

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Shelf Life Reviews

It's been a little while since I've been in the hot seat for our review section, but I'm back this week with a look at Concrete Revolutio.

Concrete Revolutio does a lot of things I like: it has a distinctive visual style with strong animation, it features some impressive action sequences, and it's ambitious enough to break out of the usual genre mold. Unfortunately, it also has its share of problems, and it asks a lot from the viewer without necessarily giving enough back. Still, it's nothing if not interesting, and that's as good a reason as any to dig a little deeper and see what's going on underneath all the super-powered battles.

The series is set in an alternate version of post-war Japan, where the emergence of humans with special powers and other extraordinary beings is presenting plenty of challenges for society. A small group known as the Superhuman Bureau has been formed to protect and manage these individuals, but not everyone in the government agrees on how the organization should work. As the only “ordinary human” in the Bureau, Jiro Hitoyoshi does his best to ensure that justice is always served, but Jiro is harboring some secrets of his own. As the years go by, the line between good and evil gets increasingly blurred and the members of the Bureau end up at odds with one another.

Stories about superheroes tend to work quite well for dealing with social and political themes, since they can reflect our world without getting bogged down by the constraints of reality. Concrete Revolutio makes good use of this formula to examine a wide variety of subjects, including some you don't often see in anime. Along with more common superhero themes like justice and morality, it deals with Japan's political and economic position in the decades following World War II, in both domestic and international terms. Youth protest movements play a significant role in the story, and the series also has a lot to say about the media's ability to influence public opinion. While I know that not everyone enjoys grappling with big-idea questions while watching an action series, I enjoyed jumping in and analyzing this show, even if I didn't necessarily agree with everything it had to say.

Unfortunately, Concrete Revolutio's thematic ambitions also contribute to one of its biggest weak points. Because it deals with such a wide range of themes, the show occasionally feels unfocused, and not every storyline gets the time and attention it needs to present a compelling case. That situation isn't helped by the narrative structure, which jumps back and forth in time so often that the series needs to tell the audience what year it is more than once per episode. This approach is effective on occasion as it shows the long-term (and often unintended) consequences of the characters' actions, but it also has a tendency to break up the pacing and leave the audience scrambling for a notebook to keep everything straight. The plot also starts to unravel in the second half of the series, as the loss of a compelling villain and some increasingly unconvincing plot twists makes it harder to engage with the story.

The hit-or-miss nature of the plot is compounded by another persistent issue: character development. As is often the case with shows that have a lot to say, Concrete Revolutio has a bad habit of tailoring its characters to suit its themes at the expense of making them likable or even believable. Aside from a handful of supporting characters with single-episode roles, I never really connected with anyone in this series on an emotional level. The frequent monologues and narrative-driven actions make it all too obvious that everyone in this story is just here to help communicate the ideas of the creative staff, and that's a deal-breaker for me. If I can't bring myself to view any of the main characters as people, watching a series quickly becomes a chore.

On the upside, even when Concrete Revolutio gets bogged down by its writing, it's almost always pretty to look at. This series has a distinctive visual style, with character designs that feel just a little bit retro, which is a great fit for the time period in which it's set. The colors are bright, the animation is genuinely impressive in the action scenes, and the series uses a lot of clever visual cues to help the audience keep up with the constantly shifting timeline. Funimation's release of the series includes a generally competent dub, though I preferred Kaito Ishikawa's original performance as Jiro to Greg Ayres' take on the character. On-disc extras include episode commentaries and a selection of promotional and recap videos.

When it comes to complex and cerebral titles, I'm happy to put in the extra work as a viewer as long as the writing's good enough to make that effort worthwhile. With Concrete Revolutio, I'm not convinced the story clears that bar. It certainly deals with some intriguing themes, and it's a darn pretty series to watch, but I never had that “eureka” moment where everything linked up into a unified whole. With a more focused plot or more engaging characters, this might have been an easier recommendation, but as it stands, I can't really see Concrete Revolutio working for a wide audience. While there's definitely some narrative substance here, be aware that you'll really have to work to find it.

That's all for this week. Thanks for reading!

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